As a celebration of the fact that I had finally left my twenties behind and officially became a thirty-something, the Dining Diva and I decided to head out to a nice, fun dinner. Our first choice was The Walrus and Carpenter, but the two and a half hour wait was a bit of a deterrent. Fortunately a quick search revealed that Emmer & Rye had an open seating. So off to Queen Anne we went in the hopes of finding delicious food.
The restaurant itself is in an old Northwest contemporary home, and if you aren’t paying attention, it is easy to drive right by. I know because I did just that. Outside there is a nice open patio, which I’m sure is quite lovely during the summer. As we walked up the steps to the front door of the restaurant, I couldn’t help but think that 50 years ago, someone was walking up these steps to visit their relatives or friends for some sort of dinner party; back when this street wasn’t dominated by condos and grocery stores. The entrance is just like the entrance to a home — a small area where you would take off your shoes and hang your coat. At the front is a simple host's stand, where we were warmly greeted and shown to our table in what was probably once the family dining room. The restaurant retained all of the rooms of the original home (at least with what we could see... I’m sure they aren’t using the same kitchen). The walls were light with dark wood moldings around them. The whole place had a warm and cozy feeling to it.
We took our seats, and after ordering a glass of wine, started to peruse the seasonally inspired menu. The back of the menu listed the sources of all of the food that was being served. I immediately recognized about a dozen or so of the names — I had visited them earlier in the day when I did my own shopping at the University District Farmer’s Market. It made me smile that such a respected chef like Seth Caswell and I were getting our ingredients from the same places (though I had a feeling what he did with them was going to be significantly different than what I would do with them). I debated for awhile as everything looked delicious, and was further tossed into the depths of my conundrum by the daily specials. Finally, in a sort of eenie-meenie-minnie-mo way, I decided to go with the rabbit small plate special and a half order of the braised pork shoulder.
Even though the room was fairly full, we were able to settle into a nice conversation as we waited for our food and sipped our drinks. The first plate to arrive was the rabbit — breaded, fried, and served with a small side salad of wild greens tossed in a homemade buttermilk dressing. I took a small bite of rabbit with a little bit of the greens, getting a nice crunch from the breading. The buttermilk dressing added a nice creamy, though not overwhelming, texture and the warm richness of the rabbit played nicely with the coolness of the greens. The portion was just perfect as an appetizer.
After finishing the first course, the dishes were whisked away only to be replaced shortly after by the main course. We had actually both decided to go with the pork, so the sweet aroma of the cider braised shoulder was nice and strong as it hit the table. The meat was almost fork tender, and was perfectly rich and flavorful with each bite. The braising sauce added that nice balance of sweetness that goes so well with pork. And the roasted vegetables were fresh and vibrant and very tasty. Everything came together nicely and made for a very nice and filling course.
Emmer and Rye ended up being an excellent place for my birthday dinner, even if it happened to be the second option. If I have but one complaint, both the rabbit and a couple bites of the pork shoulder were just a touch dry. But otherwise, I really enjoyed the flavor combinations, the simpleness of the dishes, and the overall quality of the food. I also wanted to highlight one of the things that both the Dining Diva and I appreciated and noted at the end of the meal — the option of ordering the half portions of pretty much everything on the menu. We were able to get the amount of food that we wanted without wasting anything, having to box it up, or feeling obligated to eat more than we should. In fact, it is something I would love to see more restaurants start incorporating into their menus. Between excellent, quality food, reasonable prices and smaller portions, we can start changing the eating habits of this country.