Ask Ethan Stowell protege Brian Clevenger if there are downsides to opening a high-end restaurant in a neighborhood like Madrona, and he’ll reel them off: No foot traffic. The person who travels to you is passing a dozen great restaurants. You need your neighbors. “In neighborhood restaurants, 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your guests,” Clevenger says. No problem there: Many nights in Vendemmia’s six-month life, you couldn’t snag one of its 32 seats before 9pm, so packed has it been with east-of-34th Ave gentry. Not to mention neighbors from the commercial district. “Paul the barber from across the street probably comes in four times a week,” Clevenger laughs.
The reason for the fond embrace? Vendemmia was born a classic; a little black dress of a place with a clean menu of simple pastas and mains, exactingly executed. Straight lines and right angles and palette of grays and open ductwork ceiling provide just the right minimalist backdrop of DIY elegance, and there in the open kitchen you can see the chefs huddled carefully over their art: pastas, from the spaghetti brightly topped with a light basily tomato sauce to the dense bucatini, wicked rich in lamb ragu; mains like a preparation of roasted vegetables with buttery black cod, or thick pink slices of fork-tender Wagyu beef over Walla Walla onion puree with chanterelles.
It feels like a destination, especially when the waiter intones that “the mixed green salad is very anchovy forward.” That’s a sentence that’s possibly never before been uttered in a residential neighborhood. And when it arrives—green and purple ruffles with strips of pecorino and a dressing that’s, yes, very anchovy forward—it tastes like something a neighbor could become a regular for.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
Chef and owner Edouardo Jordan has skills, no question, hailing from big-deal restaurants like French Laundry and, closer to home, Bar Sajor. But frankly, the food at his new dinner house may not even be as big a draw as his location, smack in the heart of Ravenna’s commercial district—a neighborhood that’s never had a restaurant of this reach. The airy space is feminine and farmhousey, with an informal floor plan of two-tops and stools around the open kitchen and a long table for chatting neighbors. (You’ll even see kids, owing to a special kids’ menu—a feature not often spied in the same room as tripe with Castelvetrano olives and Calabrian chilies.)
But Jordan’s style favors nanoseasonality and freshly imagined combinations—grilled octopus with watermelon gazpacho, salted plums, and preserved lemon—in painterly presentations. Some, like a minuet of rich yogurt with colorful heirloom tomato and embellishments of spring onion and pine nuts and chrysanthemum, live up to the promise; others register as interesting experiments. It’s all what Jordan intended. “When I decided on this neighborhood, I knew in my gut this was a place I could have fun with my food,” he says. As for the neighbors, “I knew they were traveling all the way to Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill for dinner. I knew they had a palate—but no locations to challenge it.” Now they do.