Welcome back to Week in Reviews. Seattle's food critics recently visited Upper Bar Ferdinand, Spice King, JarrBar, and Gracia. Here's what they had to say:
CAPITOL HILL—The Seattle Times' Providence Cicero gives three stars to asian-inspired, wood-fired wine bar Upper Bar Ferdinand in a review so glowing you may wonder where the fourth star wandered off to:
"A spoon was brought for steamed egg custard, a gorgeous take on chawanmushi. The fragile, savory custard was set just enough to support several whole morels stuffed with black cod. A side of grilled nettle stems and ramps further tethered the ethereal custard to earth."
RENTON—"I haven't been this excited about bread in a long time. Maybe ever," The Stranger's critic Angela Garbes begins her review of Spice King, "a Punjabi restaurant tucked inside the international grocery DK Market":
"It's well worth the risk of burning your fingertips (and the roof of your mouth) to immediately tear into a hot paratha, its swaths of dough dotted with gorgeous golden-brown bubbles. The bread rips apart easily into jagged-edged pieces, steam and bits of diced cilantro flying out. Dunk your paratha in some of the cooling yogurt-based raita that accompanies it, or add fuel to the fire by dipping into the fiery house-made fluorescent coral-colored hot sauce."
PIKE PLACE MARKET—For Seattle Weekly, Nicole Sprinkle expresses disappointment with JarrBar's limited European conceit of serving mainly tins and jars of preserved fish, olives, and other intense hits of flavor:
"It was all perfectly fine, and I especially enjoyed the cod and, of course, the ham with its rich, nutty essence, but couldn't muster great enthusiasm for the tin or the tuna mayonesa. The main problem is that there's an underlying sameness to much of the menu, a preponderance of brine and oil that is OK in small doses but very hard to make a meal of. But that, I suppose, is the heart of the matter. Jarr Bar [sic], as its name implies, is ultimately a place to stop in for a drink and with it enjoy a bracing bite or two of the sea or a salty plate of cured meats."
PIKE PLACE MARKET—For Seattle Met, Allecia Vermillion comes away from JarrBar with a more favorable impression:
"[Owner Bryan Jarr is] already doing something impressive at JarrBar: hiding a neighborhood bar in the thick of the tourist zone."
BALLARD—Also for Seattle Met, Kathryn Robinson falls for the antojitos, "or 'little cravings,'" at Gracia, an imperfect but generally delicious Mexican newcomer where "flavor trumps everything":
"Because if you take the most flavorful corn you've ever tasted, then explode that by some exponential factor—then triple that—you're almost at the sweet-savory intensity of this corncake. It's there in the tortillas too, which from your table you can see a chef pressing in Gracia's open kitchen. They arrive in a basket, pliant and chewy and sketched with char, which lends smoky depth. They are the single most glorious thing about Gracia."