The improved Harvest Vine

June 20th, 2008 by Dawn

Years ago, if you asked Eric or me what our favorite Seattle restaurant was, we’d instantly say The Harvest Vine.  It was the place we’d head to when we were tired and hungry after work and wanted to kick back, or we’d go to celebrate a special occasion and splurge on one of their excellent bottles of Spanish wine.  There was a time when you’d find us there at least a couple times a month.

Then, something happened.  I can’t even pinpoint what it was exactly, but a few years ago, we started to mention it less frequently when people asked us where to go eat in Seattle.  It was mostly that it became a kind of hit-or-miss place to go for dinner.  When they were on, they were on.  Sitting at the bar and watching them cooking amazing dish after amazing dish, we’d order whatever caught our eye.  But then it seemed like there were too many nights where things weren’t on.  The food was just ok and a little routine, or the service even a little off-putting at times.  And somehow it always happened when we brought friends.  Things were generally great when the right people were there – Juan Carlos, Fernando, and of course the owners Chef Joseba and Carolin – but not necessarily as good when they weren’t.

Not anymore.  They are back on their game and back on our list of top restaurants in Seattle.  We went a couple months ago, wondering how things were going since they’d opened their second restaurant, Txori, last fall in Belltown.  Despite their attention being divided between two restaurants now, the food at The Harvest Vine is better than ever.  Every dish was spot on delicious.  We went again on Saturday, and again, amazing.  The menu was more creative than ever and each dish was perfect from the presentation down to the seasoning.

We started with a dish of simple but impeccable ingredients: house cured salmon, cucumber gelée, crème fraîche, and a tiny dab of caviar.  Delicious – I was happy to hear that they plan to keep that one on the menu for a little while.  We also had braised eel on a generous bed of morels, which was melt-in-your-mouth tender.  Then, piquillo peppers stuffed with hake and potatoes and served with butter lettuce.  This was a dish that highlighted the creative talent of the kitchen.  I adore butter lettuce, but it seemed odd served in the bowl with a hot entree.  That is, until the first bite – something about the crunch and flavor of the lettuce took the dish from very good to great.

We were transported back to Spain when the braised chorizo with smoked pork belly, breadcrumbs, and red grapes arrived.  The smoky aroma reminded us instantly of the fabada we had in Asturias, even without the beans.  Our last dish was beef tongue dredged in flour and egg, then fried and served in its juice with fresh peas.  It was incredibly tender, and we sopped up the flavorful juices with our Columbia City bakery baguette.

We were almost full, but not once have I walked out of The Harvest Vine without dessert.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I think that Carolin is the one of the best pastry chefs in the city.  We’ve been known to go late at night simply to get a taste of one of her desserts.  Tonight’s were no exception.  We split two desserts: a moist corn cake in a pool of the most delicious rhubarb sauce with strawberries, along with a frozen almond parfait presented beautifully with spun sugar on top.  They arrived with Eric’s shot of espresso and my café bonbon, which is sweetened condensed milk layered with espresso on top.  You stir it up, and then your neighbor turns to you and asks you what you’re drinking because the aroma is so good.

We told the chefs how everything was spot on, and they mentioned that it’s been a lot easier lately to turn out great food since they recently started changing the menu only every other week.  Now, they say, they have time to get to know the dishes, rather than recreating the menu every day and opening up the kitchen at 5 to a whole new set of items to learn.  Now it all makes sense – it’s not coincidence that the place is really shining right now.

They do take reservations, however only for the downstairs wine cellar area.  It’s nice to eat down there, but we always prefer the atmosphere upstairs, watching the food come off the grill and the chefs arranging the plates.  There’s often a wait for a bar seat, but we consider it well worth it!  Especially on a beautiful sunny summer evening when the wall door is opened and you feel like you just might be eating in Spain.

The Harvest Vine
2701 East Madison, Seattle
(206) 320-9771

Harvest Vine on Urbanspoon

4 Responses to “The improved Harvest Vine”

  1. matt wright says:

    So I finally got round to giving Havest Vine a go a week back. Absolutely STELLAR. Certainly some of the best food I have ever eaten, and that is saying something.

    Each plate was just perfectly presented, light, crisp, fresh, and seemingly very simple, but knowing that it isn’t. They really are masters at taking a few REALLY good ingredients, and weaving them into special little plates.

    It seemed that almost everything had a little twist. The amuse bouche was a simple beet sorbet. They had it paired with a little great olive oil, and just the tiniest amount of tarragon. The result was perfect – completely savory, super light, and rediculously refreshing – thanks to the little perfect hint of tarragon.

    The meal went on that way. I didn’t want to leave. My guests wanted to go back for more the next day.

  2. Dawn says:

    Three “perfect”s, huh? I’m cracking up at how many superlatives you used because I had at least that many in the first draft of my post, but Eric thought it sounded a little over the top and gushing when he read it. So I edited a few of them out. But that’s EXACTLY how I felt about it – really, really awesome food. I know just what you mean. :)

  3. Ivan says:

    does anyone know, is there an off-shoot from this blog? like an MB? i went back tghuorh J&J yesterday for a couple of hours — wish it had a ‘recipe index’– and then had to laff good when i saw that in my own MtA copy i’d highlighted and made notes on the soubise about the same time, back in 02-3, when cooking was also saving my own sanity. THEN! i’m browsing amazon’s ’50 best books of 05′ list for a few last-minute buying suggestions, and i was SO pissed-off they didn’t include J&J. well, i didn’t need their suggestion, it is already a gift for 2 people, but it made me very cynical about the “value” of that “editor’s choices” list. bah humbug.MORE: i’m flipping thru the jan/current BA, looking for some dinner inspiration, and the #1 of their cover article “top 10 trends” is a recipe that states, and i quote: “French food is returning to our consciousness.” DUH. wonder who is responsible for that???? no credit given, of course…what’s up with this? some kind of anti-J&J evil PR karma? mebbe the foodie-powers-that-be got really ticked off about the real Julia part, about her supposedly being ticked off. i mean, it’s mebbe like slavish devotion to the JB Fdtn, etc.i know what JP’s done for me: reminded me of my own cooking origins, which were always french; reminded me of how tired i am of SW/tex-mex and pan-asian flavors; reminded me that certain new-ish cookbook authors and menus (will) probably owe JP/JC a great debt; reminded me to start re-using MtA (altho’ i’ve used her later books extensively).

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