SCOTT CARSBERG GREW up in a West Seattle before the gentrified remodels, the condos, and the yuppified onset of restaurants with grilled portabellos and casks

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Young curmudgeon

West Seattle transplant Scott Carsberg settles uneasily in trendy Belltown.

SCOTT CARSBERG GREW up in a West Seattle before the gentrified remodels, the condos, and the yuppified onset of restaurants with grilled portabellos and casks of sun-dried tomatoes. He's the chef-owner of the pricey and acclaimed Lampreia—named, in Portuguese, after the eel. Carsberg is described as a "culinary genius" by Seattle Times critic Nancy Leson. His restaurant is on top five lists nationally and locally. Lampreia

2400 First Ave, 443-3301

Tues-Thurs 5pm-10:30pm; Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm

major credit cards; full bar Though he lives in Belltown, it's obvious you can't take the West Seattle out of this fiercely independent 36-year-old necromancer de cuisine. He suffers neither fools nor foolishness. Most chefs would perform unnatural acts to get the attention of writers or critics. Not Carsberg. He has a natural suspicion of those who sit down to make a living and is far more generous with his white truffles than with information. He's free with his opinions, though. Consider his rant against chefs who have press agents and Web sites: "I won't push the pavement to get on TV or in Travel & Leisure Magazine." Or chefs who forsake saut頰ans and their own kitchens to do elaborate dinners for foodies or the gourmet press at New York's James Beard House. He claims he once threw Tim Zagat, the powerful New York guidebook guy, out of his restaurant for being pompous. "His guide is trash. The only guidebook on earth that has credibility is the Michelin Guide." Most chefs in Carsberg's league would consider such talk suicidal. He's grumpy about the Seattle restaurant scene. "The question used be," he says, "'Where's a good place to eat?' Now it's: 'What's new?'" With his cantankerousness and outspoken stances, Carsberg would be just a bloviater if it weren't for his brilliance; and his propensity for shunning publicity and staying in his own kitchen hasn't hurt business. His avid following includes folks who love to eat and can pay the freight; it also includes such notables as Paul Allen, Bagley Wright, and Tom Skerrit. As a kid, he worked in his mom's restaurant under the West Seattle Bridge—a hole-in-the-wall called Nifty's. He was a busser, dish-dog, and prepper at the Royal Fork and an Alki Beach joint called The Restaurant. In high school, he apprenticed at the Four Seasons, working every kitchen station—even room service. At 18, he went to Washington, DC, and because he was the right guy in the right place at the right time he ended up under the wing of the late Tyrollian master Andreia Helrigel at his legendary Villa Mozart in Mereano, Italy, where Carsberg picked up a Michelin star. After years in Europe, he returned to Seattle and worked at Mezzaluna and Settebello, gathering a rabid following. He opened Lampreia in 1992. CARSBERG SERVED ME one evening recently in his spare ocher dining room with exposed heating ducts, hanging art, and nothing that might distract from the food. Lampreia is a mom-and-pop place. The service is reverential and seamless, a quiet delivery system directed by his wife, Hyun Joo Paek. "He's uncompromising," says Peter Lamb, Queen City Grill owner and close friend; "Scott hardly sleeps." Since I wasn't doing a review, but a profile, Carsberg knew I was in the room. I got no special treatment or fawning—it seemed harder for me to get his attention than for the regulars at the next table, who were busy sucking the bones from his celebrated veal chops, tasting wine, and avidly talking about the food, the food, the food. And food is what he's about. It's more often a simple gathering of flavors and textures on a plate than a flamboyant or complex melange of chi-chi ingredients. "Many so-called chefs are just putting 14 elements on the plate and calling it cooking," Carsberg grumbles. He sends me a pile of sprouts covered with thin porcini slices in perfect A-bomb shapes. I'm a sprouts hater—or so I thought until I tasted this little cloud of sprouted celery. It was fresh tasting but with neither the crunch and strings of the stalks nor the '70s salad-bar baggage of more pedestrian sprouts. In the middle of the cloud was a tiny orange flower that Carsberg claimed to know nothing about, though I know he was lying because this piece of perfection was too cool to be serendipitous— especially coming from his tight kitchen. The dressing was simple—fresh lemon and olive oil. James, my somber and hard-working waiter, brought a plate with a scoop of creamy whipped potatoes piled with spot prawns, those Alaskan shrimp so tasty they give lobsters a run for their money. This was all set on a crispy, crepe-like "tulip" made with Reggiano Parmesan. Carsberg shaved a healthy pile of tartufi bianchi, the rare white Piemontese truffle, over the plate with his truffle plane. He goes to great lengths every fall to have a variety of these truly magic mushrooms, featuring them on a daily fresh sheet. The prawns, potatoes, and parmesan had full individual flavors, the truffles marrying the parts, adding an earthy subtlety to the dish—or, as Carsberg would say, "a touch of luxury." He's generous with his precious ($1,200 a pound!) truffles. With guerrilla hospitality, he strolls the floor shaving some here, more there, over the plates of unsuspecting diners. Next came two filets of rouget—a red Mediterranean mullet—saut饤. It's a delectable fish with the firm texture of a sand-dab but way more flavor. The little filets lay in a clear tomato sauce tangy with garlic and anchovies. Then came a lobe of fresh foie gras lightly floured and seared in a "screaming hot pan." It's brown and slightly crisp on the outside, warm and medium rare in the center. This was accompanied by thin slices of poached rhubarb, a flat parsley leaf, and a dot of aged balsamic. The liver, from Sonoma hand-fed ducks, is so rich and silky-elegant I forgot where I was for a few moments, but was brought back by that West Seattle boy muttering, "That stuff'll kill you." Frankly, death by duck liver didn't seem that bad. Carsberg says, "I'm a grown man, for god's sakes—no longer an enfant terrible. But I still don't know shit about food, although as I get more sophisticated, my clients are coming along—that's why I love this profession." The process in the years to come should be fascinating, and definitely delicious, to watch.

 
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