823 Fifth Ave N, 283-8800
Sun-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm.
I couldn't get my head around Crow. When I heard that would be the name of Craig (Stumbling Goat) Serbousek and Jesse Thomas' new restaurant, I thought the word had way too many negative connections to be good for a restaurant. I mean, to begin with crows are kind of ominous, carrion-eating birds, aren't they? And then there's eating crow, crow's feet wrinkles, and worst of all, Jim Crow. Plus, Seattle's splashiest new restaurant this year has been Lark--haven't we had enough with the bird names already?
But now that I've seen the place, I'll take back my griping. I even have to admit I kind of like that crow, inked out like a woodcut in the restaurant's logo and silhouetted in the ironwork that divides the dining room.
Crow occupies an artsy-industrial space with lofty ceilings, open kitchen, and a massive Mark Rothko-esque mural splashing warm colors against one wall. It even boasted a booth big enough to seat my very international seven-person party (including friends jetted in from London and Dubai). The high attendance also meant we got to taste nearly everything on the compact menu, including most of their shared hors d'oeuvre platters. It's hard to go wrong with meats from Armandino Batali's Salumi (and fortunately, they're becoming more common as he ramps up his wholesale operation). Crow presents a nice selection of them ($11), some brick-red slivers of bresaola (cured beef), mottled slices of salami, and a happy tangle of prosciutto. Another plate boasted a yummy ruffle of smoked salmon ($9) served in a pale-green puddle of cucumber sauce. But the best of the shared dishes, the one that had the Londoners impressed, was the mussels ($10) bathed in creamy curry sauce (not the toxic-yellow turmeric-heavy stuff you usually run into, but a sweetly spicy deal that demanded bread-sopping). Mr. London also had a joyful fit over grilled grape leaves stuffed with manchego cheese ($8), although I think the sheep's milk cheese gets too oily when melted like that.
Contrary to the dominant trend, Crow is not a small-plate restaurant. It serves hearty entrées like sausage-stuffed lasagna ($12), whose pleasant spiciness made an otherwise macho friend declare that it felt like he had stars in his mouth (I think this is the same thing I said the first time I tried a clove cigarette). Good old chicken 'n' green beans was also a pleasure, especially wrapped in a crispy blanket of pancetta, and especially when I discovered a crackly-skinned, boneless thigh hidden under the breast ($14). Poor chicken thighs! They're so tasty and so often neglected.
Ms. London insisted on pronouncing succotash with a ladylike long-voweled "soookotahsh." The dish ($14) was a basil-y medley of all of summer's best vegetables: beans and corn and tomatoes and butter. Two crispy risotto cakes topped it off to make it the kind of vegetarian dish that makes steak lovers jealous.
Maybe not that jealous. Mr. London was in full-on carnivore mode and ate his N.Y. strip with gusto even as he announced that he needed to lose 10 kilos to combat a health problem. The beef was beautifully aged, tender and rosy pink inside. (And, at $20, somewhat more moderately priced than most good steaks in town.) I can't say that I felt as warmly toward the roasted broccoli that went with the meat; it had a scorchy cabbage smell. It and another side, the smashed potato cake--lumpy mashed potatoes packed into a mound, then covered with breadcrumbs and broiled--brought a distinctly cafeteria quality to a meal of otherwise enlightened vegetables.
Take the black bean salsa that accompanied the pork tenderloin ($14). I would have expected the grilled peach garnish to steal the show from the meat. It was tasty and sweet, but the combination of succulent corn, black beans, and lime kept me prodding my fork into my neighbor's plate.
Even though I see real crows all the time, they can still impress me with their squawking and imposing inkiness. And it's that drama in the everyday that Crow, the restaurant, seems to be getting at. There's nothing surprising about its American bistro menu, but there is something pleasantly unexpected about how good nearly every dish tastes.