On Monday night I ate at Qube, the latest in Seattle’s spate of fusion restaurants to open this fall. Qube defines high-concept dining: the name, a riff on the correct spelling of a box with six sides, represents a blending of six strong Asian cuisines—Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, and (I think) Thai—with traditional French culinary technique. The chef vaulted the concept even higher with her “Qubed Sets,” which are in effect prix-fixe three-course meals, where each course is a trio of presentations based on one ingredient. (Get it? Three courses, times three flavors, means you get to try, like, 9 things!) There’s a veggie set, a surf set, and a turf set, plus you can order a la carte if you’re feeling less adventuresome (or just not as schizophrenic). But enough explaining.
I felt hipper the instant I walked in. The space itself is modern, with big fishbowl windows (is that guy outside looking at us?), square architectural lines, and a flashy shade of orange highlighting the (giant, and somehow very decorative) seismic braces. For a room with the feel of a dimly-lit martini bar, there’s a surprising amount of light. It beams from the interior of the long communal table, from the inside of the low tables at the bar, and from big apple-green hurricane-like lamps that hang from the ceiling. If I had the guts to bring modern décor into my own home, I’d call the folks at Qube.
When you go, head straight for the bar in the back (wait, did I move to Manhattan?). The martinis, mostly twists on traditional drinks like cosmos and margaritas, all have something new to offer. My margarita was made with tamarind-infused tequila and rimmed with cumin-scented salt. My Pink Geisha saketini, an addictive, girly mix of sake, sweet & sour, and cranberry juice, tasted like the best pink lemonade in the world (in a good way).
For those who don’t really have the whole fusion concept down yet, Qube can help: fusion is food cooked using techniques from one cuisine (here, French) and flavors from another (or from 6 others, in this case). We started with impossibly tender, savory palmiers, spiked with fois gras (did they actually use the f.g. to make the puff pastry, I wonder?) and truffle. Then there were crunchy “sumo shrimp,” enrobed in a little black belt of nori and fitted onto an expensive-looking stick that made them easy to dip into the accompanying peanut sauce. Okay wait, that’s not fusion, that’s just French and Asian, served separately in the same restaurant. Delicious, though.
Fast forward to dinner. I ordered the turf set, which meant I got an appetizer plate with three things beef and a main course plate with three things duck. Perfect, right? A carnivore’s dream. Add to that my neighbors’ vegetarian and surf sets (I am such a fan of that long, sleek communal table!), and the sheer amount of food I tried was staggering . . .
Time out. Let’s take a math break. Returning to the Qubed Set concept. Technically speaking (although I’m no math whiz), wouldn’t a cubed set (“3-Ingredients X 3-Ways X 3-Courses = 9 Presentations,” according to their dinner menu) really equal 27 presentations? I mean, three cubed is 27, non? Not 9? So maybe there should be plus signs on that menu? Peu d’import–since I was sharing all three sets, I think I did get to taste 27 things. (See, Dad? You taught me math.)
Anyway . . .my favorites: from the vegetarian set, the butternut squash tempura had the lightest of crusts, and the “velvet” squash soup, with its sesame-crusted goat cheese balls that melted effortlessly into the soup, is something I’ll have again. The wild mushroom medley with dark soy and lemon zest was a unique blend of deep, earthy (umami!) and bright flavors; I look forward to putting mushrooms and lemons on a blind date together in my own kitchen.
From the surf set . . .The salmon tartare IS a good example of fusion: precisely brunoise-cut salmon cubes, a la française, were balanced with a squirt of lime and a little scallion crunch for an overall clean, straightforward, Asian-inspired flavor. So was the prawn mousse, which turned out to be essentially quenelles poached in white wine (akk! Flashback to the classical French portion of any culinary school curriculum!) with cumin and Kaffir lime.
My own turf set challenged me, mostly because many of the things I expected to eat hot were served cold. (As a side note, it’s amazing anything was hot, given the breadth and depth of Qube’s menu.) Thinly-sliced roasted duck breast (served hot) hit the jackpot, even as my capacity for food reached its uppermost limit; the pomegranate-honey sauce for it was just the right texture (nappe, I think they say) to coat my mouth and allow me to taste it the whole time I was chewing the duck. But sake-braised oxtail, for example, while cute in its little pancake package with a scallion “ribbon” (how appropriate for the holiday season), seemed to lack some flavor simply because the presentation was cold.
The best part about my Qube experience was the wine pairing. I’m not always a fan of add-ons like this, but since (like the sommelier said) most of us are less familiar with pairing wines with Asian food, it seems like the best choice. Do it, or at least try some of the sparkling shiraz with dessert.
Our service at Qube was impeccable, which is surprising given that it was only the second night the dining room or kitchen staffs had worked together.
I’ll be back. Next time, I’ll try another one of those sexy martinis, then lounge at the bar a little before savoring a little less food than I did this time. I have to try the Snake River Farms flatiron steak with tarragon avocado dip, and the basil-scented dark chocolate crème brulee will undoubtedly call my name again soon (if not at the restaurant, than in my dreams).
Qube is not the place to go if you’re a timid eater or shy about Asian food, or if you think you might have a problem looking into the kitchen through a giant Gehry-esque lime-green box (wait, I mean cube). But for sensational martinis, a great wine list, and sleek, fun food in what a friend once called the part of the Seattle food scene that’s up on its tiptoes, trying to get a better look at New York, head for Qube.
Opening this weekend (probably).
Find out more (and see pictures) at http://www.quberestaurant.com