Catching the Big Fish: today’s excerpt from FORKING SEATTLE.
A dedicated catch-and-release fisherman who ties his own flies, Kevin Davis promises you’ll never find steelhead on the menu at his restaurants, Steelhead Diner (in the Market), Blueacre (across from the new Federal Courthouse), Orfeo (in Belltown), and the new Zane &Wylie’s steakhouse in the space occupied by the original El Gaucho.You’ll find plenty of succulent seafood, though: a transcendent crab cake, a moist and flaky kazusake black cod, spice-rubbed Alaskan king salmon, beer-battered cod & chips, the sorts of dishes you’d expect from a guy who has cooked his way through more fish than almost anyone in town.
Then again, Davis also spent years behind the stoves of Oceanaire and Sazerac in Seattle, and for six years before that as executive chef at Arnaud’s in Nawlins, so he’s into things like a complex gumbo,juicy po’-boy sandwiches (he calls his a “Rich Boy”),meltingly tender short ribs, pecan pie.
With quiet conviction, he has put together a menu that is, above all, local. (It does help that Steelhead Diner’s pantry is the Pike Place Market.) Flash-fried cheese curds from Beecher’s, down on the corner. Sausage from Uli, across the way, and Salumi, in Pioneer Square. “Frank’s Veggie Meatloaf” named for Pike Place produce vendor Frank Genzale. Theo chocolate, Olsen Farms potatoes, Full Circle Farm lettuce.
And it goes on: bread from Jürgen Bettag’s under-appreciated Golden Crown Bakery in Everett. Soft drinks from Seattle’s sophisticated Dry Soda. A wine list composed entirely of 60-some Washington and Oregon wines which avoids easy choices, opting for adventurous bottles like Windfall Asian Pear, a bright, citrus-y accompaniment to seafood, or Ponzi’s exquisite Arneis (a grape rarely seen outside of Piedmont).
Working alongside Davis is his wife, Terresa, a chartered accountant from Australia, who earned a law degree after arriving in Seattle and is also raising twins and two toddlers. Steelhead’s poutine is based on her childhood snack of “chips & gravy.”
Davis himself is not a fussy innovator. “There’s a reason for culinary classics, dishes that stand the test of time,” he says. “When it’s done right, a crab cake can be as good as anything you’ll ever eat. There’s an emotional response.”
And while her husband is the one with kitchen talent, Terresa is the one with financial skills. When Kevin got a call asking if he’d be interested in taking over the space vacated by the bankruptcy of the Oceanaire chain (and that would become Blueacre), Terresa didn’t hesitate. “This is our family business, and it’s our one shot,”she said. She put together a successful application for a half-million dollar Small Business Administration loan to start the new restaurant. Then she put together the business plan to renovate and run the gorgeous space sitting empty in Belltown when Tamara Murphy moved to Capitol Hill. They named it Orfeo, for the Italian Orpheus, and decorated it with murals inspired by the Giorgione painting. How heartbreaking to read early reviews (in glossy monthlies, in Seattle’s wretched, ink-stained daily) that complained it was “designed for tourists.” Tourists, eh? Lifeblood of an entire industry (lodging, transportation, restaurants), the very group targeted by Tom Douglas? When he does it, it’s okay? Every concierge in town is looking for inviting restaurants, what’s wrong with that, pray tell?
Meantime,the old El Gaucho space became available when Circadia (a brief occupant in 2017) flamed out. A steakhouse was called for, but not a fancy one. A more modest “Seattle” steakhouse that would be named Zane+Wylie for the Davis twins. That would sell a 14-ounce rib-eye for an entirely reasonable $48. And, above all, that would bring back one of the true stars of the Steelhead Diner menu: the caviar pie.