We had some friends in town this weekend and made some plans to go out to dinner Saturday night. We tried to get a reservation at the Book Bindery at a decent time, but as a popular new spot with limited seating, 5 pm and 9:30 pm were the only availabilities. 5:30 was pathetically actually a rather appealing time for us, but we figured our out-of-town guests wouldn’t be pumped to eat the early bird hour. There are couple of really nice restaurants within stumbling distance (Cantinetta, Elemental) of our house, and we decided we should choose the most adventurous (and booziest) restaurant of the two, and potentially in all of Seattle, Elemental.
As your San Francisco Giants were playing the Phillies in Game 6 of the NLCS, we started out at Casa Taylor watching the game and enjoying some wine and light snacks. Our friend Kirk works for a wine broker and is pretty knowledgeable about wines and I had spent the day yelling at a rainy golf tournament and lubricating my throat with beers, as such, I was also very knowledgeable. Maggie and I talked up our other experiences at Elemental whereby the husband (somelier) and wife (chef) team had both delighted our palates and ignored and insulted us at every opportunity (him not her).
For those that don’t know, Elemental is a small restaurant above Gasworks park that’s housed in a modern condo complex. It’s minamilist through and through without signage, menus, or prices. There are a couple of other spots like this in Seattle which focus on small courses, local ingredients and purveyors, extensive wine pairings, and the experience of eating. Elemental simply likes to crank up the wine pairings and ignore the supposed tenets of restaurant ownership – be nice to the guests.
As we sat in the adjoining wine bar waiting for our table, it was clear that Megan and Kirk were excited about the place and the fact that they were experiencing something new. We had a nice bottle of Primitivo at END (Elemental Next Door). END is fun because you can actually peruse the bottles as you would in wine store and each bottle is $30 so there is no consideration you have to give to price – you just try what looks interesting.
We had a good conversation which at multiple points Kirk said, “I can’t believe we don’t have a restaurant like this in San Francisco. It would do great. We love to be punished.”
When we asked how long it might take for us to get seated our server let us know that an average dinner might take 3 hours (“if you’re in a rush”) or up to 5 hours and that, “hopefully, they’ll be enough food when you’re seated.” Huh? Well, right around 11 pm, we were seated and the husband/sommelier immediately walked up to ask us if we’d like a cocktail – “perhaps a Negroni or a Manhattan”?
Our previous cocktail experience at Elemental was pretty funny and something that we relayed to Megan and Kirk. It was a late night and we were with a group of friends having a nightcap. One of us made the correct order of an extra dry Bombay Saphire martini and was rewarded with a free flight of exotic and small-batch gins. One of us made the incorrect order of a dirty Stoli Martini and was punished with a drink that could not have been further from a dirty Stoli Martini – I believe it had cinnamon in it. This story typifies the Elemental experience – say something that the sommelier finds smart or interesting and you’re offered a world of new experiences – but say something that is in some way displeasing to the sommelier and you’re ignored, dismissed, or given a dirty look. It’s a great experience for the food masochist or someone who believes they have unflappable and impeccable taste.
Megan ordered something I can’t remember, Maggie asked for something “like a Sidecar” and was given nothing like a Sidecar, I, trying desperately to order something correctly incorrectly asked for “brown gin” and was first given a look of both disgust and derision but ultimately rewarded with a deliciously juniper-y gin drink, Kirk made the ultimate mistake – he said he didn’t want a cocktail and wanted to just stick to red wine.
“Well, if you were going to “stick to red wine” you should have just stayed next door. That’s not how we do this.”
Kirk was appalled when the sommelier dropped off something that seemed to made with a combination of champagne, vermouth, and loathing, and said something to the effect of, “what a jerk.”
We had the experience that we expected, a delicious meal, and just enough insulting behavior from the sommelier to make Elemental interesting and a conversation piece for our guests. It only lasted about 1.5 hours as we had to get back to my cousin, who was babysitting, by a reasonable hour, like 1 am.