When Sutra opened in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood in 2008, it was clear I needed to get myself there to check it out. Creative, gourmet, vegan food with a strong emphasis on local ingredients, sourced directly from farmers and foragers? Could there be a restaurant more suited to lure me in?
This week’s menu at Sutra, packed with fresh, seasonal delights.
I finally got myself there and immediately and unsurprisingly fell in love. The gushing colleague referenced in the lede of this Seattle Times review? That would be me.
At $35 a pop (which quickly turns into $55 with a glass of wine, tax and tip, or more if you go for the excellently chosen wine pairing menu, which splits just fine with your date) it’s not somewhere I can afford to go as often as I’d like, but still, I’ve been there about a half-dozen times and jump at any suggestion to go. It’s just that good, and it’s a chance to truly savor food and its origins that few restaurants can match.
Last night another coworker and I joined a roomful of other people who had waited until the last day to use their Groupon deals for the place, and we got treated, once again, to an extraordinary journey of food.
We sat at the bar, which offered a great view as each course of wonderful food was plated for the full house of 30 diners.
Course one: Habanero-Cinnamon-Cinderella Pumpkin Soup with an Arugula-Shaved Baby Fennel-Honey Crisp Apple-Arame Salad served with a Lemongrass-Miso dressing and Toasted Sesame Seeds
The salad was crisp, juicy, tart/sweet/salty. The arame seaweed had been rehydrated in a house-made ponzu sauce and was savory without being overpowering, as seaweed sometimes can. As one of the cooks explained, the soup got spicier overnight, so they added a drizzle of coconut milk to help cool it down. Alternating bites of soup and salad yielded a wonderful balance of heat and cool, refreshing flavor.
Course two: Lobster Mushroom-Parsley Root-Saffron-Hempseed Broth Gratin with a French Green Lentil-Grilled Eggplant-Nigella Dahl finished with Parsnip Chips.
This beautifully plated course had more muted flavors, but plenty of complexity and a nice variation in textures. I actually don’t like the flavor of saffron, which took a slight edge off this dish for me, but the preparation and presentation were excellent. The flower garnish added a surprising and perfectly suited burst of flavor, slightly orangey and pleasantly bitter. It should also be said that in my book, one can never go wrong with a mound of parsnip chips.
Course three: North Indian-Northwest Cauliflower-Beet-Fermented Cashew Cream Curry served with Toasted Fennel Seed-Basmati Rice. Sauteed Tatsoi and a Pluot-Clove-Urfa Biber Chutney finished with a Plum Wine-Black Lemon Gastrique.
The curry and the tatsoi were delicious, but I thought the most interesting part of this course was the chutney, with nice color and plenty of fresh-fruit flavor sparkling with moments of intensity from the coarsely ground spices.
Plating dessert. The flans were a little reluctant to leave their molds, but the warm sipping chocolate slid right into those cups.
Course four: Wild Blackberry-Cardamom-Coconut Flan served with Madagascar (Theo’s) Sipping Chocolate and Cacao Nib Brittle.
Dessert knocked our socks off. The intense-but-smooth blackberry flavor (not to mention color) of the flan, and the rich, velvety drinking chocolate were served in just the right amounts to pair perfectly with each other. And while the brittle tasted to us a little burnt, I discovered that eating it brought out much more of the coconut flavor in the flan, transforming it into a different experience.
One of the things I love about Sutra is how much they maximize the flavor and texture of each ingredient, never resorting to bland, starchy fillers the way so many restaurants do. The tiny pillar of rice in the third course was the only element in the whole meal that I would describe as neutral; everything else was flavor balanced against flavor, in just the right quantities and preparation to highlight the best things about each component. Overwhelmingly, I would consider the food to be whole food, with very limited reliance on refined products, yet the coarse textures and simplified flavors that I often associate with whole-foods diets are nowhere to be found. This is elegant, refined food, which happens to be minimally altered from the way it came out of the ground.
Beautiful, wonderful, and worth every penny.