For his carrot soup, Eden Hill chef and owner Maximillian Petty uses the peppery blossoms and leaves from nasturtiums he’s grown himself. In go the carrots (fermented a month, dehydrated another) along with coconut milk, persimmon for sweetness, cumin and turmeric, and—another win for advance planning—garlic he’s been roasting a month in an oven he fashioned himself out of a dehydrator. Garlic done this way goes soft and black, losing the shrieking pungency of its raw state in favor of complexly layered sweetness, and Petty learned how to make it at the acclaimed Olivia in Texas. There owner-chef James Holmes vaulted him from brunch cook to chef de cuisine within Petty’s first year.
He was 25.
The first two things to know, then, about Eden Hill: Maximillian Petty, now 27, has some resume. (He also staged with José Andrés in Washington, DC, and headed the charcuterie program at King Estate Winery in Oregon.) Even more tellingly: Maximillian Petty is invested in every detail of every dish. “I’m a control freak,” he admits shyly. Maybe proudly.
And so it’s a good thing Eden Hill has just 24 seats. Petty happened upon the space last summer when visiting his native Seattle; he was looking at the sprawling corner space across the street. “Too huge,” he sighed. On a whim he crossed Queen Anne Avenue to Entre Amis—and discovered its owner-chef readying for an unplanned return to France. Petty considered for about 30 seconds—then bought out his lease. Eden Hill—an original name for Queen Anne—was serving by September.
Yes, the kitchen was smaller than the one in his dreams, and the district atop Queen Anne’s quiet crown was by no measure a hot scene. But Petty liked the idea of nurturing a small neighborhood clientele. And he liked the type of restaurant the diminutive size all but forced: small, shareable plates, since you can’t ready more than two dishes at a time in a kitchen this tiny. To Petty, small plates in turn beget romance. “I call it the Lady and the Tramp effect,” he quips, recalling Disney’s iconic couple nibbling a single spaghetti strand.
It is true that if you walk in to Eden Hill around 7pm any night, that romantic image prevails—with, you know, humans instead of dogs—and it contributes to the overall loveliness of the place. This is the former home of the pretty French Portage, more recently the pretty French Entre Amis, and the blue-and-white chintz wallpaper and flickers of candlelight and shelves of wine recall their aesthetic refinement.
But Eden Hill also brings something undeniably robust. The music’s just a little more eclectic than you were expecting. The aromas are just a little stronger, as whatever Petty’s firing in the kitchen takes no time filling the tiny room—now brussels sprouts, now something sachet sweet, now straight-up wood smoke—and the crockery’s just a little heavier, from sturdy earthenware plates to sheets of slate.
Add to that the chattering buzz, the coming and going around the little bar, the opening and closing of the door as hopefuls drop in sans reservation—uh, best of luck—and Eden Hill proves that an intimate restaurant does not have to mean a hushed one. (Is there anything more vibrantly urban than romance amid a crowd?) There is verve in this place—and nowhere so much as in Petty’s engagement with the food.
That months-in-the-making carrot soup, for instance, wound up packing layers of currylike complexity. The flavors were enormous, their edges softened by buttery hunks of mild Dungeness. Similarly potent was Petty’s lamb-neck spaghetti, featuring the unctuous long-braised meat along with fennel sausage and a little pork blood for viscosity and depth. All served over housemade egg spaghetti, punctuated with dollops of chive foam—the latter’s distilled intensity a little mash note from modernist technique.
He also cooks with wit. Brunch chilaquiles with crisped cauliflower florettes are fun to eat and smack-the-forehead smart, dressed with the requisite chips and cheddar and egg yolk and cilantro, along with fermented green chili hot sauce. An order of these along with Petty’s fresh ricotta doughnuts, honest-to-God creamy-fluffy and served with two sauces—goat milk caramel and a sweet sabayon of roasted popcorn—make brunch here the liveliest thing you’re likely to do on a Sunday.
I know: popcorn sabayon. Yes, it tastes like kettle corn, a detail consistent with the confection fixation across Petty’s menu, foie gras cake batter to smoked honey cotton candy. My favorite, crispy pig head candy bar, is a love song to all the meaty, fatty, smoky pleasures we turn to pork for—all braised off the pig’s head with plenty of herbs and garlic and pressed, with fermented black beans, into rods the size of candy bars. Breaded, fried, served over a puddle of sweet pear soup, embellished with chilies and purple cabbage, it wows with artfulness and originality tempered by the plain levelheadedness of ingredients that taste inevitable together.
Sure there are missteps—when brunch tacos are lacklusterly flavored, or when a crab salad arrives underdressed. Petty’s more besetting sin arises from his overachievements—as when he tops thick slices of Macrina’s cider-sweetened wheatberry bread with house cultured butter and raspberry blossom honey and huckleberries that he dehydrated and blended with star anise into a flavored sea salt—and the diner simply registers great bread plus tangy butter plus honey. A beet salad, gorgeous on the plate and deftly presented with thin-sliced lamb, features lavender curing for the meat and beets that had been wrapped in salted alder ash before roasting. A white dust of dehydrated olives and grated horseradish, sprinkled across the top as a visual reference to ash, didn’t add much flavor. Ditto the lavender. Ditto the alder ash. (Which only sounds like balderdash.)
Among chefs, Petty’s hardly the first control freak to invest so much in the minutiae of his ingredients and preparations. It’s just that he betrays his youth in not knowing yet which are indispensable to the finished product. As failings go, this one nearly lands in the plus column, revealing as it does an industrious guy with innovating ambitions.
And a huge future. Dude, I hear there’s a bigger space across the street.