RN74: Seattle Lacks Style? Really?
Ah, Seattle – one of the most laid-back-yet-chic cities in the world. Now, I know what some of you are likely thinking: WTF?!?! Have you read the latest rankings, which place Seattle in the top worst-dressed categories?!?
For example, a recent survey by GQ Magazine listed Seattle as 34th worst dressed in the United States. (NOTE: Manhattan was 5th, Brooklyn 11th, Martha’s Vineyard 14th, Austin 18th, San Francisco 20th, and Portland 36th, so we’re in good company.) Also recently, MSN Travel took it a step further and listed Seattle as the 6th worst dressed city in the world, with Vancouver, British Columbia 3rd, Ottawa, Ontario 8th, and San Francisco/Silicon Valley 7th. (NOTE: Portland was not even in the top 10; I bet the city is feeling left out right now.) Heck, news of these “rankings” even made King 5 News last month.
To all of that, dear hedonists, I say … just think of it this way: for all those out there who are stuck playing word association and pairing “Seattle” with “Grunge” so be it, for those of us who actually live in the Pacific Northwest – be it Seattle, WA, Vancouver, BC, or Portland, OR – know better. Sure, we all own a little flannel and plaid, and not just as PJs – but we live in a temperate rain forest climate, dudes and dudettes. And our self-esteem is healthy enough to be practical and STILL feel sexy, whether we’re buck naked, donned in the most bling-heavy haute couture, or somewhere in-between. That’s right – we’ll happily take our smart-everythings, our beloved beverages (be they hot or cold), and just keep on keepin’ on.
Speaking of beverages and style, once place worthy of note and visitation is none other than RN74, the original version of which opened up in San Francisco – incidentally, another alleged fashion faux-pas-ville – back in 2009. Michael Mina, an impressively acclaimed 40-something chef as well as founder and President of the Mina Group LLC which he started up in 2002 with retired tennis pro Andre Agassi, has launched 19 concept restaurants and a lounge concept under this restaurant group: for example, in San Francisco, there are Michael Mina, Clock Bar, RN74 and Bourbon Steak; in San Jose, Arcadia; in LA, XIV (14); in Dana Point, Stonehill Tavern; in Las Vegas, Michael Mina, Seablue, Nobhill Tavern, Stripsteak, and American Fish; in Atlantic City, Seablue; in Detroit, Bourbon Steak and Saltwater; and Bourbon Steak restaurants in Miami, Scottsdale, and Washington, D.C.
And now, as of June 13, 2011, there’s another RN74, this time in Seattle in the Joshua Green Building at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street. Why Seattle? Well, it just so happens that Chef Michael Mina was born in Cairo, Egypt but moved to Ellensburg, Washington with his family when he was only 2 years old. Raised in Ellensberg, Michael worked on farms as a youth; by the time he reached his teens, he knew he wanted to pursue a culinary career and got exposed to Seattle’s restaurant industry – and its abundance of fantastic seafood – before heading off to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 1987. Chef Michael currently lives in San Francisco but frequents central and western Washington. (Recently, your Hedonista was invited in for a media tasting and I have been back on my own since that visit on more than one occasion.)
The name “RN74″ comes from the main road that runs through the French region of Burgundy: Route Nationale 74. Keeping with the transportation theme, the restaurant is decked out in whimsical French Burgundy/European train station design, complete with railroad lights and an Italian-imported Solari train departures/arrivals board that has been dubbed the “Last Bottle” or “Last Bottle Served” list, for it lists the very last eight remaining Burgundy wine bottles in the restaurant at any given time. They also have a “Market Board” list opposite the “Last Bottle” list that lists even more wines, available in greater quantities. (Its ever-changing local ‘n’ global wine list – which has cellar access to over 10,000 bottles – is also available online, by both the bottle and the glass.) The interior design balances out industrial metals with reclaimed wood and glass with leather. (NOTE: The interior design of both the Seattle and Fan Francisco RN74 locales were completed by a fellow-fashion-no-no-city, Manhattan-based design firm AvroKO. Seems those dubbed to be “unstylish” all like to stick together, eh? Pah.)
