It must be said: Brimmer & Heeltap is a terrible name. Try saying this name to somebody, and their look of mystification is instant and complete: "What?" is the only possible response to hearing it for the first time. Neither of the two words are known to humankind, and together they sound like a jaunty parody of a place, one where everybody has English accents and persistently sings and dances until someone sensible sets it on fire. The website says it refers to "a proper pour," with the brimmer stage "teasing the top of the glass," then "culminating in a satisfying glimpse of the bottom," i.e., apparently, the heeltap. This does not help.
But what's in a name, as a Brit once rhetorically asked? We got used to Speckled & Drake, didn't we?
If you would like to forget about the name right away, go to this new Ballard place and order the "pearis 75" cocktail. This is not a masterpiece of nomenclature, either, but don't dwell on it, just say it quickly, and get one into your hand and your mouth. It's made with Clear Creek pear brandy, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, and sparkling wine, served up, and it's such a perfect combination of sweet and sour and sharp and fizzy, you will want three of them. If you live close by and have $36 to spare—they're $12 each—that might make for a perfect night.
But wait: The steak tartare ($10) at Brimmer & Heeltap is mind-erasingly good, too. Chef Mike Whisenhunt—if you're sitting at the bar, you can see him working with concentration in the open kitchen—has worked at Joule and Revel, and in this excellent version of raw beef, it shows. The chop is exactly right—not too rough, not too fine—and the ruby-red meat has the warming taste of sesame oil, bits of scallion, maybe a hint of rice vinegar. There's a line of red chili salt down the side of the plate to mix in if you want a touch of spicy heat. The vehicle for getting the tartare to your mouth, besides just forking it up, is a puffy, airy nori cracker, crunchy and ricey-sweet against the rich meat.
There's more Asian experimentation with the pork belly buns ($3 each): Fresno chili for spice, sour cherry, star anise. A chilled Dungeness crab trifle ($16) is an exploration of different textures of umami: It's assembled like a sundae, with shreds of crab at the bottom, a stratum of ginger-beer-soaked brioche in the middle, and a final layer of crab custard reminiscent of sea urchin on top, with a mini-salad of brussels sprout leaves acting as the cherry. It's as weird as it sounds, and fascinating to eat, as your mouth and brain try to figure out exactly what they're experiencing.
Compared to everything that had gone before, a snack-sized dish of blistered little beets with fennel puree and a supposedly spicy citrus vinaigrette ($6) seemed rather inert. The well-meaning bartender recommended the lemongrass asparagus ($7/$13) even after a fussy inquiry about how the asparagus wasn't local, was it? But the fact that it was from California was less of a problem than the failure of the sum of its parts—it was loaded up with dry crumbles of pistachio, radicchio, and bits of green olive, topped with an egg—to add up to anything but a small fight amongst themselves. And a chewy roasted chuck steak ($11/$21) needed more in the way of tenderization; it was chewy, with a brininess like corned beef, and a slippery-to-the-point-of-slimy kombu seaweed salad with mustard seeds playing the part of soggy cabbage.
Brimmer & Heeltap is where the late, great Le Gourmand used to be, and the formerly formal room is virtually unrecognizable. Now it's bustling and friendly and airy, with the kitchen opened up, plus a clever opening in the wall to the former Sambar, which now has a floor tiled in a grazillion pennies. Twenty classic schoolhouse pendant light fixtures of different sizes hang in a pleasing row, and a conjoined-twin fan spins over the bar. The barstools appear to have been upholstered with cream-colored leather salvaged from Le Gourmand, as a nice reminder underneath. While the food isn't 100 percent awesome, like Le Gourmand's used to be, Whisenhunt's spirit of adventure is admirable. And with small sizes available of all the plates, the eating can be adventuresome without too much financial risk.