Seattle’s Newest Restaurants Embrace the Food-Friendly Cocktail

At two high-profile new restaurants, veteran bartenders pour drinks that don’t fight with the food.

By Allecia Vermillion September 23, 2015 Published in the October 2015 issue of Seattle Met

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Cocktail Mavens
Anna Wallace (left) and Veronika Groth, plus two of their food-friendly creations.

Image: Olivia Brent

At the top of Broadway, newcomer Lionhead serves spicy Szechuan plates—the sort that beg for crisp beer. And yet bar manager Veronika Groth sees tables requesting just as many of her China-inspired cocktails as platters of mapo doufu or dandan mein.

Mostly because those cocktails are refreshing on the tongue, thanks to relatively low doses of booze and flavors drawn from ingredients beyond just the base spirit. Next door at Jerry Traunfeld’s other restaurant, Poppy, Groth makes bolder, herbaceous drinks befitting that bar’s separate space; at Lionhead cocktails harmonize with the food. Take the Red Door, a mixture of rum with lychee, lime, and five-spice, that arrives with dark red shiso leaves swirling within like an eddy of stray autumn leaves. Time was that shiso would have garnished a higher-alcohol drink, says Groth. Now it’s an integral ingredient. 

Artful drinking long ago infiltrated Seattle’s restaurants; even 25-seat establishments infuse spirits and whip up house shrubs. Drink lists at several high-profile new spots suggest the restaurant cocktail has shifted from preprandial dalliance to full-on meal companion. These food-friendly creations are all about moderate alcohol and exacting calibration between turboboozy and sugar bomb.

Barely a mile away at Ericka Burke’s new Chop Shop, another veteran Seattle bartender looks to Europe’s drinking cultures—and the restaurant’s kitchen—to create symbiosis between drinks and dinner. Anna Wallace, a veteran of the Walrus and the Carpenter, decided long ago to ply her trade in restaurants, where she can accompany diners from light introductory cocktail—maybe a simple triad of gin, grapefruit, and tonic—to an after-dinner whiskey or digestif. 

At Chop Shop, Burke’s seasonal menu guides her—“Whatever they’re playing with in the kitchen, I want to play with it too.” Here beets flavor plates of cavatelli and, in shrub form, add earthy intrigue—and a vivid purple hue—to a mescal and tequila concoction called Beet Happening. (Chop Shop occupies a redeveloped rehearsal studio, thus cocktail names nod to Northwest bands.) Wintry spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger add even more culinary nuance. Wallace’s enthusiasm for flavors beyond alcohol extends to her Seattle Seltzer Company, which produces small-batch celery soda and orange pop.

Both Wallace and Groth have tended bar long enough to witness our progression through the eras of hyperobscure ingredients, bartenders as rock stars, and obsession with all things bitter. The embrace of fresh, food-friendly drinks certainly doesn’t endanger the perfectly dry martini or adroitly stirred manhattan. It just leaves you able to drink one after dinner without falling off your chair.

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