Wallingford is dead as a doornail on late Sunday afternoon—where Northeast 45th Street is usually so clogged with cars, you could practically take a nap in the middle of the street. Inside Joule, there's music and snow cones and $4 glasses of wine (which are pour-your-own, as heavy-handed as your scruples allow). A woman sitting solo at the open kitchen's counter smiles conspiratorially to herself; a couple seated on the banquette at their table, side by side, eat with intent. It's the inauguration of Joule's Sunday Urban BBQ, and those in the know trickle in—regulars, people from the Ballard farmers market and Taylor Shellfish Farms, the one-year anniversary party of neighboring restaurant Art of the Table.
It's an indoors-only party for now—the owners of the bank parking lot next door have so far proven unwilling to get into the spirit—and the first time out, the decorations are somewhat peremptory: a couple strings of lights, a miniature picnic table on a small circle of green Astroturf for the kids, a striped tablecloth. Chef/owners Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi are still getting the temporary transformation of their contemporary bistro into a picnic sorted out, and no one cares—the food is good.
Yang and Chirchi moved from New York, where they met working at Alain Ducasse (and Yang also cooked at Per Se); here, they first were the opening chefs at Coupage in Madrona, then opened Joule, their own place, this past winter. The Urban BBQ is part labor of love, part good old American ingenuity: They missed outdoor-style cooking while living in New York City, and they wanted to banish the Wallingford Sunday tumbleweeds without doing brunch. Joule's usual menu—with its eclectic categories like "Simmered" and "Sparked," with its exotic dishes like artichoke barigoule with lemongrass/galangar/breadcrumbs and octopus with Chinese celery pistou and seaweed salad—will be getting a day of rest. Each Sunday through the summer will have a different theme, with just a handful of BBQ-ish dishes given expert consideration and execution; prices will top out around $10 (with wine always $4). There will be live music. Children or timid adults may eat hot dogs.
Chirchi's excited about June 15: the Hot Korean Grill edition, with spicy pork, short ribs, mountains of kimchi, a lettuce wrap bar, and soju cocktails. (Korean food's his favorite, and Yang was born and raised there.) Marrow fans should mark July 20 on their calendar: Among other meat treats (smoked brisket, beef salad), Where's the Beef? will feature "popcorn" made of battered, deep-fried bone marrow. (This preparation comes from a superindulgent chef's salad they came up with at Coupage.) Other Sundays bring spicy fried chicken (with deviled eggs, for your which-came-first contemplation), an all-pork extravaganza, and old-fashioned low-country BBQ. June 22: Hail to the Vegetables is your day, vegetarians—otherwise, Joule's website (which has the whole summer's schedule: joulerestaurant.com) offers this anemic pledge: "We will always have a few items that could be served without meat or seafood." (Even Veg. Day won't be meat- and fish-free.)
If the sauces at Urban BBQ #1 are any indication, attendance at July 27's Food on a Stick (satay, kebabs, yakitori, and so forth) is mandatory, and you'll want to get a spoon and pull your chair up to the condiment bar. BBQ #1—Operation Clambake, unaffiliated with the Scientology-debunking organization of the same name—had a searingly tart, commendably interesting, but pretty much inedible roasted lemon sauce. The other two sauces, though, prompted the dipping and eating of all available foodstuffs and some furniture—a very slightly sweet smoked chili oil with just enough heat to keep it interesting, and a parsley/cilantro salsa verde, simple, clean- and green-tasting. The Clambake's come and gone, so it seems cruel to belabor its virtues, but it was a highly favorable harbinger. A generous personal-sized seafood boil for $10 had its own little netting bag full of Taylor Shellfish clams, mussels, and shrimp—they all looked a little dry, having emerged into the air out of a giant silver pot you could see on the stove, but were perfect in the mouth (even before the sauces of wonder came into play). With the seafood: creamy little potatoes, surprisingly good corn on the cob, a bit of sausage. The rest of the menu: a half-dozen small, striped-shelled raw Shelton oysters: $4. Razor clam chowder, not too much dairy, possibly made with bacon broth: also $4. Spinach salad, overdressed exactly the right amount with house-made, faith-restoring ranch dressing (not buttermilk, but mayo, sour cream, garlic, vinegar, lemon, lots of Worcestershire): yes, $4.
A couple special (nonalcoholic, Korean- influenced) drinks at the Clambake also bode well: a nutty, syrupy roasted-corn sweet tea and a blood orange shrub made with an extremely bracing dose of vinegar, like lemonade that finally stopped trying to be nice ($2 each). In the dessert department, a slice of key lime pie ($3) disappeared rapidly, and the snow cones ($3) will be ongoing (in flavors like rhubarb-grapefruit, mojito, and Vietnamese coffee). (For additional options in delicious sweetness/unusual flavors, the new Molly Moon's ice cream parlor would be an excellent nearby post-BBQ stop.) There are also packets of flattened organic cotton candy, which resemble toupees in a disturbing way. The one I got at BBQ #1 is still on the kitchen counter; I keep expecting it to crawl away.
On the phone after the Clambake, Chirchi said they'd be getting more elaborate with the BBQ decor, which is hardly even necessary. He also said, "We couldn't be happier—we're having a lot of fun, and you can taste it in the food." Well put, sir, and that's what matters.