Fresh radishes with Parmesan custard dippins and aged dusk breast. Photo by Luke McKinley

Dining Review

The Geeky Beer Bar Serving Some of Seattle’s Best Dishes

No Anchor knows its brews, but it also knows how to prepare impeccable Pacific Northwest fare.

Despite a rather quiet opening and the possibility for curious diners to still get a table without a reservation, the unassuming No Anchor (2505 Second Ave. #105, 448-2610) was one of only two places in Seattle nominated for a James Beard 2017 Best New Restaurant award last month.

Given the co-owners, this isn’t hard to believe. Anu Apte Elford is the owner of cultish cocktail lounge Rob Roy, and husband Chris is a former bartender at the award-winning Canon. Along for the ride is Jeffery Vance, the former Spur chef who will be running the kitchen. The result is something utterly unique and utterly Seattle, where a casual interior belies truly elegant, out-of-the-box food—and of course beers, mapped out on the wall in a matrix that positions each at a point between Approachable, Modern, Esoteric, and Traditional. These beers and beer cocktails will beguile the most jaded or uninterested beer drinkers. Like me.

The impact of the beer menu was such that after my second dinner there, I found myself shunning the wine wall at the grocery store and ogling the beer section, hoping to find something as nutty and rich as the Freigeist Hoppeditz I’d had there, described as a “Super Complex Strong Altbier.” I still occasionally find myself daydreaming about the Grapefruit Radler, a beer cocktail that comes in a super-tall glass and combines fresh grapefruit with Campari, an IPA, and “Love.” It’s just the right amount of sweet, and if the idea of a bitter Campari and a bitter IPA sounds awful, let’s just say that the “Love” somehow mellows it all out into one of the best drinks I’ve ever had.

But you don’t have to be a beer connoisseur to appreciate No Anchor. Rather, you just need to desire the best ingredients of the Pacific Northwest expertly and artfully rendered. The food menu is broken into three sections—“Snacks, Finger Food, & General Ballyhoo,” “Bread, Boards, & What Have You,” and “Dishes”—and it’s perfectly designed for sharing. But here’s a secret: You can “Eat the Entire Menu” for $120, and it’s totally shareable by two people—18 items (in 10 courses), plus two desserts. Granted, the smaller plates are going to mean that you may get only a half-bite of something, but you won’t go away hungry, and you get to experience everything (and have room for the beer, which you can pair with the meal for $40). The only caveat: It’s about a two-hour affair, so make sure you have time to hunker down and enjoy. If conversation wanes, check out the grandmotherly curio cabinets filled with everything from animal skulls and bug collections to creepy baby dolls and gas masks, or contemplate the all-wood ceiling that gives the feeling of being in a ship’s hull.

Here’s how it went down.

A couple of raw Kumamoto oysters are served in a spruce IPA mignonette, followed by marinated Castelvetrano olives that became something altogether different and delicious when dusted with raisin crumbles. I applaud any chef who can take the trendiest olive in town and transform it. Oyster mushrooms lightly fried in a tempura batter are served with a salty cheese and herbs, of which dill is the most prominent. It’s one of my favorite plates on the menu, and I’d easily go back and order a full size of it; the mushrooms’ earthiness is not hidden but enhanced by the cheese, while the herbs bring a light vibrancy to a fried food. Small fresh radishes with their tops still on are served with a decadent Parmesan custard that is reminiscent of mac ’n’ cheese, very roux-like and addictive.

The chicory salad is one of the best salads I’ve had all year, maybe ever, and I could probably eat one every day for the foreseeable future. Chicory is an underappreciated lettuce-like plant from the dandelion family, similar in look and taste to radicchio but slightly less bitter. Here it’s tossed with grapefruit, toasted hemp seeds, and Cheddar and dressed with a honey-buttermilk vinaigrette, the sweetness of which is tempered with a tinge of horseradish. The last of the finger foods, smoked and pickled mussels (in this case, just one), is miraculous. I’ve never had a pickled mussel and I can’t imagine how I ever lived without them. OK, I exaggerate, but it’s seriously good, served with a burnt-garlic aioli and “plated while listening to black metal.”

Moving onto the Bread Boards, the following comes out on one: charred eggplant on toast, the eggplant doctored with Middle Eastern spices and cut with pickled onion and sorrel; and smoked trout spread, more delicate than any I’ve had before, spread on old rye sourdough and touched with herbs. For an extra $20, you can add paddlefish caviar (“YOLO!”). I did not. Also joining the pageantry, a Dungeness and local shrimp roll, both ingeniously piled on a pretzel roll, the shrimp enlivened with lemon aioli and a dab of Fresno chili sauce. Each is topped with one perfect housemade ketchup chip (a Canadian classic). Rounding it out are cured and smoked local fishes, which change based on what’s in season; for us, it was sturgeon, albacore (cured with soy), and salmon (cured with spruce tips) and a smear of cultured cream.

Sufficiently indoctrinated, our appetites wide-open, we awaited the “Dishes,” which began with a sous-vide-prepared, then seared, duck breast that, unfortunately, did not get quite enough char from the sear; and while I liked the idea of pairing it with pear curd, that mild-mannered fruit got lost. Still, the meat was juicy and flavorful and the braised kale savory and robust. Next up, beetroot pelmeni, which may be the star dish of the restaurant: tiny Russian potato dumplings with a crackly, reddish-purple exterior filled with fresh cheese that bursts forth in your mouth when you bite into them. A little acid from tangy pickled turnips completes this perfect dish. Pan-roasted cauliflower is notable for being served with whole tart cranberries, and glazed lamb sweetbreads are exactly as lamb-forward as you’d want them to be (noticeable but not overpowering). The final dish is grilled Wagyu steak—just right one night, a bit oversalted on another, but cooked to a beautiful medium rare and served with a silky pomme purée, a mouthful of woodsy wild mushrooms, and two sweet, charred cipollini.

In the manner of a good French meal, we were presented with a cheese board before dessert: two slabs of a sharp local Cheddar with green apple slices, and triangles of rye toast from Tall Grass bakery grilled with butter and a cranberry moustarda. Build a sandwich out of it all, or just peck. Either way, it’s simple and divine, particularly the bread. Desserts, two of them, were also memorable: A bowl of chocolate custard is blended with a maple fro-yo and scattered with a crunchy parsnip bark, while a bitter orange sorbet contrasts with a sweet, whipped vanilla yogurt, frozen ribbons of butterscotch, and Westland barley. Yes, even a sweet can be beered up.

I want to come back and order full sizes of my favorite dishes—and try more brews. But that tasting menu is so damn inviting, just like the whole experience at this one-of-a-kind beer bar and restaurant.

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