From Boho to Bistro

35th Street Bistro's earthy take on Mediterranean fare gives the Still Life an afterlife.

If you've got big shoes to fill, you'd better have sizable feet. That thought may well have passed through 35th Street Bistro owner Bob Day's mind when he purchased Fremont's Still Life Cafe from its founder roughly two years ago and started dinner service. It's almost certainly been his mantra since March, when he and former Boat Street Cafe chef-owner Renee Erickson remade (and renamed) the Still Life in the image of the European bistros Day cherishes. But in a part of Seattle where icons rule, can a refined French-Italian kitchen win the hearts of self-styled bohemians, some still reeling from the loss of their beloved Still Life? The early answer is "probably." For a neighborhood newcomer, 35th Street feels like a good fit, especially now that summer is here and the ideal bistro experience—dining on the sidewalk with a fabulous view of the sunset—is gloriously possible. The food, largely organic, reflects Day's commitment to "simplicity and focus on the taste of the ingredients"; a recent supper of wild mushroom soup ($4.95) and linguine with clams ($10.95) nimbly trod the line between could-have-made-it-myself wholesomeness and genuine craft. Rich, meaty mushroom flavor suffused a broth filled with 'shrooms and greens, and seasoned with thyme and smoked paprika. Even after several spoonfuls, it was hard to believe the soup was vegan—the sort of thing the old Still Life might have served. The clams were of the freshest, sweetest variety, and the broth the linguine bathed in neatly combined the requisite trinity: white wine, garlic, and clam nectar. Altogether a soothing meal in a soothing spot; not overwhelming, but hardly underwhelming, either. This, in all likelihood, is what Day wants his guests to come away with. Even before the Still Life's formal transformation, it was rapidly becoming emblematic of a gentrified Fremont. Tim Appelo noted as much in these pages 10 months ago, describing a place where "you no longer have to feel so guilty and out of place if you have a paying job, un-paint-stained clothes, no goatee, and a yen for bourgeois comfort." Under­employed, paint-stained, goateed anti­establishment types certainly don't appear to frequent 35th Street; the vibe is decidedly unhippie, even at brunch, that most shaggy casual of meals. At 11 a.m. on a Saturday, the bistro wasn't close to packed—a red flag in brunch-crazy Seattle. Tempted by the fried green tomato sandwich ($7.25), I opted instead for the "classic Niçoise salad" ($10.95), whose professed classicism was happily broken by the inclusion of seared ahi tuna, something the restaurant does extremely well. The salad's presentation adhered to Day's simple-and-fresh philosophy: two rosy slabs of fish on a bed of wild greens, decorated with green beans and halved grape tomatoes and sprinkled with shallot dressing. My friend didn't fare quite as well with his tuna sandwich ($6.95); "yellowfin tuna, celery root, and greens" did not prepare him for old-fashioned tuna salad. It wouldn't matter, of course, if the tuna salad had been great; as it was, it was merely OK. Unlike my dinnertime wild mushroom soup, the cream of mushroom ($3.50) at brunch was simplicity carried too far: Bits of mushroom in a milky broth are a fine starting place, but without an herb or two to draw out the flavor, the mighty mushroom is forced to carry the soup on its own. A more elaborate dinner gave 35th Street a chance to really strut its stuff, and with few exceptions, it impressed. A grilled asparagus appetizer ($7.95) paired firm Washington stalks with a roasted peach—nearly reduced to sauce on the inside, but with a smoky, almost savory exterior. Beautiful, just like the complex manchego cheese that dominated our interest on the cheese plate ($2.95/ounce). Then it was on to a bowl of almost-perfect ravioli ($10.95), filled with crimini mushrooms and ricotta, and mushroom-crusted ahi ($17.95), seared and served with corona beans in a lemony dressing. The ravioli must have had only the merest hint of cheese in them—probably just enough to hold the minced mushrooms together—because the sweet, woodsy flavor of crimini burst from every one. The ahi was another ideal choice for an early summer night, with its rosy interior mimicking the grapefruit pink of the sunset. The mild flavor of the coronas, a staple of Italy's cucina povera, just barely stood up to the strength of the lemon vinaigrette. (A word to the wise: Share the beans. Too many at once and you'll feel like you've sucked on a Citronella candle.) Overall the Bistro's food is, true to the owner's intentions, exceedingly fresh—both literally and in terms of flavor. For Day, a man with little previous restaurant experience smart enough to go to one of the city's most beloved chefs for assistance, 709 North 35th Street's evolution from boho to bistro is a commendable achievement. As for the (minor) kinks: Even good neighbors need a little time to settle in. nschindler@seattleweekly.com 35th Street Bistro, 709 N. 35th St., 206-547-9850, FREMONT. Lunch 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Mon.–Fri.; dinner 5:30–10 p.m. Tues.–Sun.; brunch 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun.

 
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