2020 Western Ave.
Seattle WA 98121
He Did Write a Whole Book on Crabcakes...
By: Bryan R
How often can you eat an Iron Chef victor's cuisine? A product descended from heights of the Kitchen Stadium? A touch of that fabled televised gloriousness with all its pomp and pride? Not very often...
Part of the growing restaurant empire of Tom Douglas, our local, Ballard-based celebrity chef and Iron Chef champ, Etta's strives to be a "casual Seattle fish house". Situated on Western Avenue just north of Seattle's historic Pike Place Market, Etta's partially overlooks lower Elliot Bay providing the diner with pleasant vistas while they devour scrumptious meals. From the outside, Etta's exudes a calm, low-key vibe that's both welcoming and promising. Stepping through the main door, we were surprised to see Tom Douglas's beaming, smiling face on the covers of his recently published books, which included the aptly named "I Love Crab Cakes" (160 pages of crab cake recipes). Needless to say, we knew that we'd have to give the crab cakes a go.
After being quickly greeted by a friendly hostess, we were shown to our booth, a comfortable little affair next to the surprisingly sedate bar. Somewhat oddly, the opposite side of the dining room was considerably livelier and energetic. Looking around, we noticed how the place had a sense of style and taste that was pleasant and inviting; a bit upscale but far from pretentious. Little touches such as the unique glass pendant lamps hanging over the tables and the use of refined curved surfaces, reminiscent of water in motion, were attractive little details.
After we put in our order, we had to content ourselves with gazing at the steaming plates making their way to eager diners. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait long; in what must have been record time our appetizers made their march through the restaurant and arrived at our table. The steamed Penn Cove Mussels ($14), a favorite on fall menus, arrived in a big, huge bowl and soaking in an onion-flavored broth. Small bits of tasty, but rather tough, chorizo were scattered throughout the dish. If you love mussels and lots of em, this dish is for you. Another enjoyable starter, the Manila Clam Chowder ($8), was perfectly creamy and chocked full of North West manila clams along with potatoes, onions, and a dab of drizzled olive oil. Lastly, the Black Cod Kasu ($13), which looked good on the menu, was slightly too oily for my tastes and, unfortunately, a bit bland. It wasn't unpleasant it just had the personality of synthesized smooth jazz for Disney movies inoffensive, unobtrusive and a little dull.
Before we even finished the starters, our entrees started their assault on our table. One of the signature dishes, Etta's Rub with Love Salmon ($30), had an uncharacteristically sweet, brown sugar flavored glaze not often paired with salmon. Though the glaze was tasty, it was clearly pulling double duty; it kept the salmon remarkably moist and as a result, perfectly flaky. A small bit of moist cornbread soaking in the sweetly flavored juices of the salmon was tucked underneath and provided an ideal contrasting texture. However, the shiitake relish, like a piccolo in a string quartet, played a rather minor, nay nonexistent role in this ensemble.
Now, it'd be an understatement to say we had big expectations for Tom's Fresh Dungeness Crab Cakes ($27). Given the build up for Tom Douglas crab cakes, anything less than stellar would be a bit of a let down. Based of our experience, it seems like Tom Douglas has two simple canons when making crab cakes worthy of an entire book:
1 - Use lots of crab, like tons of it. Crab boats should be queuing up to unload.
2 - Make sure to include a few spices and veggies, but let the crab do most of the talking
It's a simple, but successful, strategy. Tender, moist, and lightly seared, the cakes were much heartier and meatier that your average crab cake. The cocktail sauce on the side was second to none while the mound of buttered kale, making this kale feel about as healthy as a deep fried Big Mac, was also tasty. However, at $27 the crab cakes were a pricey, albeit tasty, option.
Not all of us love seafood so we decided to see how Etta's would handle a non-seafood entree. The Oregon County Burger ($12), a large, hand-formed chuck patty, was served along side a hearty portion of salt that also included some shoestring fries. Accompanying the fries was a helping of a so-called "green tomato jam" that tasted like nothing more than ordinary ketchup who are you trying to fool, Mr. Douglas? The burger, made from high quality beef, was large and juicy. To their credit, Etta's saddled this big boy between a large and fluffy bun that kept the burger in place and your hands clean. In an excellent twist to the tried and true burger, lightly pickled cucumbers, tasting considerably more fresh and robust than a full-fledged pickle, were nestled in the sandwich. A light, fluffy Coconut Cream Pie ($8) topped with toasted coconut shavings concluded our meal. Though light by most respects, after a big meal it was just the right thing. Pleasant, but low key a lot like Etta's.
And at last, the bill; Etta's is somewhat upscale and a few key menu items, like the crab cakes, fetch quite a premium. But portions are fair, enjoyable and several options, such as the burger, are a little easier on the wallet. The end result is a pleasant and laidback meal green tomato jam withstanding.
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