How Trellis Cooks Fresh-From-the-Farm, Even in Winter

And does it well!

Last month, the publishers of the New Oxford American Dictionary put out a press release announcing that their "word of the year" was locavore. If the movement to eat locally keeps intensifying, it's not hard to imagine a day when bistros will have greenhouses, not dining rooms, and you'll have to sit between the plum trees and the cucumber beds, sipping house-pressed cider while you wait for the chef to declare enough green beans ripe so that she can pick and sauté your dinner. For brunch, you'll send your 8-year-old scrambling through the tomato patch to hunt eggs for your omelet. Oh, gastronauts will say, can you remember a time when we ate peas that were more than 24 hours old? Locavore-approved restaurants in the Chez Panisse tradition, such as Sitka & Spruce and Tilth, already co-brand their menus with the farmers, fishers, and ranchers who supply them. Now, more and more places are going the Herbfarm route, hyping the lettuces and peppers they pick themselves. The chef at two-month-old Trellis in Kirkland, Brian Scheehser, is farming a three-acre patch of land in the same Woodinville plot used by the Herbfarm. Six years ago, when he was still chef at the Sorrento Hotel's Hunt Club, Scheehser started off with 1 acre for personal use, but ended up with so much produce that he began selling vegetables to his workplace. In January, he signed on with the Portland-based Heathman Hotel, which wanted to center the restaurant in its second property around his love for gardening. He says the farm is salmon-safe but not yet certified organic. Better still, it's only 10 minutes away from work. Anticipating that Trellis would open last May, the chef-farmer planted thousands of heads of lettuce in the early spring, along with 18 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and numerous other vegetables. When construction delays pushed the opening date to October, he had to preserve or let them go to seed. Luckily, the potatoes, leeks, and beets kept until now. Winter is probably not the greatest time to experience Trellis' garden-kitchen connection. The restaurant Web site touts a "two-hour salad"—greens no more than two hours old—that isn't on the menu right now. There's a soup made with winter squash from the garden, plenty of herbs, and lots of tomatoes that have put in time in Trellis' freezer. But Scheehser is still cooking seasonally. He serves winter salads like a tangle of curly frisée with pink grapefruit and a shower of pomegranate seeds that burst between the teeth in a series of tart-sweet pops. He steams fat mussels—just till they open—with leeks (his own) in a broth that prickles the throat with the heat from a few piri-piri peppers. The qualities that will make Trellis a successful restaurant—one that hits the right tone with the suburbanites and hotel guests who already pack the dining room most nights—may prevent it from being a true destination like the Herbfarm. Given the mission of satisfying conservative, moneyed diners, the chef-farmer plays everything straight, sticking with simple and beautiful and rarely risking a flourish that could turn out to be a flaw. Menu says: "La Pasta" tagliatelle with prawns and Italian sausage. Plate shows: a bowl of handmade pasta with fennel-laced sausage and two big prawns in a chunky red sauce. Menu says: flatiron steak with Tellicherry peppers and grilled fruit. Plate shows: a steak peppered with a restrained hand and accompanied by a pan sauce and a salad of persimmons, frisée, and grapefruit. No revelatory little tweaks, no exuberant surprises. Then again, when the kitchen does take chances, the results are discordant. In the absence of fresh fruit, Scheehser is currently relying on winter herbs to flavor his desserts, but the cooks haven't calibrated their strength. The clean, piney scent of the rosemary-honey ice cream filling a trio of profiteroles fought with both the caramel and dark-chocolate sauces poured around them. The misnamed lemon "flan" (a flan is an eggy baked custard with a caramel sauce, not the gelatin-thickened milk pudding he served) was paired with a sage-infused simple syrup potent enough to work both as cough suppressant and floor cleaner. But I'd go back in a heartbeat—especially in spring, when Scheehser's strawberries and asparagus will be growing full force. That's because he runs a crack kitchen. It shows in all the little touches: the light but meaty reduction sauce on the steak, the al dente pasta and fat prawns, the way he doesn't need garnishes because he arranges every element on the plate with an eye for color and form. He picks simple combinations that work, such as pale, wide romaine leaves coated in a blue cheese dressing whose richness is cut by the sweet crunch of julienned apples, all the little squares of red peel at the ends of each thread creating a confettilike effect. A fan of pink, meaty duck breast slices that show the cooks have slowly roasted away the fat so the skin can crisp up like bacon. And a whole trout, boned before being roasted, and cooked beautifully so its flesh mirrors the creaminess of the beurre-blanc sauce pooled around it. Trellis is handsome in a J. Crew way. The dining room's precise, sharp lines seem of a piece with the new mixed-use developments that surround the Heathman, but they're warmed by the polished wood on every surface, from the pillars and chairs to the bowed, slatted ceiling. Creamy handmade papers filter the light from all the lanterns, and the upholstery sticks to tones of beige and silver. Given the clientele, who stick to clean shaves and gabardine jackets, Trellis keeps its prices quite low: Most appetizers are under $10, while entrées cluster around the $20 mark. A $50-a-person meal, prepared to exacting standards, is the kind of everyday indulgence that the restaurant's target patrons love to treat themselves with. Maybe Kirkland itself is keeping Trellis' locavorism from coming off as twee or schoolmarmish. There are no greenhouses or chicken coops here—and no reason to miss them. jkauffman@seattleweekly.com

 
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