ginger and salt

a tree grows in fremont: agrodolce.

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I’m a bit of a planner.  Okay, I’m a planner to a fault.  I love having things to look forward to, I love studying menus before an anticipated meal, I love coordinating all of the details.  It’s part of the fun, right?  But when my dad calls me on a Tuesday afternoon before Christmas (apologies for the delay in posting this) and asks me to join him for the soft opening of Maria Hines’ new restaurant in Fremont, all plans go out the window and the schedule is cleared.

On its first night in service, prior to opening to the public, Agrodolce was abuzz with excitement as eager diners eyed each delicious plate coming out of the kitchen.  Many will recognize the cozy space in Fremont, formerly the home of 35th Street Bistro, with the floor to ceiling, long-paned windows and the iconic tree growing out of the middle of the restaurant.  Overhearing one of the servers talking to the table adjacent to us, she said that the tree had been there for almost 12 years.  If only that tree could talk…

I started with the Day Walker cocktail, made with Battavia Arrak (an Indonesian rum distilled from sugar cane — don’t worry, I had to ask, too), Falernum (a sweet syrup with almond, ginger, and cloves), ginger beer, and lemon. A little sweet, a little bit spicy, it made for an excellent wintertime drink.  They definitely have a lot of great things going on at the bar here.

Even though it was the restaurant’s very first night, the meal still flowed wonderfully and spirits were very high in the room, both among diners and staff.  Our first taste of Southern Italy and Sicily came in the form of a velvety, creamy Cauliflower Soup with Black Olive Oil, Fried Chickpeas, and Preserved Lemon.  The soup had a luxurious, rich texture and quickly vanished from the bowl.  We also tried the Antipasti Misto, which I’m sure changes regularly, with Agrodolce Vegetables, Salami, Provolone Picante, and Panelle (Sicilian fritters that we inhaled). Each component was delicious, and I would definitely recommend this so that you can try a little bit of everything.

Predictably, I ordered the Pugliese style Burrata with Baby Beets, Citrus Honey Gastrique, and Mint. (Now that I’m thinking about it, I should really do a Burrata-crawl in this city…) Agrodolce’s version is made in house and was the perfect consistency, creamy but not too runny, highlighted by the sweetness of the gastrique and the bitterness of the beets.  Absolutely a highlight of the meal.

We shared two different pasta dishes, the Spaghetti with Skagit River Ranch Beef Sugo, Mama Lil’s Peppers, and Marinara and the Ricotta Ravioli with Black Truffle Butter, Marjoram, and Garlic.  I enjoyed both, but preferred the ravioli if I had to pick one because I loved the combination of the truffles and marjoram.  However, I feel the need to stick up for the spaghetti, since I feel that the pasta itself gets a bad rap.  This version is complete comfort food, the kind of stick-to-your-ribs dish that you’re craving during the winter.  It also has a nice kick thanks to my favorite peppers in the world, Mama Lil’s (if you haven’t had them, order some now. They’ll change your life.)

The next dish was my personal favorite of the night.  The Slow Cooked Rabbit Cacciatora with Black Olives, Fregola, and Oven Dried Tomatoes was so tender, you didn’t even need a knife. Fregola is a pasta in the form of tiny, round beads, with a bit of a nuttier flavor.  It was perfectly seasoned, savory and silky with each bite.  I just checked and this dish is still on the menu, so you’re in luck.

We wrapped up with the Theo Chocolate Budino with Italian Chestnuts, Whipped Cream, and Mint per our server’s recommendation.  Budino is an Italian dessert, in the form of a dense custard.  In describing this, all I will say is that my dad doesn’t even like chocolate, but kept stealing it away from me because it was that good.

Fans of Hines’ famed restaurant Tilth will be excited to know that Tilth’s Executive Chef Jason Brzozowy has also taken on the Executive Chef position at Agrodolce.  In my opinion, this really speaks to the versatility of Hines and her team.  All three restaurants have received the highly-esteemed organic certification from Oregon Tilth and are obsessive about focusing on locally sourced ingredients (I mean, they can practically tell you the name of the chicken, Portlandia-style).  But each restaurant has a vastly different menu and Hines has managed to exceed diners’ expectations with her culinary range, whether it’s Moroccan at Golden Beetle, Northwest-focused at Tilth, or Italian at Agrodolce.  It’s a rare skill to be able to reinvent yourself and take on new challenges, while still maintaining the level of quality and thoughtfulness that your fans have come to know and love.

Anyone that knows my dear father knows that to dine with him is to dine with the entire restaurant.  True to form, after several handshakes and glasses of wine, our table was at the center of multiple conversations.  I tried to keep my cool as we were surrounded by some of the chefs and restauranteurs that I respect (and idolize) most, but the best part about Maria and her loyal friends and admirers, is that everyone is so laid-back and down to earth.  No affectation, no arrogance, just wonderful people who love good food.  This is the kind of atmosphere that Maria cultivates, again and again.

Agrodolce, 709 North 35th Street, Seattle, WA, (206) 547-9707, http://www.agrodolcerestaurant.net, Dinner Nightly, Lunch Monday – Friday, Brunch on Saturday and Sunday

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4 comments

  1. wheat field

    Even if your culinary experience is not perfect and it’s pretty tough for any restaurant to deliver on all counts, your pieces are always a ‘feel good’ without going overboard and when you do go overboard, well, that’s quite lovely too. Your food adventures are kind of like being on a ‘Magical Mystery Tour”, exotic, fun and full of clever turns (I did love the Beatles) and I’m really enjoying the ride.

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