A meal at Cook Weaver feels like a dinner party
Cook Weaver offers, from top left clockwise, a coconut poached chicken salad (top left) with red cabbage slaw, fried shallots, peanuts and fresh mint; a cabernet sauvignon from Chile; and mackerel with sushi rice, radish pickle and horseradish. (Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times)
High ho, high ho, it’s off to work I go! I catch myself humming the Seven Dwarfs’ song every time I tug on the squat wooden door to the restaurant residing in the Tudor-style Loveless Building. Until last August, it was Restaurant Marron, before that Olivar, Coco La-Ti-Da, Fork and The Byzantion.
Cook Weaver is the latest to inhabit these hallowed walls, every inch of them, floor-to-ceiling, covered with the muted pastel murals created for its first occupant, The Russian Samovar, 80-plus years ago. They illustrate Alexander Pushkin’s Tale of Tsar Saltan, the story of three sisters. The Tsar chose the youngest to be his wife and appointed the older two his royal cook and weaver. The story not only inspired the restaurant’s name but also gives context to the “inauthentically Eurasian” food and drinks from owners Zac Reynolds, who cooks with imagination, and Nile Klein, a deft weaver of cocktails.
They are a match made on Craigslist, where Reynolds advertised for a partner with front-of-the-house experience to help him open a restaurant. Klein jumped at the chance. A veteran of Umi Sake House and Kushibar, he keeps tabs on the front of the house from behind the bar, an intimate four-seater that is a welcome new addition to the dining room.
806 E. Roy St., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; happy hour 3-6 p.m.; bar serving until midnight
Prices: $$$ (snacks and small plates $6-$15; large plates $18-$24)
Drinks: full bar; original cocktails; brief, moderately priced wine list
Parking: on street or in nearby lots
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles to entrance; restroom not wheelchair accessible
As a young cook, Reynolds worked at upscale NoMI in Chicago’s Park Hyatt Hotel. Before launching Cook Weaver last December, he already was rummaging in both the European and Asian pantries for his pop-up dinners in the Central District under the banner Food at Cortona. Cook Weaver’s loose concept gives Reynolds plenty of license to break rules, cross borders and be original. He succeeds more often than not.
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Beef brisket is served “in the style of bibimbap.” A fried egg caps the astonishingly supple meat, braised with lots of ginger and lemon grass. Hominy, crisped in a skillet with nori, stands in for rice and relieves the richness, as do kimchi-style vegetables.
“Assorted little salads” riff on banchan. The array I had amounted to a happy little ’round-the-world jaunt: pickled shiitakes; wakame with sesame oil; spicy smoked carrots with sprouted arugula and house-made jerky; curry-spiced Romanesco; and a classic American potato salad. Another salad plate of coconut-poached chicken mounded on peppery red cabbage slaw scattered with fried shallots, peanuts and fresh mint, wandered deliciously into Thai territory.
Mackerel touches down in Japan. The fish is cured like bacon, in brown sugar, salt and pepper, smoked and finally seared. The skin becomes brittle, caramelized, the flesh meltingly soft, under a sweet-salty-funky glaze of molasses and dried scallops. The result resembles unagi, the freshwater eel common at sushi bars, and it is fittingly served with a ball of rice and a swipe of horseradish.
Not every dish reaches its full potential. A tahini-dressed radicchio salad veered way too acidic. Split-pea falafel with split-pea hummus might have been a more exciting marriage if both weren’t so bland; tangy buttermilk dressing helped, diced ham and raw rutabaga not so much.
When things go awry it’s often more of a textural issue. Shiso-strewn sweet-and-sour kabocha squash, roasted with vinegar and honey, meshed beautifully with a stew of creamy scarlet runner beans. Adding hush puppies to absorb the inky sauce, thrumming with fermented bean paste, gochujang and Szechuan peppercorns, isn’t a bad idea, if only they had been crispier and crumblier. These were mush puppies.
Kimchi and bacon latkes had great flavor, but they were leaden instead of lacy. Still, they were in very good company, sharing a plate with remarkably tender, pan-seared pork shoulder steak and a crisp, peppery pile of matchstick-cut radish and raw apple.
Desserts include “apple streusel forest,” a jumbled thicket involving a fruit-filled crepe, deep-fried like an egg roll, molasses cookie crumbles, Nutella caramel and mint leaves. I much preferred the simple fennel upside-down cake, which sported finely chopped almonds and soft bits of fennel stalk, with a dash of blood orange sauce and a spoonful of chocolate ganache on top.
Prices are moderate and servers engaging, sometimes enlightening. When I asked our waiter what “fractal cauliflower” is, I not only learned it’s another name for Romanesco, but about fractal patterns generally and their connection to certain hallucinatory drugs.
Reynolds and Klein want their restaurant to feel like a dinner party, and it does. Simple benches made of ash and polished plywood tables set with mismatched vintage flatware and silvery glass candle holders enhance the congenial, relaxed mood. People tend to linger engrossed in conversation.
The menu’s mix of small and large plates offers diners the flexibility to nibble, share or take a deep dive into something substantial. But there’s another way to experience Cook Weaver. Nightly, the kitchen’s prep table becomes a chef’s table that can be booked for two or four (six, if you squeeze). If you like, Reynolds will organize a tasting menu, or you might even catch him improvising another unconventional mash-up that could have you singing a happy tune as you leave.