Sharon Woo Fillingim first came onto the local restaurant scene with her then-husband, Curtis Luke, at a pan-Asian cafe in Madrona they called Cool Hand Luke. (The space is currently occupied by St. Clouds.) She moved on to work with James Watkins at Jimmy's Table in Madison Park, partnered with some friends to open a bakery called Le Rêve on Queen Anne, then launched an ambitious sandwich-plus-dinner eatery, Grub, at Queen Anne & Boston. Eater.com put Grub on its Heatmap of the top 38 places to eat in Seattle for a couple of months. The Seattle Times put Grub's pineapple layer cake on its "best bites of 2012" list. Seattle Weekly had Grub's kale salad on its own list of top dishes of the year.
But Grub is no more. In its place there's an earnest cafe called Bounty Kitchen, and Fillingim has moved a few blocks north, to 307 W. McGraw, the space once occupied by Lucky Pantry, a vegan meal-preparation & delivery service. Its new name is Bite Box. Fillingim has enlarged the windows, cleaned up the floor, and installed new kitchen equipment. Half a dozen smallish tables, three seats at the bar, and offers a menu that begins with breakfast and coffee (from Heart, a roaster in Portland). Up early, feed breakfast to the neighborhood regulars (a terrific “pecan-pie” waffle, for example), transition to lunch (a daily sandwich special, an omelet, etc.) and by 3:30 she's done for the day. And she gets to take Monday and Tuesday off, except for the occasional Tuesday afternoons when Zach Gebelle comes in to do a guest- sommelier wine class. Of course Fillingim does a lot of take-out and a lot of catering, even at night. But the big advantage of the current set-up is she's no longer tied down by a fixed schedule.
The dishes are very high quality, executed with considerably more care than you find behind the stove at a short-order diner. Fillingim acts as hostess and dispatches orders while two women run the kitchen and dining room. It's packed from open to close.
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About as far away from Queen Anne as you can get: a mountain chalet in an Alpine village. Towering peaks, sparkling snowbanks, and inside the refuge a warm fire and a welcoming owner. What's that in front of the fire? A great wheel of cheese! As it melts, your host scrapes a portion, rind and all, onto a plate and hands it over. A boiled potato, a couple of pickled onions, perhaps a slice or two of air-cured ham, and that glorious melted cheese. Generically, it's a “Swiss” cheese, like Gruyère or Emmenthaler. Ideally, it's the very specific cheese from the canton of Valais known as Raclette. (Racler, in French, means to scrape.) Well, this cheese is perfectly good eaten at room temp but—like many harder cheeses—turns magically delicious when it's melted.
In mountain villages across eastern France and the southern tier of Switzerland, and in every city big enough to have more than a couple of restaurants, you'll find raclette. It really is worth seeking out. You're charged by the plate, and you keep going until you're too stuffed to continue. How many? Three, four, five. Depends on what all is included, what all you like to add in the way of charcuterie. You drink an off-dry, aromatic white wine, nothing too fancy, and maybe chase the whole feast with a glass (or two) of locally distilled Poire William.
Le Pichet has been doing a $22 version of this dish during the winter months (with charcuterie or with fruit); you get your own cast iron pan filled with melted cheese. The late Culture Club on Capitol Hill, which closed a year ago, used to offer a weekly raclette dinner. And now a Seattle couple, Beth Ringland and David Pyle, are hoping to bring more raclette to Seattle. Ringland trained as a dancer but was working in admin when she her partner succumbed to the lure of cheese. Don't worry, they're not burning down the rafters; like all purveyors of raclette-in-the-city they use electric broilers to melt the cheese. For now they're doing raclette as a monthly pop-up at various neighborhood spots, most recently at Whit's End, a tavern on Phinney Ridge. The plan is to develop a following (and a targeted mailing list) with regular pop-ups and neighborhood farmers markets. For updates, check the “Fire and Scrape” Facebook page.
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And now, dessert. Nutty Squirrel Gelato, a local chainlet, is opening in Magnolia at 2425 33rd Avenue W., next door to Mondello Ristorante, the Sicilian cafe. The owners are architect Alev Seyman and he husband Tolga; they started their business in Maple Valley less than three years ago and have expanded steadily (Phinney Ridge, a Capitol Hill pop-up). Alev is the daughter of the founder of Fainting Goat gelato in Wallingford. “Our name came about because we wanted a natural icon that was both fun and local,” Alev wrote on her company blog. “Squirrels are everywhere in the NW and the Nutty in our name represents the many nut flavors of gelato, but also represents the fact that we want to be fun and approachable.”
Says Mondello chef Enza Sorrentino: “Gelato was invented in Sicily, so we're happy to welcome them the neighborhood!”
Ronald Holden is a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing. His most recent book, “Forking Seattle—A Critical Guide to Local Food & Drink” is available at Amazon.com.