Tom Douglas Wants to Fix You a Snack

Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie is waiting to be discovered, next to Etta's.

Most people at Tom Douglas' new Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie eat sticky pork ribs with pear and hot Chinese mustard. Actually, I should say everyone at Seatown eats the ribs because, sitting at the bar on a Monday night, with a good view of the few surrounding tables and all the occupied stools, every single party had at least one plate of ribs either being actively eaten, waiting to be eaten, or already eaten—just a few bare bones laying dejectedly on the plate. There is no way to eat these ribs in any dignified manner (which is the first sign that they are good ribs), and no one at Seatown was trying (which is the second sign). Men in business suits held them two-handed like ears of too-hot corn and gnawed at them. Off-duty cooks, bartenders, and other allied tradespeople peeled the meat off with sticky hands and ate with their fingers. Down around the far curve of the bar I watched a young woman, absent all notions of public shame or maybe just very proud of her particular skill set, hold a single bone one-handed, deep-throat the length of it, then pull it back out of her mouth almost fully denuded of meat. She daintily wiped her lips with a napkin and smiled. So did her date. I just wanted to applaud. The ribs at Seatown are slow-smoked and tender, perfectly matched to the hot mustard. My only complaint is that there aren't enough of them. There never could be: Five orders at nine bucks a throw might be enough to make a meal all by themselves (plus beers, of course), but after the last rib was gone and the last bone laid aside, all I would want is more. As a matter of fact, just about everything at Seatown is good, and just about everything at the takeout/rotisserie/snack-bar operation next door is good. The Berkshire-hog porchetta, rolled around a filling of rosemary, fennel, and gentle chiles, then roasted, is good—deeply and powerfully flavored, like dark meat if a pig had dark meat. The ridiculously fresh oysters, popped and resting on beds of crushed ice, are good. Ten minutes before closing time at the snack bar (7 p.m., at least during the cold winter months) on a Saturday night, at a moment where any less-diligent crew would be concerned only with breaking down the line and getting the hell outta Dodge, I was served a creamy order of yellow-corn grits with Beecher's Monterey Jack cheese that was as good as I would've expected had I been handed the first plate of the night. On the bar/restaurant side of the two-faced Seatown operation, the cooks work right out in the open, behind a low wall of burners and lowboys that separate them from the bar, with a few tables pressed against the windows and a few more running along the side. Next door, at the takeout counter, there's even less of a divide. It feels as though you're walking straight into the kitchen, with big ovens, prep tables, and even the dish station all operating while customers walk in for sandwiches, sides, and meat by the pound. The takeaway counter also acts as Seatown's prep kitchen, supplying all the building blocks of the board next door (the meats, the sides, some of the sauces). While both halves of this whole seem to be moving customers and carefully supporting each other, neither is crowded. On most nights, the restaurant side (which also does a breakfast service and a big lunch) grows a little desolate around 8 or 9 p.m.; it draws its biggest crowds when foot traffic is the heaviest, when everyone is out and about looking for a snack. The potatoes, roasted in duck fat and advertised as "dripping," were never as excellent as I hoped—every order arriving just as limp and rather mushy whole potatoes that wanted for salt, butter, and flavor. But I like being able to dash through the rotisserie counter for a sandwich of cider-brined turkey rubbed with brown sugar and sage, and maybe a short-rib pot pie with potatoes, carrots, and green beans in a cream gravy, all bubbling under a crust as buttery and flaky as the best windowsill apple pie. Or to drop in on the bar next door for a bite of smoked salmon with blini; for a ring-molded "Wild Thing" Dungeness crab salad with thin-sliced avocado, tobiko, and a spicy remoulade; or a bowl of crab, pork, and chickpea stew with a dollop of dilled yogurt, the broth full of onions and red chile, all of it cooled with a couple bottles of Kilt Lifter. I can sit with that at a table, my back to the curving bar and the wide-open kitchen, and, through the big windows that look out on the Sound, watch the market empty of tourists while I sop up the dregs of the broth with heels of good bread from Dahlia Bakery.  Douglas was at Seatown on the day of the Dave Niehaus memorial, but he was there to eat, not cook. Being the closest thing Seattle has to a celebrity chef—our Little League Ray or Flay, the very big fish in our medium-sized pond—the man doesn't exactly sweat out shifts behind the line much anymore. He writes books, conceptualizes menus, trains chefs, and sees to his empire (Palace Kitchen, Lola, Etta's, Serious Pie, Dahlia—both the lounge and the bakery—and now Seatown), lording over seven full-on houses and a host of smaller side businesses, all interlinked, all internally supporting, bleeding synergy like a wound. He is a man with a deep and commanding understanding of the wants and needs of hungry people, and he's spread himself across the spectrum: fine dining and catering for the Richie Riches; midrange Mediterranean and Italian, and, always, the fish; operating a bakery that supplies all his other concerns; hawking spice rubs, books, and cookies across the counters; and running a pizza joint for those looking for pies topped with brussels sprouts, truffle cheese, or clams. Street food has become a big thing—food trucks, walk-up carts, and stands. And Seatown, in both incarnations, is Douglas' line-jumping answer to that—a simple, cheap, comfortable place to graze on small plates that he's too smart to call small plates, to snack in comfort and not have to suffer through an entire sit-down meal. The entire operation co-opts the desire for simplicity and ease without buying into its physical manifestations. Douglas is a smart man who makes smart restaurants, and Seatown is no exception. The huge crowds haven't come yet, but they should. The placement—next door to Etta's—is perfect, the concept ideal for the space. Seatown feels like the kind of place you'd just luckily stumble upon on a dark, rainy night in an unfamiliar city. Douglas put it at the emptying-out point of Pike Place Market, the intersection of the city and the waterfront: right where that scenario would most likely play itself out over and over again.  The first thing I ate at Seatown was a roasted chicken from the rotisserie/takeaway side, rubbed with garlic, lemon, sea salt, and rosemary—perfectly done and dripping with rich fat like butter. It tasted kind of like I imagine Douglas himself would taste if one were to take a bite of his ideally split and roasted breast—greasy, crisp, and tasting of lemons, garlic, salt, and luxury. The night I ate the chicken, I had what is maybe the defining dish on the Seatown board: potted tuna. So simple, so perfect, so delicious: nothing more than a small soufflé cup of packed albacore sealed under a cap of barely melted duck fat and served with bias-cut slabs of toasted baguette. It is a peasant dish among peasant dishes, the fat cap having once acted like the lid on a jar, meant to preserve the perishable meat for a day when meat would be scarce. Here it translates into that weird realm of peasantry-gone-upscale, the duck fat not sealing the meat or preserving it so much as adding a buttery veil of salt and smoothness to the tuna beneath and lubricating everything so that it can all be sort of gouged up from the cup, spread across toast, and eaten like the best midnight snack ever: the flaky meat and liquid fat adding nothing but a luxurious silkiness, the toasted bread points offering a counterpoint of texture, crunch, and weight. The crab salad and the stew border on great, and the potted tuna absolutely is. But mostly, everything about Seatown is simple, unaffected, and accessible. In either incarnation, it's a place for little bites of this and that, for grazing. It's the kind of house that working cooks, bartenders with culinary aspirations, and grubniks weary of sport jackets and reservations dream about having at their disposal for a quick Tuesday-night feed. And now it's there, just waiting for you to discover it, to stop in for a quick bite and end up staying for hours. jsheehan@seattleweekly.com Price Guide"Wild Thing" crab  $15

Smoked salmon  $12

Roast chicken  $16

Ribs  $9

Crab stew  $10

Potted tuna  $9

 

 
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