Their proprietary labels – made by Mina Group Wine Director and sommelier Rajat Parr and his wine making mentor Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat – are certainly worth a try: their 2009 Au Bon Climat or “A.B.C.” Chardonnay ($14/glass, only 49 cases made), with grapes sourced from winemaker Jim Clendenen’s estate vineyard, Le Bon Climat Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley on the Central Coast of California, has become a personal fav of mine that pairs oh-so-well with their Maitake Mushroom Tempura (see below). Staying true to its Burgundian theme, this white wine really tastes more like a deliciously decadent White Burgundy than a Chardonnay. Jim creates a very “old world” Chardonnay that has been coming out of California for some 25+ years. Their 2009 Au Bon Climat “Talley” Cuvée RN74 Pinot Noir from Arroyo Grande, CA ($14/glass) is also worth a sip-see.
They serve a lunch, dinner, Happy Hour and lounge/bar offerings, with the menus subject to change as per chef’s whim. Their Pommes Frites ($8) are an exploratory tasty trio of salted fries and dippin’ sauces with which to mix ‘n’ match: tomato Banyuls salted fries and arugula pesto sauce; Isot chilli pepper salt and cherry tomato ketchup; and rosemary salted fries with apple mint yoghurt sauce. The Hudson Valley Foie Gras Sliders are fab and served with sylvetta arugula, and apple mustard with a side of caramelized onion jus. And my personal all-time fav: their Maitake Mushroom Tempura ($10/$5 when on the Happy Hour menu) – tempura mushrooms salted with yuzu salt, topped with green onions, and served with a green onion mousseline for dipping.
Then there’s a really fun dish to order, mostly because it’s prepped table side: their Ahi Tuna Tartare ($16 lunch/$19 dinner). Served with Scotch Bonnet pepper, pine nuts, mint, mini toasts and drizzled sesame oil, you can sit back and watch the dish be deconstructed, blended right before your eyes, then re-presented in a series of triangles (see above). Both yummy and a bit of an event in an of itself.
Then there are the desserts, all priced at $9 a piece and created based on the season’s availability of tasty treats. When I visited, summer was turning into autumn, so I sampled their Melon Consommé, which consists of micro melon balls served with honey yoghurt panna cotta, St. Germain sherbert, and finished with a melon consommé drizzle. This was the (seemingly) “guilt-free” dessert. And then I tried their Apple Tartin made with Sablé Breton, mulled cider, and vanilla. The slightly guilty dessert. Finally, I sampled their Hand Cut Beignets, complete with salted caramel and Macallan 12 butterscotch. The hedonistically full-of-guilt dessert (and yes, I shared them all).
In sum, the result of all of this is the following: a Burgundy-inspired wine bar paired with French-ish fare prepared with Pacific Northwest foods. Executive Chef Michelle Retallack (a.k.a. “Michael Mina’s right hand”) and Lead Sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen (who founded W.T. Vinters and makes small lot, artisan, wines out in Woodinville that are sourced from a single vineyard) offer up hedonistically heavenly food and wine from both near and far. Wines from near and far are available by the bottle, half-bottle, and glass.
They also do “Behind the Bottle” winemaker dinners; the next ones will take place on Monday, November 14th, 2011 (Winemaker Brennon Leighton of Efesté) and Monday December 5th, 2011 (Krug Champagne, not Charles Krug).
Lunches are served Mondays-Saturdays 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with dinners taking place Sundays-Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The lounge and wine bar are open Mondays-Saturdays 11:30 a.m. to closing and on Sundays from 5:00 p.m. until closing. Valet parking is $9 (soon to be $10, if not already) with Red Carpet Valet and available 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 5:30 p.m.-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
When you go, be sure to dress in whatever the rest of North America/the world wears that leads them to dub themselves “fashionably chic.” Or not. Because hey, we’re Pacific Northwesterners, after all. The food will still taste good, the drinks will go down just as smoothly.
And wine stains disguise themselves well on plaid flannel.