Last Tuesday, Man of La Muncha and I picked up our final CSA box of the season. Along with a bounty of winter squash (including tasty delicatas), we received the final newsletter of the year, which informed us that Helsing Junction produce would be featured on the menu of Pair, a local small-plates restaurant. We had been meaning to check out Pair for a while, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to say farewell to Helsing Junction produce for the year while also sampling some tasty foods and beverages. So on Saturday, we ventured into the rain in search of food.
Once we located Pair (a job in itself, as anyone familiar with driving in Seattle can attest), we parked and entered the restaurant, to be greeted by an open room, lit with a combination of low electric lights and votives in tin lanterns. The space is warm and welcoming, especially on an early autumn night. We put our names on the list for a table (Pair only accepts reservations for parties of six or more), ordered glasses of wine to tide ourselves over until dinner, and settled ourselves on a bench to wait.
After a short wait, we were ushered to our table. After much discussion, we settled on the 2005 Cloudline Oregon pinot noir. I started with the blue cheese gougères, which were described as cheese puffs, while Man of La Muncha opted for the green salad composed of butter lettuce, vinaigrette, and tarragon goat cheese toasts. We also ordered three of the featured cheeses--all, alas, from Europe. For the main course, I ordered the harvest risotto with Helsing Junction vegetables (the reason, after all, why we were there), while Man of La Muncha ordered the lamb. Unfortunately, with the exception of the risotto, the cheeses, and the charcuterie plate from Salumi, none of the dishes provided any hints as to their origins.
The Cloudline pinot noir was slightly tarry, with a bit of a vegetal tone masking the bright cherry flavor. It was a lush wine, one that rolled pleasingly over the tongue and paired (no pun intended) well with the vast majority of the dishes we had ordered, including the green salad with butter lettuce, which was was dressed in a simple vinaigrette. I find that, too often, vinaigrettes are overly tart and aggressive--this one was mild and pleasing. It played well with the wine, and allowed the sweetness of the lettuce to show through. The gougères were light and savory, with the blue cheese relegated to a supporting role, while the cheese plate was served alongside walnuts, sliced dates, and honey spiked with black pepper; both the cheese plate and the gougères proved to be highly complimentary with the wine.
We made quick work of the introductory courses, moving on to the main dishes. The risotto had a predominantly sage flavor, which was distracting on its own. However, as Man of La Muncha pointed out, if the risotto is eaten while taking care to include small bits of the tomatoes, winter squash, and melted boucheron cheese, the flavors meld into a harmonious whole. I prefer a more integrated risotto, but based on Man of La Muncha's suggestion, I made sure to include bits of everything in each bite and was able to enjoy my dish. Man of La Muncha's lamb was, quite simply, superb and was the standout of the evening.
For dessert, we decided to share the lemon crème brûlée. While Man of La Muncha opted for a half French-press of coffee, I decided to try the Sawtooth white dessert wine from Idaho. The crème brûlée was smooth and tangy--not too eggy and not too thin. The Sawtooth had a spicy nectarine nose, with a rich and full mouthfeel. The flavor was dominated by the nectarines suggested in the nose; it was very drinkable and went well with the lemon crème brûlée.
I would recommend the food at Pair wholeheartedly and would be more than happy to take curious visitors there. Though they work very hard to create a seasonal menu, their ingredients, by and large, are not local. The French boucheron on my risotto, for example, could have easily been replaced by one of the fine local cheeses from Estrella or Sea Breeze, while there are many local producers of lamb that could have provided meat to match the tastiness of the one we had. The owners of Pair are clearly making connections with local producers and featuring these producers on the menu, but they aren't doing it consistently or making the origin of their ingredients clear to the diner.
As a consumer, I enjoyed my dining experience at Pair; as an Ethicurean, I am hesitant to return until I know more about where their ingredients are coming from.