NOT LONG AGO I asked a smart young newcomer to Seattle, a physicist and aspiring poet from a city to the east, what drew her here. She didn’t miss a beat. “It’s the magic,” she sighed. Arts and culture bubbling up in every corner. Fascinating people and flourishing innovation and inspiring art, often in the most unexpected places. “Seattle,” she concluded dreamily, “is what Paris must’ve been like in the ’20s.”

I think about that remark a lot—about a transplant’s bliss at landing in a city so luxuriantly saturated with the arts—but never more than I did upon arriving for the first time at the Tin Table. In the heart of alt Pike/Pine, in the historic brick Oddfellows Building, tucked like a speakeasy up a flight of stairs, across the hall from the gilded Century Ballroom—which was, literally, in full swing—the joint oozes culture before you’ve even walked in the door.

“Speakeasy” is a startlingly apt comparison. The bones of the room—fir floors, brick walls, timber joists—contribute raw historicity, as does the fire escape framed in one window, and the old hairpin radiators, and the heft and high ceilings of the handsome old building. An indigo-lit wall of champagne flutes glowed at the entry. The dark candlelit bar was packed with dancers and drinkers and other denizens of the demimonde, knocking back stiff cocktails and very good champagne. Back in the corner a round candelabra twinkled above the eponymous tin table, a square 12-seater, fashioned from repurposed fire doors. 

A mountain of frites.

As we lingered at the host station a herd of dancers galloped across the floor in the studio upstairs, momentarily shaking the rafters like a passing train. Isadora Duncan would have adored this place.

“Party of two?” inquired a pierced, spiky-haired bohemian whose sunny warmth shamed my bourgeois expectations. She threaded us through the tables, packed with casual Hill-dwellers of all ages and stations, and as I followed I couldn’t help menu-shopping from their plates. Mmmm, vegetables galore. Field-fresh young carrots dotted with crumbled goat cheese and…are those…grapes? Wow…that is some Himalaya of shoestring frites. Nice creamy blops of feta cheese on a frisée-beet salad. And what is on that skewer?

It was chunks of grilled housemade bread and fresh mozzarella, lavished with anchovies drenched in herby olive oil. Our waiter, an even more wholesome hipster than our host, earnestly recommended this starter, suggesting we order it along with the salt cod fritters. Though we didn’t agree about the combination—too much salt with our brine, thanks—individually each was inventive and delish. Especially the fritters, which were assembled with a light touch and garbed in a garlic red sauce rich as a good romesco.

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Candlelit bar: Stiff cocktails and very good champagne.

Tin Table’s menu implicitly encourages nibbling, composed as it is of shareable starters, a whole section of salads and vegetables called “Garden,” and entrées—“Sea” and “Range”—which are medium-sized enough (with $11ish to $15ish price tags) to enable sharing and pairing. With abandon we shared bites of the lightweight pesto-drizzled mozzarella and heirloom tomato roll-ups called Caprese Rolls and the aforementioned beet salad, in which the fris—e and feta cheese and beets together with frisky exclamations of currants and pine nuts added up to a robust and intentional combination. We relished those roasted baby carrots, so fresh, skin and stems on, all simple and stunning with goat cheese and warm grapes; along with a big plate of green beans, cooked to a crunch and poured over with a garlicky tamarind chutney sauce that started sweet and finished fiery; and a grainy field of farro, tossed and oiled with cashews and bits of cauliflower.

“I could eat this way every night,” my friend sighed, biting hugely into her bacon-cheddar burger, fashioned of free-range, hormone-free meat and served with that because-it’s-there mountain of truffle-salted frites.

In fact, eating this way every night was what inspired impresario Hallie Kuperman to open Tin Table in the first place. Kuperman owns the Century Ballroom, the dance school and performance space across the hall. When she and other Oddfellows tenants found their rents upped last year—pushing one, Velocity Dance, to relocate—Kuperman saw her opportunity to carve from Velocity’s beautiful hull her vision of a casual, stylish spot to feed drop-in dancers, late-night nibblers (the Table serves till 1am)—and herself. Kuperman, not a cook, crafted the restaurant she wanted to eat in.

But under chef Bo Maisano, who came from New Orleans by way of Madison Park Café and the late 1200 Bistro, Tin Table is considerably more than a neighborhood nosh stop. It’s a destination. Especially for main dishes such as a nice pink tuna burger with spinach and spicy mustard and shredded cabbage; a special of golden pan-seared halibut, freshened with fava beans and asparagus in a citrusy wash over a fragrant garni of herbs; and a canny plate of steak frites with arugula salad—great pairing—in which the hanger steak was buttery even before its bath in bacon–blue cheese butter. Yes, bacon–blue cheese butter.

At meal’s end, stuffed but not about to stop, we sat in reverential silence over a plate of light beignets, snowy with sugar—best in town—and an amazing finale crafted of fresh plums, lemony sabayon, and sprinklings of fresh herbs. A flawed lemon crème brûlée’s suggestions of lavender were a little avid, but we didn’t mind at all. “It tastes,” my friend managed, “grandmotherly.”

And that was just it. Because for all its smoldering gypsy glam, for all its arty soulfulness, the Tin Table manages to be one of the most down-to-earth enterprises in town. By the time you read this, Kuperman will just be launching a new cabaret space–cum–dance film venue out of the vacated studio next door, raising TT’s magical quotient off the charts. In light of this, the fact that its food, like its staff, stays so wholesome and careful and authentic surpasses magic and approaches the realm of the miraculous. Paris in the ’20s? In this lucky corner of Seattle…much better.

READ MORE RESTAURANT REVIEWS.

This article appeared in the September 2009 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.

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