Recent Posts

October 26, 2008

Elemental shopathon! And, free movie rental?

October 25. Day 117.

"I hope she knows this is just going to be a regular, boring shopping trip..."

This is what Phred, half of the force behind Elemental, told Laurie, the other half, before we met Saturday morning.

From the moment they showed up, Laurie holding a thick notebook of ideas and ingredients and Phred in a pinstripe suit and dark orange pocket square, at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, I knew it would be anything but. (On Wednesday, if you recall, I had asked her if I could tag along on a food shopping trip, after one of the most amazing restaurant experiences I've ever had. We decided to meet at Whole Foods on 64th and Roosevelt, where they do their daily run. They were going to be catering a wedding for 75 that night.)

We started in the cafe, where they devised the menu as they downed a pair of Americanos. Their catering, like the restaurant itself, is all or nothing: Laurie and Phred decide everything, from the champagne to the type of bread under the salmon toasts.

As they were going over the list of ingredients, I was a little confused. One pomegranate? A bag of endives? That's how much I'd buy for dinner for four!!

But slowly, slowly, it registered: when you're making such a huge variety of dishes, you don't need loads of every ingredient. You make just enough of each item to tease the palate, set a couple such dishes on the counter, stand back, and watch it get devoured.

Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum.

In the produce section, I followed them around asking questions. They shop here five days a week because it keeps their menu offerings fresh and flexible. They live in a houseboat. Before Elemental, he was the sommelier at Union League, another Seattle restaurant, and she was a server there. She's a self-taught chef. Spent her formative years in Colorado. He loves Paris. Nothing like Paris. She just went to Grammercy Tavern in NY for the first time and adored it. They never advertise their restaurant.

When we got to the dried fruit aisle, I started feeling restless. Useless, actually. I was being nosy. They were rushing around, preparing to feed a small army.

"Please put me to work," I begged. Laurie asked me to bag some dried dates. A few aisles later, they added a second cart and split up to be more efficient. Phred -- white pepper. Laurie -- cheese. I took turns pushing each cart or grabbing items from the shelves.

The menu, if you're curious: roasted suckling pig, butternut squash lasagna, halibut with bacon, asian pear crab cakes under a persimmon chutney, a dried fruit mostarda, tuna tartare, salmon on rye, a bone marrow confection, stuffed piquillos, escargot crostini, chicken liver mousse profiteroles, endive salad, onion tarts, suppli, saffron risotto, and I'm sure I'm missing some things, but that's the general idea.

One hour, two brimming shopping carts and $983 later, we were off to the next destination: Pig pickup from a seafood and butcher shop a few blocks away. It arrived in a long, narrow white box. Like a really large bouquet of flowers. Edible, juicy, fall off the bone tender flowers.

Jacques, their black poodle, who'd been waiting in the car, was in a tizzy at the prospect of sharing a ride with Piglet, so Laurie rode back to the restaurant with me.

Back at Elemental. Two other chefs arrived to help Laurie start cooking. Phred made us coffees with Baileys and Whiskey. One chef, who works at local restaurant and trained with Laurie, made risotto while the other chopped onions and plopped them into a huge pot with butter. Laurie set me up at a table, where I sliced up some Manchego-like cheese and stuffed the piquillo peppers, which would eventually be deep fried.

"We don't try to do too much to the food. We don't fuck with it," Laurie told me before I started stuffing. Simple, good ingredients. A few steps from start to finish. "It's not precious food."

Soon, the smell of sauteed onions filled the place. It was time for me to leave. The time I normally wake up on a Saturday. Time to meet La Sorella for a drive to photograph fall leaves (her first autumn in leaf country).

As for Saturday's asking:

That night, I went to Hollywood video and requested a free movie rental. No real reason. Just: "Is there any way you could let me rent one, get one free, please? I'm trying to get one cool discount today for a project, and I haven't gotten anything yet!"

Jesse looked behind the counter.

"We don't have any coupons," he announced.

But when I looked at the receipt, our second movie was free. Sneaky Jesse! Playing it safe for the security cameras? Or just trying to surprise me?


Gained: A dose of nostalgia, f-r-e-e. (We rented Return to Oz, a freaky 1985 flick La Sorella and I used to obsess over.) And, a priceless morning with team Elemental.
blog comments powered by Disqus