Anniversary Dinner: Altura or Spinasse?
Our 20th Wedding Anniversary is next week. Neither of us has been to either of these restaurants.
For anyone who has been to both, which one would you recommend if you had to choose just one for a special occasion, and why?
FWIW, we don't value formality for formality's sake or preciousness.
Let me add my congratulations, Kaleo. Happy anniversary to you and your bride!
You can’t miss at either place in terms of the quality of the food. These are probably my two favorite restaurants in the area at the moment – with some close runners-up, of course. I just had dinner on Monday night at Spinasse and it was wonderful as always – a fabulous antipasto of shaved kolrhabi and watermelon radish with anchovy, meyer lemon, capers, and parmigiano reggiano; roasted Jerusalem artichokes with baga caoda; and capunet, a very rich but wonderful mixture of pork shoulder, foie gras, and potato wrapped in Swiss chard and served with a caramelized honey sauce. The only dish that I had any fault with was the stinging nettle risotto which I thought was a bit too heavy-handed with the lemon. But, all in all, it was another in a long series of amazing meals at Spinasse.
However, I agree with the others about the choice of Altura for your anniversary dinner. As you may recall, I have praised Altura effusively on Chowhound (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/820980), and my many experiences since my last post have been nothing short of wonderful. Part of the reason for my recommendation has to do with ambience. I agree with dagoose that Spinasse has an informal, rustic, casual ambience that is not quite as celebratory as the ambience at Altura. Also, the dishes at Altura are less rustic and more refined and elegant than those at Spinasse. Like PAO and gingershelly, my wife and I usually sit at the counter, but primarily because I like watch the cooking and talk with Nathan and his cooks during the meal. (My favorite spot is in the center of the counter where Nathan usually works.) But for an anniversary dinner, I might be inclined to sit in one of the booths so that I could have a more intimate setting and focus my undistracted attention on my loved one. Unless your wife would feel like she would be missing out by not watching the preparation of the food, which admittedly is very enjoyable and entertaining, a booth seems like it might be more romantic. But either way, I’m confident that you will have a wonderful anniversary dinner at Altura.
Whevever you decide to go, I hope you will give us a report.
re: Tom Armitage
Hi, Again, Tom:
Here's my report. Apologies for the length...
Our 20th Anniversary dinner went off without a hitch, and we had a really good time. The last "big dinner" I reported on was at Rover's, with which I was underwhelmed. I was not underwhelmed at Altura.
Let me say first that the service was extremely good. Everyone who presented dishes and stems explained them in detail in an informative-yet-unpedantic way. Yet friendly. We lacked for nothing in the way of table service.
Next, let me say that the ambiance was very, enjoyable, too. I really liked the low level of formality, although I found it a mild distraction from the very high level of plating and food quality. We were seated at one of the Siamese-twinned 2-tops. This conjoined dining worked, but at one point I felt like an actor in a bad 1930s jungle movie who peers through a potted plant.
Against my entreaties, Wahine insisted on the 3 course/3 pairings meal. We did this in such a way that we were able to share an appetizer and a dessert and still each have a different pasta course and entree. I really like this pick-what-you-want aspect, and everything about ordering was made very easy by our server.
What we chose was:
--Foie Gras (a chilled, formed round) with roasted strawberry and rhubarb-lambrusco jam, accompanied by trumpet-shaped crackers. This was paired with a Bolognese lambrusco. This was excellent, especially the jam, and I was relieved that the strawberries (seasonal where?) had only just glimpsed the salamander from across the room. I preferred the excellent table bread to the crackers.
--Gnocchi in a ragu of lamb and beef, done Abruzzes style with parmesan. This was a big hit, the Yukon Gold pillows being the perfect consistency and the ragu being balanced and savory. This was probably our favorite of the meal. It was paired with a barbera asti that was also excellent.
--Risi e Bisi. Contrary to my expectations, this smoked duck risotto was very pale (almost albino), delicate and was all about the green peas, not the canard. The duck itself was delicious, but it amounted to about 1/16 of one breast, perched atop as garnish. I found the parmesan foam interesting, but it instantly dissolved--had Debbie not been quick of foot (and I of fork), I would not have even tasted it. Whelmed by this one. This was paired with a Piedmontese Chardonnay that deserved a better companion.
