Chef Maria Hines Hits Another Home Run
In a seemingly rare alignment of the stars, schedules, and other supernatural powers, the Dining Diva and I found ourselves with an open Friday night and a little bit of energy. So we decided to take advantage of this and check out one of the Seattle restaurants that was on our go-to list — Golden Beetle.
Golden Beetle, chef Maria Hines’ newest restaurant in Ballard, is squeezed in amongst many of the other shops in that neighborhood. If you haven’t been there, or aren’t paying attention, it is easy to miss the light blue exterior with the copper sign in front. Inside, the walls are painted in various shades of blue and adorned with pictures of Hines’ trip she took to the Middle East to learn about the cuisine. All of the tables are dark wood with a single candle in the middle. When you walk in, there is a narrow walkway that leads up to the host station, from which you can see the dining area on the right and the bar to the left; there was almost as much seating in the bar area as the dining area. We checked in with the host for our 8 p.m. reservation, and ended up waiting about 10 to 15 minutes before we were shown to a seat in the bar area.
Once we were seated, we briefly glanced at the drink menu, and then moved on to the food. Thanks to the P90X, I’m not drinking right now, though the menu looked very interesting. Cocktails like a Wandering Gethsemane, which consists of olive oil-infused gin, black pepper syrup, lemon, and dill, or the Swashbuckling Sangaree, which is made with Flor de Caña aged rum, simple syrup, lemon, GB Spice Bitters, and port. Once I finish the program, I might have to go back and check out some of these drinks and experience why Golden Beetle already has a reputation as one of the better cocktail bars in Seattle. The food menu was equally interesting, and the Dining Diva figured she’d give the tasting menu a try… until we found out that they ask that everyone at the table orders the menu as well. So, we both decided to order àla carte, allowing me to get a carrot soup and albacore tuna.
Tilth, Maria Hines’ first restaurant, is really known for its clean, simple flavors that allow the ingredients to shine. And that same theme was definitely present in the carrot soup. The flavors were clean, sweet, and light, but the difference is that at Golden Beetle, the spices are ramped up and the flavors are a little more complex. There was a spice blend added to the soup that added a bit of almost "woodiness," and that left a little bit of heat dancing on the back of my tongue that was nicely cooled by the little swirl of cream. It was different from what I had expected, but it was definitely a good start to the meal.
Shortly after we had finished off our first courses and the first bottle of water the entréesarrived. It was a very simple presentation that highlighted the tuna, cucumber, and sauce. And like the soup, the simple, clean flavors were there, but they were elevated. The albacore was beautifully cooked, just lightly seared all the way around and raw in the middle. There was a light spice crust that added a lot of flavor, and the sauce reminded me a little of a tzatziki in its cool creaminess; though it was more lemony and acidic, which really complemented the fish well. The cucumber was light and fresh, and the rice was nice and earthy. This didn’t have the heat that the soup did in the back of the throat, but the combination was definitely unique and pleasant.
While it would have been nice to try the tasting menu, I still had a very nice dinner. I may have gone a little over on my condiment and fat allotment, but it was well worth it. The flavors were definitely more complex than I remember at Tilth, but there was still the foundation there in every bite. It was a little different from anything that I’ve had, but it was very enjoyable. I will confess that I had been there once before after a basketball game last year, and tried a lot of the bar menu happy hour dishes (which were excellent), so I had an idea of what to expect.