It's fitting that Eastlake modern Mexican spot Little Water Cantina will officially open on Thursday, aka Cinco de Mayo. However husband-and-wife owners Shannon and Laura Wilkinson say they will be softly open tonight with a limited menu, and perhaps even some samples of dishes to come. Oh, and some rental chairs since theirs are still en route. The space is filled with small but special flourishes, from the bar made from two well-burled pieces of the same madrone tree to the row of gramophone horns dating back to the early 20th century, converted into lighting and painted in weathered shades of reds and greens. The ceiling is reclaimed wood from an old granary, and the tables are made from reclaimed fir. The space's original entrance has been filled in with a wall of empty tequila bottles that chef-owner Shannon Wilkinson says he gathered by "going through the dumpsters at a lot of Mexican restaurants."
Wilkinson grew up on the West Coast, including the Vancouver, Washington area, and has worked as a private chef and a consulting chef at Brooklyn's Henry Public restaurant. He also spent two seasons as a "culinary producer" on Top Chef, meaning he helped devise challenges, source the food used by the cheftestants, and set up kitchens on location, as well as the dramatically displayed tables of food that would taunt competitors with whatever bizarre proteins or limited ingredients made up each challenge.
He found sous chef Cameo McRoberts through Craigslist, but Wilkinson says her background in Mexican food and with Mexican cuisine guru Rick Bayless, has proved an excellent fit. Look for a mix of classics like shrimp mojo de ajo, and modern Northwest-y fare like enchiladas of milk-braised turkey leg with a white hazelnut mole.
Wine is often an afterthought at Mexican venues, but the Wilkinsons are both avid wine drinkers and say they have built a list of favorite lesser-known varietals. Bottled and canned beers come from Mexico, while the six taps will pour Northwest beers. The cocktail list is obviously heavy on the tequilas and mezcals, but a list of classic cocktails is in the works. The Wilkinsons say they want Little Water to be a place where Eastlake residents can drop in and have a Manhattan if they're not in a margarita mood.
And then there's the patio. Seating will start at about 50, but the space overlooking Lake Union has room for plenty more and is pretty much guaranteed to be packed come summer (or maybe even come Thursday if the weather cooperates). The restaurant has some garage parking and is expecting LEED Platinum certification; the owners say Little Water Cantina will be the only restaurant north of San Diego to score this ultra-intense badge of green-ness.
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