Monday, February 23, 2009

Tillicum Place Cafe

Had a wonderful meal in a charming little restaurant in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle the other night with my friends Kevin Mackay, Maria Semple and George Meyer. Maria & George recently moved to Seattle from Los Angeles where they both worked for many years writing for television—she for shows like The Ellen Show, and Mad About You; and George for David Letterman, and many years with The Simpsons.

I have known Maria since my restaurant days in Aspen, Colorado. Her parents Joyce and Lorenzo Semple Jr. were fixtures in Aspen’s social scene—Joyce always working on the Aspen Film Festival, and her husband himself an accomplished writer and screenwriter [Three Days of the Condor; one of my favorite thrillers The Parallax View; the King Kong that started Jessica Lange’s movie career--and the campy Batman series from the 60’s].

They were great customers and supporters of mine, and their son Lo worked in my kitchen as the “french fry guy”. Whenever we get together Maria and I pretty much talk non-stop reminiscing about Aspen and catching up on gossip. She just published her first novel, “This One Is Mine to great acclaim.

She is currently working on her second novel set in Aspen.

We walked from their Belltown condo around the corner to Tillicum Place Café, and immediately Maria wanted to know what I, as a chef, consider when I come into a new restaurant?

Well of course it is important what the restaurant looks like—how does the décor inform the food? What expectations give rise? How is the lighting? Does the place feel authentic? The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful.

I answered that I usually can tell if the meal is going to be good just by reading the menu. (At least you can see if there is thinking going-on in the kitchen). The Menu was simple and sparely written. I noticed white anchovies from Spain and Brandade. A Pork Rillette. Duck confit. The menu leans French bistro, uncomplicated. Not fussy.

Near the back by the bathrooms the owner/chef’s cookbooks are all on display, giving the place a warm and cozy feeling like you are visiting someone’s home. Someone confident enough to let you think she doesn't yet know everything about cooking.
Maria & George are both Vegans. So we navigate the menu and decide on a few dishes we can share

...We started out with a pappardelle pasta to share-- that came with a brown butter sauce, sage & hazelnuts that was simple and delicious. we shared a savory butternut squash tart with caramelized onions & Gruyère cheese [$9]. It was served with a simple mixed green salad & walnut oil vinaigrette.

After cutting into the savory tart you could see the layers of squash, cheese & onions. simple mixed bitter greens was dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette, dates & oranges [$8]. It was a tad over-dressed but everything is better with bacon right?

Maria reached across the table with her fork to spear some of my salad. "Stop!" I said. "It has bacon in it."
"Oh it's ok--I just want a taste," my Vegan friend replied. [I love vegans who still eat bacon!]

...Kevin ordered Brandade ( a puree of salt cod, olive oil and milk-a specialty of the Languedoc and Provence regions of France.) It was served in a cast iron skillet with stuffed peppers [$7].

...Maria's Romaine salad [$7] with sliced Bartlett pear & pine-nut vinaigrette.

...I ordered Duck confit a dish I can never pass up. It was served fall-off-the-bone tender, and tasted like it had been rubbed with Chinese 5 Spice. On the side was toasted spaetzle with kumquat jus & a few brussels sprouts leaves. It tasted almost like bread salad, and played well against the rich duck--the kumquats a bittersweet foil.

...Kevin & Maria had the house-made Pasta with celery root, goat cheese & walnuts [$16].

...George ordered the side of Baked Beans [$4] that also had some shredded pork or meat of some kind inside. When I pointed this out to him [also a Vegan] he just smiled and kept eating.

I liked the warm spices in the beans with their hint of brown sugar, molasses and maybe a touch of bourbon.

...When it came time to discuss dessert Maria had a plan: "Let's walk to Palace Kitchen and have the Coconut Cream Pie and coffee." Good idea we all agreed.
The walk felt good after the rich meal and we fooled ourselves into thinking the calories expended would allow us to order Tom Douglas' signature dessert without guilt.
Palace Kitchen was still rocking, but we got a table right away. George & Maria ordered de-cafs but I wanted to try the dessert with a Sauterne, which had wonderful flavors of flowers & vanilla--and tasted great with the mile-high pie.
We gossiped and laughed some more on the walk back to Belltown.
And made plans for our next get together at the great little Vietnamese restaurant Tamarind Tree.

Tillicum Place Cafe
407 Cedar Street
Seattle WA 98121


Anonymous said...

Vegans don't eat dairy (butter, cheese), so it sounds as if your friends are vegetarians. If I could eat what you described, I wouldn't mind being a vegetarian -- oh, except then I couldn't have the bacon or the duck confit!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef-

Thanks so much for the great suggestion of these restaurants. We live in Edgewood, frequent your place at least monthly, and are always looking for good places to eat in the Seattle area.

We have been on a new way of eating, "Eat for your Blood Type" which has been a great success. My husband has lost 14 pounds in 5 weeks and I have lost some also. We have been trying to think of some of your happy hour dishes that we could have like your sirloin sliders (without the buns as we cannot eat wheat), your seafood cocktail, the ribs (which aren't on the Happy Hour menu any longer), and your salads. We can eat all the meat, chicken, seafood we want but no dairy and as I said, no wheat. We love your pasta dish but that's out for now.

We have invited some friends to dine with us at PG who have been looking for a place in Tacoma to take an 80 year old friend for his Birthday. Of course I recommended Pacific Grill. We have been coming to PG since you opened and love your food, ambiance, and your friendly servers. We look forward to enjoying your "goodeats" at PG in the very near future.

Kristi Cortinas

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

Thank you for your comments Kristi,

You will be pleased to hear that we have put the Baby Back Ribs back on our Bar Menu.

Hope to meet you the next time you come into Pacific Grill.

Anonymous said...

Bacon and pork?
Your friends are not vegetarians.
They're merely pretending because they think it makes them interesting.

"vegans who still eat bacon" are not even vegetarians, let alone vegan.

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

I suggest that bacon exerts a power that even vegetarians find impossible to resist!

Anonymous said...

why did god have to make pigs so tasty?

a "vegan"

jen said...

i wonder what your friends are hoping to gain by classifying themselves as vegan, if they're not vegan? i'm not vegan- hence the reason i don't call myself vegan. i am vegetarian however, which is why i don't eat bacon.

i also have to say it's a little alarming to hear a chef tossing those terms around incorrectly. probably not who i want preparing my meals.

ChefGordonNaccarato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChefGordonNaccarato said...


I admit you are correct in saying I am using the terms Vegan and Vegetarian rather loosely.

It was more to make the humorous point of bacon's irresistibleness (if that is a word).

And believe me I have many friends that use those terms to describe themselves that also still once in a while eat bacon.

But Jen--sorry you didn't appreciate my ironic intent.

Anonymous said...

I think there is a difference in being a vegan or vegetarian due to "moral" issues and being one because it is simply the diet of choice. If one chooses to call themselves a vegan or vegetarian because their primary diet is such and they on occasion stray from that diet... who cares?

If I follow a vegan diet 99% of the time and on occasion have a piece of bacon I would probably still call myself a vegan.

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

I agree with you anonymous... my "vegetarian" friends might fall-off-the-wagon (for a rare treat of bacon)--but I still love them.