Blue State Special
Wild Mountain Cafe Has Great Food Buried in Social Justice
Wild Mountain Cafe
1408 NW 85th St, 297-9453
Wed-Mon 8:30 am-9:30 pm; closed Tues.
Say what you will about hippies, but they're great cooks. Some of the best meals I've had have been in alternative-energy-powered homes, or around campfires at festivals with too many drum circles. The hippie green-earth ethos makes sense in a kitchen: Organic food with no preservatives or artificial flavors almost always tastes better than the standard mega-food-distributor-issued fare you get at most restaurants.
The waitstaff at Wild Mountain Cafe don't look like hippies—I didn't see a single dreadlock—but the restaurant itself is a monument to progressive business ethics. You wouldn't be able to tell from just looking around. It's in a repurposed house, its dining room and living room painted in warm yellows and reds. The front cloak room is now a bar and the back bedroom is a more intimate dining space, and it still feels like a home, albeit one that's host to a perpetual dinner party.
The menu, though, really bangs the socially conscious bongos. You're informed that you have to ask for water, presumably for conservational reasons, and then you're told that most of the fixtures, furniture, table settings, and kitchen equipment were purchased secondhand, and the whole thing closes with a heartfelt request: "We really, really appreciate cash or check payments as exorbitant debit-card fees are especially hard on us small businesses." This plea inspired my first-ever case of liberal guilt for buying a meal with a credit card, and now I'll always remember Wild Mountain when I forget to go to an ATM before dinner.
Enough about what the people in the kitchen believe—how do they cook? One of the starters is impossibly dreamy: the aglio olio ($7.75), grilled organic bread served with olive oil, roasted garlic cloves, and goat cheese. It's so simple, but cooked and served so well that the anticipation of the meal grows to pretty astronomical levels.
The main courses often live up to this advance hype. The fried chicken ($16.75) is amazing, though if you're expecting crusty, greasy finger food you'll be disappointed. It's oven-fried and honey-glazed—more a knife-and-fork affair. The chicken is so tender and sweet that it's difficult to not make animal noises of approval while you're eating it, and it comes with a generous side of garlic smashed potatoes that are likewise perfectly simple.
The very un-hippie-like star of the menu is the rib-eye steak ($24), that's billed as a "chef's choice" affair—in theory, you may never get the same steak twice. One visit yielded a mammoth, marbled cut covered with grilled onions, mushrooms, blue cheese, and bacon. Coupled with the potatoes, it's hard to imagine a more red-blooded American meal. The less daring can get a big, gooey bowl of macaroni and cheese ($9.75). I appreciate that the macaroni was actually cooked, rather than condensed into a mushy slop on the stove all evening, but it should be noted that the active cheese in this dish is Swiss—there's none of the cheddary sharpness most people expect.
The most unsatisfying meal was the Cassie's Ace in the Hole, two black-bean cakes served with rice, salsa, and guacamole ($13.75). The rice had a fine texture, but was an uninspired match to the black-bean cakes, which were crispy and flavorful. It felt like an unbalanced plate that could use more thoughtfulness.
Both the Caesar salad ($5.75 small, $9.75 large) and the strawberry shortcake ($6.25) were serviceable. The salad dressing and the dessert's pound cake tasted uninspired enough to seem almost store-bought—a sacrilege at such an eagerly alternative restaurant. The key lime pie ($5.75) was exactly what the shortcake should've been: obviously homemade, tart and sweet, and unforgettable.
The Wild Mountain website proclaims that it's women-owned—who needs to know a proprietor's gender before eating out?—and there's an extensive explanation of how it's the only restaurant in King County to use worms for its composting. All the lecturing brings a very slight bad taste to the experience—like sharing a dining room with someone who talks too loud about things you don't care about, when all you want to do is enjoy the food that somebody quietly suffered over in the kitchen to make you happy.