Home away from home

Kitsch and a promising kitchen hit all the right notes on Roosevelt.

BLUE ONION BISTRO

5801 Roosevelt Way N.E., 729-0579 Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; dinner 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun. MC, V / beer and wine A REFRESHING FIND on Roosevelt is reviving my faith in the newer breed of Seattle restaurants. Blue Onion Bistro is its name, and it locates itself in an erstwhile gas station. To this the place owes the first part of its charm; it is a quirkily designed room. All manner of homespun kitsch decorates the walls and lends the place a plucky, '30s-ish verve. You half expect "It's Tulip Time in Holland, Two Lips Are Calling Me" to come crackling across the airwaves. This is not a restaurant built by focus groups or appointed by black-clad poseurs from a design firm importing tomorrow's rendition of canned chic. Instead, it answers to its own aesthetic. And that, in the Seattle of the 21st century, is unutterably refreshing. I'm delighted to report that the food is exactly the same way. Owners/chefs Scott Simpson and Susan Jensen have crafted a menu of comfort food's greatest hits—chicken pot pie, roasted half chicken, ravioli-of-the-day—with intriguing twists. You get the feeling they created the menu they felt like eating. This is particularly newsworthy since their last posting at Bellevue's 22 Fountain Court (a now-defunct place that I reviewed somewhat negatively last spring) featured Continental food with a distinct lack of passion. Now I suspect that these chefs were simply miscast, compelled to turn out pretty plates of the proper classics when what they clearly longed for was a good wallow in a vat of macaroni and cheese. Virtually everything at Blue Onion is scrumptious in a macaroni-and-cheese kind of way—silky, satisfying, ample, and invested with enough cream, cheese, or cream cheese to land it a berth in the Comfort Food Hall of Fame. But comfort isn't the only thing this food offers. Take the Black Forest ham and mozzarella starter ($6), for instance. Thick hanks of seared ham (when's the last time you saw ham on a menu?), a couple of fat homemade pickles (or pickles?), and a few balls of fresh mozzarella arrive upon a psychedelic sea of balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, and basil pesto. Delicious was the first of its charms, followed closely by fun, original, and intelligent. Tart, sweet, and savory vied bewitchingly for prominence on the palate, and while I might have questioned the use of the mild mozzarella here (it got a little lost), it was a minor quibble. We also enjoyed the smoked salmon pizza starter ($9), in which capers, caramelized red onion, cilantro, and cream cheese appeared with the house-smoked fish atop a chewy lemon pepper crust. Now I shouldn't have liked this at all, having long ago perfected my contempt for foofy pizzas, but this sassy beast turned out to be a wonderment of textural and flavorful counterpoints—and loads of fun to eat. A cream of mushroom soup ($3.50, $5), heavily laden with corn, potatoes, and crimini and portobello mushrooms, featured a sweet, richly satisfying backbeat. Likewise both of the salads we sampled: one with romaine, apples, smoked chicken, and about a pound of crumbled blue cheese ($6); and the other, a hefty mouth-filler misnamed "Plain Jane" ($5), featuring zucchini, grated carrot, green onions, cherry tomatoes, and a darkly savory balsamic-hoisin vinaigrette over its greens. When's the last time a salad registered as comfort food? AS FOR THAT aforementioned chicken pot pie ($10)—from its soft, thymey stew of carrots, onions, peas, and corn to its flaky hat of puff pastry, it was all satisfaction. Hibiscus chicken ($15) was likewise good eatin', tenderly cooked with its golden skin sweetly glazed in a citrusy wash and served alongside a fruity red cabbage slaw and an herbed warm potato salad that landed just a chunk or two north of mashed potatoes. A rosemary sprig added a savory redolence to the whole thing. Attentive readers have by now gathered that chefs Simpson and Jensen favor a little haute in their homespun, and nowhere is this fusion more evident than on the pork chop plate ($14). Yes, that is macaroni and cheese on the side—a somewhat bland, milky version—but the chop, exotically clothed in a clove/coriander/cinnamon rub, comes bathed in an intense apple cider reduction. The result is a plate of true depth and complexity, dividends one doesn't often encounter from food this easy on the palate. And so it went, through a lineup of desserts that were—surprise, surprise—as homely and decadent as raw cookie dough. One, to give you an idea, featured two chewy homemade chocolate chip cookies topped with a scoop of Olympic Mountain chocolate ice cream and draped in vanilla sauce ($5)—Oh, yeah. The sole problem we encountered at the Blue Onion derived, as is frequently the case, from its greatest strength. A plate of chicken ravioli with bacon in a cheddar sauce ($15) tipped over into the realm of too comforting, too creamy, too heavy, too rich. All that cheese registered as chalky, and seemed altogether wrong for a warm early summer evening. But come the winds of November, I can think of few places more satisfying for a gaggle of milk-fed Seattleites than the soulful Blue Onion. krobinson@seattleweekly.com

 
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