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January 21, 2011 at 6:49 AM

Madison Park Conservatory: making beautiful music together

I stopped by the Madison Park Conservatory last week to get a look at the new restaurant that replaced Sostanza. Yeah, I loved it. So much so that by the time I hit the road for home — with snow falling fast and Seattleites driving like eejits — it was all I could do not to turn my car around, conserve my emotional energy and head back to the far end of Madison Park. I envisioned myself begging to spend the night upstairs in the Conservatory’s “Library Study Lounge,” a somber moniker for a handsome hangout that encompasses a small bar and a private dining area replete with a cookbook nook. Had my dream come true, I’d wake up and smell the coffee, then eat another Dungeness deviled egg — or three.

Smoky pimenton adds spark to this little Dungeness devil, sold as a trio ($7.50).

Speaking of: this week marked the debut of brunch service, served Thursdays through Sundays. And indeed those devilish eggs are on chef Cormac Mahoney’s daylight menu. Ditto for duckfat-roasted potatoes and pork belly banh mi. The latter pays homage to the popular “Coco Piggy” at his last creative outlet, the intentionally short-lived Eastlake pop-up, Tako Truk.

Before last week, I’d never met Mahoney (an absolute character who’s quick to admit he was raised in a barn), nor Bryan Jarr, his business partner and friendly straight-man, who gave me the skinny on this place last summer. Mahoney’s happy as a pig in mud, he said. Scratch that. What he said was “For a dirty cook with no money, I’m a blessed [bleep!],” adding “I am surely falling in love with this space every day. Moreso, the people I’ve surrounded myself with, who make it possible for me to wake up every morning with a restaurant to play in.”

Cormac Mahoney (left) honed his chops at the original Sitka & Spruce before opening Tako Truk with Bryan Jarr (right). Their Madison Park Conservatory opened in December.

His people include Top Chef-contender Zoi Antonitsas (like Mahoney, a Dahlia Lounge alum). And general manager Maggie Savarino, a bodacious bartender (previously found hoisting plates at Spring Hill) and the former Seattle Weekly booze columnist whose memoir — should she dare write it — would go immediately to the top of my reading list.

Zoi, dolled up for Top Chef (left, photo courtesy NBC Universal) and Maggie, dolled down to greet you in Madison Park .

Able assistance comes from bar manager Gary Tiffany, a former UW scientist who’s having far more fun concocting successful experiments here: like the marvelous mocktail he mixed after I told him I was having a “Dry January.” If you hang out on Eastlake, you may recognize him from Voxx Coffee.

Pretty in pink: housemade grenadine does the trick.

As a team, these familiar faces from Seattle’s food-and-drink scene have re-envisioned this dual-level destination as a comfortable haven for feasting on unfussy fussy-food: dishes built with ingredients like Wagyu beef tongue, Oregon rabbit and Okanagan emmer. Their collected efforts have not gone unappreciated.

“It’s strange to have customers welcoming you like our neighbors have, and thanking us for just being there,” says Savarino, who lives walking distance from her new workplace. “For vets like us it means the world, and we’re as serious as all get out about living up to all the goodwill we’ve received.”

During my recent foray, there was much good cheer apparent in the newly whitewashed downstairs dining-room, denuded of its fireplace but otherwise feeling as familiar as ever.

Warm place for a cold night. You’ll find it at 1927 43rd Ave East — at the far end of Madison Park.

Downstairs, actor Tom Skerritt sat among the Madison Park gentry who’ve taken these young upstarts up on their offer to come-on-in and call the place home. And after taking the steep stairs to the lounge, I was greeted by another great actor. One who — frown aside — never fails to make me smile.

Charlie Chaplin composed one of my favorite songs: “Smile.”

Conservation is the name of the game here. Literally. Planks salvaged from a decommissioned gravel barge — a Craigslist find — were refinished and recommissioned to help give this place its warm glow. You’ll find the wood throughout the house: as shelving, cabinetry and furnishings.

Before: this barge wood has found a new home in Madison Park .

After: the barge-bar. That’s Gary in the background.

A rustic table built with barge wood is the focal point of the private dining room, where French doors lead to a balcony and a Lake Washington view. Here you might leaf through cookbooks, or gather with a dozen friends and have dinner. Name your price (say, $60 a head) and leave the details up to Mahoney.

Table for ten? Twelve? They’ve got you covered.

If I were to host a party at the Conservatory, I’d certainly hope for more of what I sampled from the frequently changing menu, including garnishes from the kitchen’s pantry.

Order the Tuscan duck liver pate with pickled grapes (among the conserved fruits and preserved vegetables put up here) and it arrives on a small wooden slab created from old lathe salvaged amid the plaster during the remodel.

Pacific octopus (aka “tako”) crudo with preserved lemon and Aleppo pepper ($13).

Roasted quail with fregola ($12); a side of golden beets with pomegranate seeds. ($7).

Madison Park Conservatory serves dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays beginning at 5:30 p.m. and brunch Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. Stay tuned to the website (presently a musical work in progress) for news about upcoming Sunday Night Suppers.

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