On Sunday night we went to The Stumbling Goat Bistro, the restaurant on Phinney Ridge I’d imagined since moving to Seattle as the possible pinnacle of delicious, local food, served mere blocks from our home. Perhaps it’s the ingenious name – it was pulled from the brains of the proprietors just 2 days before opening, when a WA state health department someone told them they couldn’t name a restaurant “The Drunken Boat” because of Prohibition-era laws against using references to drinking in establishment names. (As the menu so smartly points out, Prohibition did end more than 70 years ago.)
The Stumbling Goat is known for its use of local, seasonal, and organic ingredients. I loved sitting down and learning something. I’m usually pretty fluent when it comes to restaurant menus, but on Sunday, when we sat down with another chef friend, all three of us were stumped by Fleur de Maquis (a French sheep’s milk cheese) and abalone mushrooms (like oyster mushrooms, only bigger and more slab-like, grown in Canada), neither of which show up on epicurious.com’s food dictionary or on wikipedia.com. What fun!
My husband – whose stumbling goatee has learned to walk, by the by – started with the day’s special salad, spinach with pancetta, hard-boiled egg, sweet house-picked peppers, and a warm bacon vinaigrette. Delicious, simple, perfect. But when I tasted my roasted cauliflower salad, an ingenious mix of roasted cauliflower, grilled oak mushrooms (the server told us these were synonymous with abalone mushrooms; in any case, they were wonderful), and arugula, with a toasted walnut vinaigrette, my tongue was seared with salt.
Now, let’s get something straight. I’m not afraid of salt. In fact, I’m a person with naturally low blood pressure on an additional medication that lowers one’s blood pressure even more, so as a general rule my body should crave anything that would cause even remote increases in the pumpitypump. (As a side note, I got a fabulous 16-tin salt sampler as a holiday gift; it’s a story for another time.) I lick my finger and put it in our wooden four-compartment salt keeper (also a great gift) at least once a day, which means a) yes, I’m double-dipping in the salt on a daily basis, which even my husband was not heretofore aware of, and b) yes, I have 5 different kinds of sea salt on my counter at all times, not to mention the kinds that are hidden elsewhere. I like salt.
But back to our dinner. I noticed the salt, and all three of us agreed it was a problem, but ate anyway, either out of stubbornness (becuase I rarely come across something too salty for me) or fascination; it was an incredible idea for a salad.
Dinner came. My giant pork chop, stuffed with (I think) barley and served with the kind of simple, seared Brussels sprouts that make me want to eat that vegetable only for the rest of my life, must have been caked with salt. It was cooked perfectly, but when I put the outside crust against my tongue, I had to sort of reach in with my fork and turn the piece around, so that the salted parts were folded onto each other to avoid literally burning my tongue.
The other dishes were similar – flawlessly cooked interiors, beautiful flavor combinations, unbearably salty exteriors. It was almost as if someone had played a trick on the chef, switching the top on a salt container from the little holes to the big hole. My husband’s hangar steak was unbelievably tender and melty – but again, that searing feeling (dare I call it pain?) on the tongue.
When the server returned after our dinner, we fessed up, which I don’t do often. She apologized, informed the sous chef (we were told the chef had the night off), and plied us with free tarte tatin.
The strange thing is that I’m somehow convinced we had a unique (and unfortunate) experience. The flavors were all there. My chef friend’s braised rabbit was great, albeit a little dry, but the curried mashed squash it came piled on was inspirational. I woke up yesterday with a raw tongue and multiple canker sores, yet somehow I have forgiven all.
It must be because I had my mind made up about The Stumbling Goat before we walked in. This is not normal for me, and not something I’m proud of. But I like this restaurant becuase I saw it the day we shopped for our first home; it represents all that is good about living in Seattle, in our neighborhood, in a town that supports local agriculture with an excitement that I deeply appreciate.
So I made another reservation. Hopefully, our second experience there will not be so stumbling.