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October 21, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Seattle’s Book Bindery: bound for (four star?) glory

The Book Bindery is bound for glory, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. What? You’ve never heard of the darling dinner house along the south shore of the Ship Canal? The one that made its public debut this month as the fine-dining arm of Almquist Family Vintners?

Well then, you apparently haven’t read about the “Restaurant Opening of the Year,” nor nibbled on the delicious blow-by-blow at the Nosh Pit. Clearly, you haven’t been reading McCarthy and Schiering Wine Merchant’s newsletter. Nor stopping to gawk at the big banner posted on the warehouse space at 198 Nickerson: the one that reads “MAKE YOUR OWN WINE NOW.” Unfortunately, neither have I. For that professional lapse, I beg forgiveness. But please allow me to make it up to you with this late-to-the-game introduction:

The Book Bindery, on Nickerson Street, is a short jaunt west from the south end of the Fremont Bridge, only steps from the Ship Canal.

First off, until they get the hand-forged, backlit signage hoisted, you’ll need to keep your eye out for this:

Remember the old adage: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Heed it.

When I arrived Monday evening, the dozen deeply cushioned barstools at Book Bindery — named for its former incarnation — stood empty. But not for long.

Elegance, personified: the marble-topped bar, empty for now.

I was no sooner seated than GM and Book Bindery visionary Patric Gabre-Kidan stepped up to greet a young couple who’d entered simultaneously. Moments later, he offered me the same warm greeting. “Want to see the kitchen?” he asked.

He didn’t have to ask twice, and I followed him past the dining area into a broad expanse of stainless-steel and gleam — open to anyone who cares to make the trek, but hidden from view by a wall separating kitchen from dining room, where fewer than two dozen seats are available.

That’s the kitchen far left, and the elegant dining area center (the barrel-room is through those central windows), with the bar and entranceway visible at right.

If you’re a fan of Ethan Stowell’s restaurants — and friend of this blog — you, too, may be familiar with Patric Gabre-Kidan. Over the past several years, it was Pat who was the managing partner at Stowell’s Tavolata, How to Cook a Wolf and Anchovies & Olives. The two have since parted ways professionally, and when the Almquists went looking for someone to anchor their culinary venture, Patric got the call.

It was he who convinced Mike and Sumi Almquist to hire his talented pal Shaun McCrain, a local guy (and Seattle Central Community College culinary school-grad) whose lengthy tenure at Thomas Keller’s Per Se — among other temples of haute cuisine — help explain the stunner of a meal I ate here.

GM Patric Gabre-Kidan (left) and his talented pal Shaun McCrain.

By the way: you may know Mrs. Almquist, as I do, as freelance food writer and former Seattle Weekly restaurant critic Sumi Hahn, who writes the occasional classical music review for the Seattle Times. But what you really need to know is that the food served at the couple’s Book Bindery is the kind that made me sit up straighter in my barstool, a glass of the family grape in hand, and say “Whoa.” And not only because those dishes were so prettily presented, either.

Hamachi crudo, with avocado, breakfast radish and dashi gelee (left), and compressed watermelon with crispy pork belly and basil. [photos courtesy Matthew Lankford]

From start (an amuse of “potato salad” with lardons) to finish (a Turkish coffee pot de creme with cardamom cookies), and everything in between (including the above starters; plus handmade cavatelli pasta with autumn mushrooms, wild arugula, pickled pearl onions and foie gras emulsion; and the “flavor curve” of a rib-eye steak with bone marrow bread pudding, matsutakes and Bordelaise), my first meal here was a revelation. Which is surely saying something for a place that had barely been open two weeks.

As word continues to get out about this lovely newcomer (expected to double seating capacity with an adjacent “greenhouse” not yet built), it will likely be harder to get a reservation, so you’d better make one now.

Campagne’s chef-exec Daisley Gordon and his wife, Shelley Grant did, and I saw them here on Monday. Jason and Nicole Wilson from Crush also showed up to check out the competition, and stayed long enough to be around in time to see a semi pull up out front, and watch as Mike Almquist and a pal off-loaded 40 tons of grapes from Western Washington’s Wahluke Slope, including these mourvedres.

2010 James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson, and his wife Nicole, of Crush, check out the grapes bound for the crush at Almquist Family Vintners. Sweet!

I’d neglected to say hello to Mike, having failed to realize throughout my visit that the smiling dude who came into the restaurant for a look-see (and later seen driving the forklift) was the fellow whose name is on the label. Mea culpa, Mike. And do say hi to your wife for me: I haven’t seen her in what, 15 years? Good luck to you both.

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