--King Salmon perched on asparagus with Morel mushrooms. This one was strange. No seasoning at all for the fish itself; it was served skinned and inverted. The darker exposed skin side was browned to a solid, uniform crust, and the "up" side was only barely cooked. I actually like rare salmon, but in this case, crusted+rare meant that the crust broke where it wanted and the flakes went their own way, making it a challenge to eat. I went for this dish for the Morels, and the mushrooms were a big disappointment. I use the plural guardedly, since there were *two* small whole Morels, and probably 2 fragments. The mushrooms were pan-fried as I'd hoped, but they were soft, cold, wet and unseasoned. I finished this dish wondering what the connection was between the salmon and the mushrooms. The sorrel puree base was the best part of this one. The wine pairing here was a German pinot noir; that was good.
--Pan Roasted Halibut. This was a beautiful dish. It had an anchovy crust, and was served over very peppery Bloomsdale spinach and diavoliccio. This dish got my attention the way perhaps the risotto had been intended to--a neutral base being lifted up. In this case it worked beautifully--the peppery greens with the mild fish. The celery seed reduction was, I thought, superfluous.
--Sweet Gorgonzola with preserved walnuts. The cheese itself was excellent, and the walnuts sublime. But I thought the dish suffered from multiple personality disorder by virtue of the fennel pollen and crispy shallot rings. This was a masterpiece of plating, worthy of the best food photographer, but the fennel seemed out of place and the shallot had been fried all together, so it was edible only as a single (very small) bite. The crackers served with it were puffed so thin, they burst as soon as we touched them. The best part of this was the paired wine, a walnut liqueur, which went beautifully with the walnuts and cheese.
We ended with complimentary little cups of cold aerated chocolate with a bit of mascarpone. In this case, the simplicity paid great dividends.
The end brought a check for $235 (the foie gras having added $11).
My gestalt is that the food was good, perhaps a little show-offy in conception and plating without commensurate added benefit. A few of our dishes struck me as someone trying too hard, or square-peg-round-hole. I thought the wine pairings were very well-conceived. The space was very comfortable, and as I said, the service was excellent. So I was neither overwhelmed no underwhelmed--let's just say 'whelmed'.
Measured against my latest quality/value standard (Cafe Munir), I can't say Altura was a 6x better experience. As haute cuisine goes, maybe... But other than Thierry's conviviality, it was a better experience than Rover's.
Thanks for the detailed and even-handed report, Kaleo. I’m glad that the anniversary dinner experience was, overall, a good one and that you were at least “whelmed.” I haven’t had any of the dishes that you and your bride chose, so was especially interested in your report. I always get inspiration for my own cooking from Nathan’s preparations, and the halibut with anchovy crust definitely got my attention.
I’ll add my experience at Café Munir to the thread where you reported your experience there (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/885005), but I certainly understand and appreciate the “value” issue at all high-end restaurants, including Altura – an issue that I briefly raised in the thread that followed my post about my first visit to Altura (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8209...). It might be interesting to start a thread on Chowhound’s Greater Seattle board about what Seattle restaurants offer the best value for “high-end” dining (meaning expensive, carefully sourced ingredients used in complex, labor-intensive preparations, etc.). I’m willing to spend up for the occasional high-end meal, even though I completely understand the joy of eating less fussed-up and precious preparations that still manage to dazzle the palate at a fraction of the cost.
I think you order much more judiciously than I do, since my tab at Café Munir was $81 for my wife and me. Still a very good value, however.
Congrats, Kaleo on your wonderful 20th Anniversary!
To celebrate such a great achievement, I too would choose Altura.
I have been to both only twice, but I truly loved sitting at the counter (both times) at Altura and watching and interacting with the cooks, the chef and the service staff.
I find the prices there very reasonable for the quality of the food, and the experience of being both involved with each other, the delight of the food itself, and seeing the staff making other's dishes, and perhaps your own is pretty great.
My favorite seats - well, the only place I have sat, both times, is at the other end of the counter. Right by the service pass gap, where the wine is done to your right, and the hot service is happening in front of you. Nice seat, as the chef is right there alot, and both meals had a chance to talk to Nathan several times during the meal.
Get the wine pairings, and spring for 4 courses, so you can do starter, seafood, some kind of springy meat dish, and dessert.
I have never been disapointed with any dish there (well, maybe slightly, but compared to most resto's - not by much).
I will go back soon, I hope.
Let us know what you do!!!
I would go with altura, because I think the menu set up is just better for celebrating--the multiple courses make for a leisurely meal, the waiters are well equipped to help with wine pairings. Spinasse has a bit of hurried casuality to it that I don't mind, but would be less inclined to celebrate at.
Altura. Get the seats next to the window at the end of the counter/bar. You can watch one of the chefs prepare salads, etc.from there. Neither restaurant is formal. Both can be loud, but if you get the seats I'm recommending, Altura will be less loud. I have not yet been disappointed there; have had mixed experiences at Spinasse. I'm sure others will have different opinions!