If you send William Belickis to 7-Eleven for hors d'oeuvres ingredients—as The Stranger did in November of 2003—he'll make vegetarian crab cakes using crappy party-tray vegetables, ranch dressing, and a Dorito/Triscuit mince. They will taste like crab. He'll also liquefy canned cranberry sauce, add cherry Kool-Aid and melon-flavored breath strips, then atomize it in a whipped-cream canister and pipe it onto celery sticks. This will taste like "nothing from this planet."
For a decade, Belickis made the hautest of cuisine out of the finest of ingredients at his unapologetically superformal Belltown restaurant, Mistral. Now he's got a new—some say crazily ambitious—endeavor on Westlake, Mistral Kitchen. It's not so much a restaurant as it is a high-end food court: a mammoth, starkly contemporary space with multiple kitchens, myriad seating areas, $20 à la carte suppers, $90 eight-course set menus, and (as currently required by law) an artisan cocktail bar. Belickis isn't messing around: Seattle sushi star Saito is running the raw bar and Andrew Bohrer, from Bellevue's Chantanee, the drinks one.
It's a lot of quality to control, and it's only been open a few weeks. For the cautious-but-curious (or the just strapped), happy hour (daily 5–6 pm) is a fine way to take a look. But first you have to find the door: midway up the Westlake side of the complex, camouflaged like a burnished metal wall. Inside, a favorite pastime is walking around, much like at the mall. People wander throughout, excusing themselves past each other and peeking into other people's private rooms (some of which have perforated walls for the purpose). A half-dozen ladies in high heels clutch cocktails while blocking the passageway to an open kitchen, gawping at the Neapolitan wood-fired oven ("It's one thousand degrees!" they marvel).
At the bar, Bohrer looks natty in his vest with watch chain, but he also looks slightly harassed—it's not even six o'clock, and the three-person bar staff struggles to keep up. (They also struggle to find room; the work area is tiny for a place this size.) Bohrer makes Bee's Knees (gin, lemon, honey, egg white, bitters) nine at a time. For another drink, he hand-carves three-inch spheres of ice with a paring knife; when M.K. is full, a dedicated individual for this task will be required (and this individual will have damn cold hands). If anyone besides Bohrer makes you a Bermuda rum swizzle, ask for it easy on the house-made falernum, unless you like the taste of medicine.
Happy-hour "Bites" include a crazily generous charcuterie plate for $5 and oysters on the half shell, $1 each. The latter come, as is the vogue, with fancy dressings; if pomegranate granita is one, get it on the side, unless you like your oysters with a heaping tablespoon of red Slurpee.
Mistral Kitchen, 2020 Westlake Ave, 623-1922