Have you ever noticed that some great restaurants consistently put you in a certain mood? Harvest Vine, Seattle's great Basque restaurant always leaves me happy to be alive. Chef Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez himself has a larger-than-life personality, and whether he's there on a given night or not, it permeates the whole experience with a sense of joyfulness, informality, relaxation and friendship.
I can think of no better place for an extended, festive dinner party. I recently had the opportunity to celebrate the 40th birthday of a good friend, with a group of seven. The waiter offered that we could either order off of the menu or simply let the kitchen do its thing. We had no hesitation – I simply asked that there be a decent number of vegetarian dishes.
Fellow vegetarians might doubt whether a Basque restaurant would have enough options for them. Although the menu certainly is meaty, I had no trouble at all. There was roasted green asparagus with a fried egg, white asparagus with shaved black truffles, the signature salad of paper thin beets, magnificent leeks in romesco sauce, and a cheese plate with amazing condiments, just to name some of the highlights.
I love how Basque cuisine celebrates great vegetables. Each of these dishes was noteable for how a terrific ingredient was treated minimally but perfectly, with total attention to detail. Trust me, that leek felt respected in the morning.
And then came dessert… with seven people I think we got to try every one of the sweets. (Vegetarians beware: one of them contained bacon!). It must have been my lucky night because I'm a sucker for salty/sweet desserts, and several fit the bill, including a pair of caramel and sea salt ice creams. Yep: sea salt ice cream. Amazing.
I believe pacing is one of the most important aspects of a good restaurant experience. If I'm just out for a bite with the kids so we don't have to wash dishes that night, I want my food five minutes ago, and the bill shortly thereafter. If I'm out for a date with my wife, or in this case a party with friends, where the meal is the main entertainment for the evening, I want to take my time. Nothing kills a dinner for me more than being rushed.
At Harvest Vine, the pacing was spot on. Waiters made sure our wine glasses stayed full and, otherwise they remained just invisible enough for us to enjoy our conversation and the terrific food. We were there for three hours, and there was absolutely no sense of hurry, nor of waiting too long for any course.
It is certainly possible to dine for much less, but Harvest Vine has a way of putting you in a mood to sample everything and cost be darned. Our total came to about $75 per person (including tax, tip and moderately priced wine). That makes it ones of the more expensive meals in town, but to my way of thinking, well worth it.