I really shouldn’t be writing a post tonight, I should be researching restaurants in Rome and Tuscany, or calling my old friend that I haven’t talked to in 6 months. Dinner at Veil was so inspiring I feel the need to get it all down in bytes before I can forget any details.
Although Veil had been on my mental short-list for awhile, the additional motivation for this pilgrimage came when Dana from tastingmenu.com recently signed on as their pastry chef. But you’ll have to wait a few paragraphs for dessert.
We came in early, and the modern room seemed a bit stark in the bright daylight. As the sun mellowed, so did the space. Lindsay’s service was equally warm. She took note right away of our special requests (vegetarian, nut allergy) and was ready to figure out how to customize the menu and alert the kitchen. And her attention to details like bringing more bread so that we could mop up the last bits of sauce made us feel right at home. If you are a vegetarian, by no means should you let the online menu discourage you. Veil will work with you to create a first-rate meal.
Veil likes to treat first-time guests to a glass of champagne to set the mood. I’m not a big bubbles drinker, but this was a nice glass, dry and crisp and appetizing. The amuse bouche was a peach soup with herb oil garnish, served in shot glasses. It was full of the perfume of the perfect end of summer peaches we are getting right now, seasonal and delicious.
For appetizers we had the green salad with whipped Laura Chenel goat cheese (my personal favorite) and pickled grapes, and an heirloom tomato salad with basil oil. If I were to mention one minor flaw in a great dining experience, perhaps a few leaves in the green salad could have been picked over more carefully. The pickling of the grapes was subtle but interesting, and complemented the chevre. The tomatoes were spot-on ripe and needed no elaboration beyond the oil and a few grains of salt to be great.
For entrees we ordered larger portions of two dishes that were designed as second courses. We asked for the mascarpone enriched carnaroli risotto to be supplemented with artichokes, which turned out to be a great call. The artichokes were trimmed down just to the base of the hearts, cut into triangular wedges and sauteed. Risotto can be properly served either wet ("all’onda") or a bit firmer depending on the region of Italy, but in any case should be al dente. Veil’s was delightfully creamy, full of the flavor of good wine and mascarpone, and relatively firm with a good bite, topped with first-rate Parmigiano-Reggiano. I would say it is the best and most refined risotto I’ve had in Seattle.
Our second entree was house-made agnolotti filled with a silky-smooth turnip puree. Agnolotti means "priest-hat", and I don’t think Veil’s are quite in the traditional shape. Or possibly the chef attends a different church than I’m familiar with. These were more like ravioli with an additional fold that made them into little purses. In any case, the shape wasn’t really relevant to the fact that they were wipe-out-your-bowl delicious. It takes a confident hand to fill pasta with turnips, which not everyone loves. This worked great, the marriage of the toothsome pasta with the creamy and slightly bitter filling dressed with top-notch olive oil and chives is still rattling around in my brain.
And then we come to dessert. Narrowing down to only two choices was a solemn duty. We settled on the Chocolate Fondant Cake (which I believe predates Dana’s tenure) and the Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass Creme Brulee (which is her creation). I’m most familiar with fondant as the heinous handball-like coating found on wedding cakes. None of that here of course. This was a delicious affair of two layers of chocolate topped with an intense caramel.
The star of the show was undoubtedly the creme brulee. We both tend to be skeptical of messing with this classic, but this turned our heads. The flavor of the kaffir lime leaves was intense yet elusive. Sarina and I were literally dissecting the dish trying to figure out if it was infused in the custard or the sugar top, or possibly in some sort of thin layer between? In any event it was haunting and great.
Modern food can so easily lean on the shock value of extreme flavor combinations, or focus far too much on stunning presentation and forget flavor. And there is also an unfortunately high correlation between modern style and snobby, scenish atmosphere. Veil suffers from none of these faults. Every bite of food we ate had clear, clean, intense flavors that made sense together and looked great on the plate, and the service couldn’t have been nicer or more considerate.
Our ticket is a bit misleading tonight because we didn’t order any drinks. The total including the complementary champagne and amuse, two salads, two customized entrees, two desserts and two coffees was $112 plus tip. So probably a realistic grand total would be around $80 per person, which for me puts Veil in the "event" category more than the "run out and grab a bite" realm. I have high expectations when we get to that level, and Veil exceeded them, providing us with a meal that I’m sure we’ll be talking about for quite awhile.
555 Aloha St.
Seattle, WA 98109
(Lower Queen Anne, at Taylor St., near Crow)
(206) 216-0600 or opentable.com for reservations