Sugar and spice

Love is a tasty thing at Earth and Ocean.

EARTH AND OCEAN

1112 Fourth, 264-6060 6:30-10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 7:30-11:30 a.m. Sat.-Sun.; 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 5-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. AE, MC, V / full bar EARTH AND OCEAN shares many of the qualities of a successful love affair. It's sleek and elegant, dark and comfortable. It's plenty serious about the right things, but has wicked fun with the others. Take the St. Valentine's Day menu, for example, offered for $75 a person on Feb. 14. You're not likely to laugh at pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin over semolina gnocchi with red wine syrup and Gorgonzola, or a preserved lemon risotto with cracked green olives and Bellwether Farm's crescenza (if you're even sure what that is). But by the time you get to dessert, you'll be ready to lighten up a bit. Since executive chef Johnathan Sundstrom took over (and basically saved) the kitchen at the superchic W Hotel in September 2000, he's received well-deserved praise and a plethora of awards (notably, Food and Wine named him one of America's best new chefs in July 2001). And while he is worth talking about, we first must mention the joie de sweet of the amazing Sue McCown. Her gold medal-worthy work as executive pastry chef is brash, creative, and just plain incredible. She seems to realize that it's still, after all, just something you stick in your mouth and chew. And, especially at dessert, it's supposed to be fun. For the Valentine's menu she's doing a nutter butter peanut butter parfait called "Oh Baby." Couples are encouraged to share the "Nudge-nudge . . . Wink-wink," devil's food cake with a bittersweet ganache wrapped up in a marbled tootsie roll. And for $25 extra, you can order the fruit leather edible love package to take home—now that's really playing with your food. The amusing desserts aren't only for special occasions, and they'd be equally worth ordering if the chocolate delight named www.chocolate.com ($7) was simply called "cake." The "Pick-up Stix" ($5) a mix of slim chocolate, cappuccino, and almond cookies with three dipping sauces, is silly and ideal for a group. And "Cool Kind of Mint" ($7.75) is simply gorgeous celadon green, a round chocolate cake layered with mint ganache. But that's enough about dessert: This isn't (though it could be) simply a place for after-dinner drinks and treats. IT'S ADMIRABLE that so many prominent chefs nationwide have gone back to the earth, so to speak, focusing on local growers, seasonal products, and food that comforts as well as intrigues. And Sundstrom does all of that well, notably in selecting two prix fixe meals a night that celebrate this area's foodie highlights of the moment. But he's not above just blowing your mind and mouth with decadence either: Look no further than the $12 bowlful of truffled fries. These are what potatoes were meant to be: pencil-thin crispy-creamy frites lapping up black truffle oil and shavings of garlic and Parmesan cheese. You'll find them on the bar menu as well as dinner, and they're available until close, as are other fine mini-meal options. But if you're there for Dinner with a capital D, plan to spend big money, feel serious, and eat rich. This isn't the place to go if you're in a hurry (try one of the cushy bar tables for that). Service is pleasant but unobstrusive. Your bread plate and water glass will refill as if by magic. If you're really feeling serious, try one of the chef-selected four-course dinners ($36 vegetarian, $49 carnivore). One night's vegetarian option featured ingredients from Billy and Stephani's Organic Farm in Tonasket, Wash. It began with a sugar pumpkin soup with cinnamon croutons and sage cream (available ࠬa carte for $7) that was one those interesting dishes that grew more interesting with each bite. The melding of flavors wasn't complete, so one taste had a stronger hit of cinnamon, another the grassy taste of sage, all overlaid with the sweet squash. There's a lot of sweetness in the prix fixe (and regular) menu overall (maybe Sundstrom can't resist McCown's influence either). Unusually, unadulterated honeycomb shows up from time to time, once in a dish simply described as Sally Jackson Sheep's Milk Cheese with Honeycomb and Roasted Pecans. The strong wedges of cheese are perked up with a nice drizzle of balsamic, but the intensity of raw honeycomb was wild. Another vegetarian option, 鴯uff饠of chanterelles, kaboucha squash, and endive over polenta, wasn't quite as distinctive. Flavors melted a little too much, creamy and heady but not memorable. It's hard to imagine food more appropriate to the season than a perfectly cooked, meaty, tender duck breast in a chestnut honey glaze ($23), which succeeded admirably here and was well paired with lacy fris饠and a supremely indulgent, extra cheesy potato bread pudding. Seared scallops ($23) were almost, but not quite, overpowered by the deliciously salty shreddings of ham hock and thoroughly cooked Savoy cabbage. Both dishes reveal Sundstrom's careful attention to selectively mixing and matching flavors old and new, sweet and savory, even, yes, earth and ocean. These attuned flavor contrasts show up also in the appetizer of wild boar ravioli ($12), with a heady, intense taste of porcini mushrooms and caramelized onion confit. A bright salad combines the contrasting tastes of vanilla poached pears, smoked hazelnuts, and aged Gouda ($9). Caesar salads are as ubiquitous as red roses for Valentine's; this one ($8) stands out for the slippery, tangy white anchovies crisscrossing the romaine. Earth and Ocean is trying, obviously, to do a lot and be a number of places— an arbiter of taste, a serious eatery, a Candace Bushnell-worthy cocktail bar. It brings together the feelings of comfortable old marrieds, thrilling blind dates, and the uneasy questioning of the just-moved-in-together. Certain things won't succeed, of course, but it's nearly always fun trying. Especially if you order dessert. avanbuskirk@seattleweekly.com

 
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