Believe it or not, this is my 50th blog post on Ginger and Salt. While it might seem silly, this feels like a bit of a milestone for this little hobby of mine. To those of you who continue to read, comment, text, email and share details with me of your own adventures in food: thank you. Nothing brings me more joy. Considering I expected my only readers to be my parents and sister, I feel very grateful.
It feels appropriate for my 50th post to share with you a particularly special meal I recently enjoyed at Altura in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Altura is not the kind of place you pop into for a quick weeknight meal when you don’t feel like cooking. It is the kind of place where you make a reservation at least a month in advance and spend every day until your visit dreaming about the amazing meal. Anticipation is half the fun, right?
I happen to live a mere few blocks from this wonderful spot, which is more of a curse than a blessing. Having been once before, each time I walk by I stare longingly in at the diners, envious of the food on their tables. Ever since we moved into our apartment, my roommate and closest friend Cammie and I have been fantasizing about the day that we treat ourselves to a multi-course Altura dinner. (It didn’t hurt that Cammie’s adoring significant other, John, generously contributed to our Altura fund by giving me a gift certificate for Christmas.) Over a year after moving to the neighborhood, we made our reservation and let the countdown begin.
Altura is my number one recommendation in Seattle for anyone looking for an extra special dining experience. Sure, there’s always the ever-sleek Canlis where the food is gorgeous and you feel like you’re James Bond when your car pulls around in the valet without having said a word. Canlis is fantastic, but Altura is much more my style. You won’t find valet parking at Altura and the clientele isn’t particularly fashionable (jeans and Merrell slip-ons abound), but I guarantee you will feel like royalty the second you step inside.
While the prices on the menu would suggest otherwise, Altura feels completely unpretentious. Throughout the course of the night, we were blown away not only by the friendliness of each staff member, but also each individual’s level of knowledge. Everyone from the woman who seated us to the man who removed our empty plates was incredibly well-versed about each dish and were able to answer any of our questions.
We requested to sit at the counter in advance which made for a particularly fun experience, as we were able to chat away while also sneaking peeks at the beautiful creations being made by the chefs in front of us. They worked so silently in what felt like a choreographed dance. It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch.
Dinner started with a refreshing tarragon aperitif and an amuse bouche of fennel panna cotta topped with beautiful roe that was both creamy and briny. We were also served chewy bread with butter and a delicious anchovy oil that vanished fairly quickly.
There are three options when dining at Altura. You can either go with three courses, five courses, or the tasting menu. The tasting menu is the priciest and requires that you relinquish your control to the chef for the night. If you go with the three or five course option, you make your selections from the different sections of the menu. It’s a bit of a Choose Your Own Adventure book in that you could order an appetizer, a pasta, and an entree or two pastas and an entree or an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. You get the picture. You also have to select the same amount of courses as the others in the party, so we both decided to go with the three course option and order six different dishes.
Our server completely indulged all of our questions and helped us strategize a game plan for the menu that both of us couldn’t have been happier with. We opted out of the wine pairing option and the wonderful sommelier helped us pick a very reasonably priced Barbera that went perfectly with our range of dishes. Again, I cannot harp enough on the level of service. One might be intimidated by the wine list here, or made to feel less for wanting a bottle for less than $50, but instead the sommelier made us feel like MVPs. This, to me, makes all the difference in a restaurant experience.
Our first dish was from the appetizer section, which they thoughtfully split into two plates for us. It was the Albacore Tuna Crudo with a salsa verde, shaved fennel, capers, anchovies, and lemon. Also present was the most darling hard-boiled quail egg and Calabrian chili which was spicy but delicious.
We knew we wanted at least two pastas and ultimately settled on the Spaghetti Alla Chitarra with grilled abalone and octopus, green garlic, and crab butter (!!!) and the Pappardelle with Wilderness Farms pork ragu, fennel, chili, and pecorino. Both were spectacular. I keep going back and forth, but I think the spaghetti was my favorite dish of the night. It was rich and tasted like the ocean. Had we ordered three pastas, we would have also gotten the Risotto Mantecato with guanciale, pumpkin, crispy kale, and parmesan as our neighbors had it and it looked incredible.
We selected two entrees from the menu. The first was the Crimson Rock Fish with mussel sformato (an Italian soufflelike dish), Dungeness crab, and melted leeks. This dish was so beautifully done. It was certainly lighter in comparison to the other entree we ordered, the Tails and Trotters Pork Shank. Your doctor would not recommend that you eat this, but wow, it was amazing. It consisted of pieces of pork shank combined with foie gras and then wrapped in speck. It was served with asparagus, a fried ‘angry’ egg, crispy belly, and the same Calabrian chilis that made an appearance earlier in the night. This dish was rich, but the flavors were insane.
For dessert we were torn between going for something fruitier or something more chocolatey. We ended up choosing the Satsuma in Velo because it looked so unique and we weren’t disappointed. Cammie described it as ‘Candyland Deconstructed’ and it really was. The base of it was a sbrisolona (which we discovered is a chewy, crunchy Italian cake) that was then topped with blood orange slices, toasted almonds, mint, and what appeared to be gourmet housemade Dots and Sour Patch Kids. As someone who spends too much time in the bulk candy aisle sneaking Sour Patch Watermelons, I was in heaven.
Upon finishing our dessert, we lingered at the counter feeling a mixture of elation and depression. We weren’t ready to leave yet! And then, just like that, the chefs across the counter passed us two little mugs. Inside was mascarpone gelato that they then proceeded to douse with creamy, bubbling Roman hot chocolate. This delightful surprise was the perfect way to end the night.
When we walked into Altura, we immediately felt like Cinderella (except swap the castle for an Italian family’s home.) The tiny, cozy space creates an experience that is both intimate and personal. Everything about our experience exceeded expectations and considering the fact that we’re still talking about it each night as we eat our humble dinners of eggs and toast, we felt it was worth every penny. We walked to the door where we were met by the sommelier, who was already holding our coats (Who needs the valet trick?!) As he held the door and bid us goodnight I found myself wanting to give him a hug and thank him again for such a lovely evening (Don’t worry, I restrained myself). While we had to give back our glass slippers at midnight, the meal we enjoyed at Altura was not one we will soon forget.
Altura, 617 Broadway East, Seattle, WA, (206) 402-6749, http://www.alturarestaurant.com, Reservations Required, Open for Dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 – 10 pm and Friday and Saturday from 5 – 10 pm