Food & Drink

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Impotent Herbs and Vegetarian Meatballs

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Jenny Jiménez
CHEZ GAUDY It’s a secret.

Dining, as a rule, should not be a confusing experience. A meatball, as a rule, should be made of meat. Enter Chez Gaudy, breaker of rules, confounder of expectations.

It's a daring move for a restaurant to withhold its whereabouts from the very public that presumably is expected to go there to eat. The advertisements heralding the opening of Chez Gaudy referred to it coyly as "a Capitol Hill address" and "secret," directing interested parties to "inquire in person at Bleu Bistro," Gaudy's sister restaurant on Broadway.

Last Sunday, July 24, Gaudy's reservation line yielded the not so up-to-date information that they would be closed June 25 for Gay Pride and on July 4, and provided another phone number to actually make a reservation. A preternaturally cheerful individual answered this number by announcing his first name; this threw me, but we sorted it out and a table was procured.

"We'll take good care of you," he assured me.

I was able to cut out the middleman, location-wise, as I had noticed the place several months ago while wandering near the Wingdome on Olive. One arrives at Gaudy via a little passageway and a screen door; it's charmingly tucked away, and inside it's chock-full of nooks and knickknacks. The décor is of the purposefully hodgepodge, aggressively eclectic kind that could be romantic under the right circumstances; my party was treated to a little joke about a threesome by our extremely affable server, who, it should be noted, proved valiant in the taking-good-care arena. He showed us to our own little room in a corner, which featured drapey scarflike things hanging from the ceiling and a fireplace screen depicting palm trees (for sale for $475, according to a tag).

The tome of a drinks menu boggled the collective mind with its length and organizational scheme (i.e., pages entitled "Drinks You Think About on the Bus," "Nifty Hipster Drinks") and was abandoned in favor of a bottle of wine (half-price on Sundays, a happy development). We were left to deal out our own flatware and square, white, nubby towels from a red bucket on the table. (A giant rack of these towels stood nearby, lending a sort of linen-closet feel to the setting.) Then we surveyed the verbose, playful food menu, capriciously eliminating one of two pages of antipasto platters (the only appetizers on offer) because we were tired of reading and didn't like the font.

We settled on the Polinia ($14.99). Its little dishes, arranged on a round cutting board, contained among other things a darkened, tired-tasting basil pesto; "Gaudy select herbed cheese made right here in Seattle," which bore a strong resemblance to mass-market garlic 'n' herb cheese spread; figs that seemed to be neither fresh nor dried, but accidentally somewhere in between; and a "horseradish beet sauce"—pink, sweet creamy stuff that called Miracle Whip to mind. The accompanying rolls ("sphericals") were warm, slightly greasy, and covered in impotent dried herbs.

Entrées entered the realm of the baroque. Scallops Sebhetti ($17.99), purportedly baked in red sauce, was a quandary; the scallops were neither over- nor undercooked, but the entire dish was burning hot around the edges and near freezing in the middle. The orderer sent it back, though fearful of the ruin of the scallops; the waiter was highly contrite; the dish returned all right, but the sauce was judged "canned tasting," its only highlight multiple whole cloves of garlic. Ravioli Alma ($14.99) was voted the favorite for its stoner-food, ricotta-and-Alfredo cheesiness. All the while, the "giant Meat ball" ($17.99) debacle unfolded: I worked my way through a pile of nondescript vegetables atop the ball of meat, and when I unearthed it, it disintegrated alarmingly. A taste revealed that it was not meat at all but a Vegetarian ball. The menu was consulted, and while faux meat figured in other dishes, this was in fact billed as a "Meat ball." A surreal conversation with the waiter ensued, at the end of which he chivalrously bought us a bottle of wine.

We declined dessert, choosing instead to drown our sorrows in Gaudy's tiny, cozy lounge. During our visit, we glimpsed only one hapless couple, poring over the menu in a distant alcove; perhaps the secret address policy is working.

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