Thumbnail image for Golden Beetle pic.JPG
Jordan Barrows
Golden Beetle's wood fired oven pizza with roasted oyster mushrooms, onion, and mozzarella.
American casual dining culture is so attuned to cheap, fast,


Veg-Friendly Golden Beetle Is A Butterfly In Training

Thumbnail image for Golden Beetle pic.JPG
Jordan Barrows
Golden Beetle's wood fired oven pizza with roasted oyster mushrooms, onion, and mozzarella.
American casual dining culture is so attuned to cheap, fast, and large when a curve ball (like high prices and small portions) arrives sometimes we handle it poorly--especially in Seattle, as entitled diners, and more so for vegetarians, the perennial "cheap date."

But that curve ball flies both ways, and sometimes the restaurant at hand functions on unrealistic expectations of its guests. In the case of James Beard award-winning chef Maria Hines' second restaurant Golden Beetle, her second and more casual 100% organic certified restaurant, both points are true.

For many diners, going out for organic cuisine is appealing but still gaining footing because its true cost causes severe sticker shock. Even if we eat and cook with #9 produce at home, when it comes to eating out, we're eager to overlook the non-certified, pesticide blasted, genetically modified ingredients on the menu in favor of a nice atmosphere, a good time, and cheap pricing. So, where a plate of hummus and pita costs five dollars somewhere else, it's twice as much at Golden Beetle.

This takes some getting used to, but you can understand the principal at work, and for a health-aware vegetarian, it makes sense. The common perception is that organic food is too expensive, but the reality is that most Americans have priority and budgeting issues that keep them from even considering it. What's more, along with artful presentation and refined textures, Beetle's cuisine is right in line with conceptual ideas that Hines started at Tilth.

The problem is, though it bears the Hines stamp, Golden Beetle is not Tilth. At first glance, other than the hanging light fixtures (exotic stained-glass pendants) and a few photos of ethnic street vendors at work, there was little to distinguish Beetle from its former station as Market Street Grill. Unquestionably, Tilth owns the stately Wallingford Craftsman it calls home, but Golden Beetle seems a shifty tenant on the fly, not ready to lay down roots, and its interior doesn't offer much to spark the appetite or mood.

The menu featured dips, and small and large plates, and what I tried was simply good. There were more than a few vegetarian options, and the lacinato kale with smoked paprika and black olives was sauteed to supple tenderness with good dash of salt. My boyfriend's chickpea stew with yogurt and fried bread (a large plate) was rich and succulent. But his portion was very small, and after wolfing his down, he started eyeballing my flat bread pizza--a doughy boat served with oyster mushrooms and mozzarella, served on the same leavened pita that accompanied the trio of dips we started with.

That dish, a hummus, tzatziki, and muhammara (spicy pomegranate) medley, was far too small for my party of four to have more than two bites--it was more like an over sized amuse bouche, and the take on hummus was acidic and runny. You can expect a lot of interpretation with Hines' food, but the humble and rustic origins of this classic ethnic staple seemed lost in translation.

In good company usually anything goes, but with such small portions it was hard to share bites, and the constant grumbling through the meal (from starters to desert) had me on edge by the end of it. With such a pedigree, such grievances might have been transformed by expert care and guidance, but we were left to our own devices most of the evening, flagging down our sweet yet harried server with our needs and questions.

Sustainable, organic food production does cost more than conventional alternatives, and with this as a built-in cost of business, you also have to create the wow factor by convincing diners with a menu and an experience that stands out from the rest. I'm a vegetarian and fully support organic food values, but the reality is simple: if your hummus isn't exceedingly better than, say, Mediterranean Mix, it just looks like overhead.

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