Blackbird Bistro, the chic new West Seattle restaurant, is a haven for good food. It is relaxed but not frumpy, and you can find pretty much whatever you're craving on its New American menu: crab cakes with citrus aioli; chicken in a sweet chile glaze; or a big old steak. That Blackbird's chef David Hilliard makes these dishes from organic and sustainably harvested ingredients makes the food all the more scrumptious. With Blackbird, and its cool Latina sister lounge, Mission, next door, West Seattle is finally losing its sleepy suburban vibe and feeling like a real city.
All of the above is more or less true, and I planned to write several more paragraphs along these lines because Eric Cozens, the co-owner of Blackbird, purchased a rave from me in the journalistic-integrity dumping, hungry-feeding extravaganza that is Strangercrombie. But Cozens, who is 30ish, good-looking, and wearing a shirt with neat cuffs, is feeling a little bit of advertorial remorse.
"I'm dealing with the guilt that I bought a fucking review for my own restaurant," admits Cozens upon my arrival. Fortunately my date—the ever-upbeat David Schmader—counters Cozen's self-berating with, "It's really just like getting your child a tutor, isn't it?"
We all agree that it is, and sit down in an impressive mahogany booth. The Blackbird space used to house Zaffarano, a perfectly mediocre bistro, but I remember the great booths. Cozens and co-owner Pete Morse have cleaned up the space nicely—removing a hulking pizza oven, taking away a column or two, and hanging a chic tangle of light bulbs as a chandelier. Near the bar, there's a blue light glowing, saying something like, "We might be a bistro serving organic food, but we still like to party." Cool. Once the weather clears up, there will be sidewalk dining, too. Double cool.
Meanwhile, I'm harboring my own anxiety. I'm used to going to restaurants unannounced. I have no idea how to eat in front of a vigilant owner. Fortunately, Cozens knows exactly how to handle the situation, and quickly gets us drinking. Our glasses will not be empty for the rest of the night.
We nibble away at roast beef with a nice spicy tomato sauce (normally $8, but free in this case). The standard seared ahi tuna dish ($10) is accompanied by calamari sautéed with oyster mushrooms, which make an unexpectedly nice pair. Schmader the vegetarian looks pleased with his green salad purtied up with roasted beets and Parmesan ($7).
In my nervousness, I half interview Cozens (ex-Starbucks, ambitious in both fun and work), but also develop a form of anxiety-driven Tourette's, in which I can only talk about exotic dance—from the saddest strip club in the world (Jumbo's Clown Palace in L.A.) to the hyperactive male strippers I once saw on HBO's Real Sex. Thank god Schmader backed me up on the amazingness of the HBO show, or I might have come across as the loneliest, most desperate food reviewer in the world.
The ravioli ($13), stuffed with squash and drizzled with a creamy pesto sauce, makes Schmader very happy indeed. When my pork chop ($21) arrives a little overcooked Cozens notices, and is clearly mortified: He rushes back to the kitchen and in a twinkling, I am chewing happily on a particularly juicy chop that's just the right amount of rosy inside.
We finish by sharing a pair of desserts—a nice tall slice of chocolate cake from Macrina ($5), and the super-creamy house-made mascarpone cheesecake ($6), which, in the words of Schmader, "kicks the other one's ass."
A day or two later I have already forgotten about the first chop, but Cozens hasn't. He urges me to return for another meal, and I swing in for lunch, where I eat a truly lovely squash soup, plus a big, juicy burger cooked precisely to my medium-rare specs—something for the kitchen to be proud of in these days of chewy, grayish patties.
So, eat at Blackbird. You'll be happier for it. And so will Eric Cozens.