Notes on an Anniversary Dinner at The Corson Building
I had never been to the Corson Building but have been very happy with head chef Matt Dillon’s other enterprises around Seattle (including the newly revamped Sitka and Spruce) so thought it would be an appropriate setting for our third anniversary. The actual structure and grounds of the building itself cast a spell on me the moment I arrived, and Jonas and I spent an enchanted half hour sipping an aperitif walking the spaces in marvel. An Italian family is responsible for the building and it shows in the quality construction. It’s worth going to the Corson Building for the ambience alone. I was able to snap some photos in the kitchen of our upcoming meal, and it was a good thing too, since once we were seated there was very little opportunity for photography.
Saturday evening meals are done communally at the Corson building, with essentially four tables that each seat eight people. If you are fortunate you will dine with jovial compatriots as passionate about food and wine as yourselves, or maybe not. We got lucky with most of our table mates, the couple across from us regaled us with tales of the inner workings of being defense attorneys- talk about the underbelly of society!
The other reason I wouldn’t have been able to photograph the food is that the dishes are served family-style for the entire table of eight, and since we were at the foot end of the table, by the time each platter reached me it was no longer in a terribly photogenic state. I think this is a brilliant way to set up an evening, and I don’t think concessions or adjustments based on dietary preferences are necessary, however the menu should be posted in advance so diners can choose whether to attend that particular dinner. When my husband called to make the reservation they basically asked if any food would kill him, which it won’t, though the fact that he doesn’t eat seafood or mushrooms limited him to just two courses of the entire meal, which is significant considering what you’re paying. Again, I don’t think a chef should make apologies for the menu he creates, and diners should be encouraged to step out on a culinary limb and eat outside their comfort zone, just make the menu available in advance.
This particular evening the menu consisted of smoked trout with pickled vegetables and fiddlehead ferns, brine-cured local lox with crème fraiche, bresaola with raw beets, fennel and dill as well as horseradish and purslane to start. Next we moved to a delicate halibut bone broth with steamed halibut and mussels from Taylor’s shellfish along with watercress, and lovage. It was the standout dish of the night. Next were soft shell crabs served with porcini mushrooms on a walnut sauce, followed by duck eggs with morels from Cle Elum served with leeks and caraway seeds. We completed the savory dishes with duck from Stokesberry Farm braised in red wine with fennel, green garlic, asparagus, spring onions, and pea shoots accompanied by duck fat fried potatoes with pork belly cured like pancetta but flat, not rolled. Dessert was an effervescent sorbet made with goat’s milk yogurt finished with strawberries and two types of shortbread cookies. I greatly appreciate their use of local producers such as Stokesberry Farms and Taylor’s Shellfish.
We went to the Corson Building on the evening of the soft-opening for Sitka and Spruce, the head chef’s other local restaurant, so naturally he was attending to the details of the opening and not at the Corson Building. I wish he had been with us instead, although I understood the circumstances. I think perhaps the food suffered a little in his absence as well. All of the elements were there, but several of the dishes fell flat upon execution. Sometimes too many ingredients marred the natural elegance of the base flavor in the dish, as was the case with the bresaola. Bresaola is my favorite cured cut of meat, made from beef eye of round. Perhaps my expectations are too high, given that. The bresaola itself was perfectly cured, perfectly sliced and a thing of beauty. Unfortunately too many ingredients masked its flavor, and it wasn’t just me as I asked around the table if folks knew what meat they were eating and most of them thought it was a very mild pork. Had it been allowed to stand with fewer accoutrements it would have shone brighter. The stronger dishes were the less complicated ones, such as duck braised in wine, and duck eggs with mushrooms. I was surprised that the delicate halibut in clear broth was so delightful given that it was much more refined in presentation than everything else. In fact it was the only dish that was served individually to each patron.
A quick note on the wine: the sommelier is a self-proclaimed Francophile, which is a wonderful thing to be most of the time. I love French wines, almost as much as I love Piedmontese wines, so I was mostly happy with his wine pairings. I wish there were a bona fide red-only wine pairing, as we opted out of the whites, though instead of adding additional reds to our pours, he simply poured us more glasses of the two reds in his original pairing. In retrospect I probably would have gotten a bottle or two of something I really loved, then maybe had a glass or two of his selections if they intrigued me. Since the meal lasts from 6:30 until 10ish (which is long by American standards, though short and early by Italian ones) you could easily bring a few bottles and just pay corkage, sampling from his glass pours when they tickle your fancy.
On the whole it was a Seattle dining experience I would recommend, though next time I go I will make sure Matt Dillon is in the house and I will attempt to learn the basics of the menu of the evening as well.