for someone who lives in downtown seattle, it can sometimes be amazingly difficult to think of where to go for dinner. though there is a high concentration of restaurants in the area, there are always those you’ve been to too recently, those that you can’t afford, and those you just don’t think of.
last night, zoë was in the latter category. though i’d once been a regular, i realized two years had somehow gone by since my last visit, and it took another’s suggestion to remind me of that.it was lovely to find zoë just as i remembered it. the curtain around the door not only protects diners from the draft, but also makes those pushing through (or me, at least) feel like they’re making a grand entrance. there are no back rooms or upstairs’ at zoë – the entire dining room, bar, and some of the kitchen is visible from the entrance. as at quinn’s, much of the light in the dining room is provided by the streetlights streaming through the floor to ceiling windows that consume two walls of the restaurant.
we sat in the bar area, at a small ledge facing the dining room rather than at the bar itself (packed on the later end of a sunday night). from our perch, i was easily able to spy on all the food being eaten at the tables beneath us, this being one of my favorite things to do while at a restaurant. there is something communal about being so visible and viewing so much. this isn’t to say there aren’t romantic tables or that you can’t create privacy by sitting near a wall or window, but it’s never forced upon you.
to launch the meal, i ordered la pommette, an appelized version of a french 75 consisting of calvados, sparkling apple cider, and lemon. as food arrived and cocktails were downed, we took advantage of zoe’s 1/2 bottle list, impressive in both size and selection.ricotta gnudi (9.75) sat like the ring of a campfire in a pool of beet and orange sauce. more like butter than cheese, the spheres are small but powerful, though the earthy beets do their best to give some balance. the bigeye tuna tartar (12) was tropical tie-dye colored, bright pink tuna atop lime green celery and granny smith slivers. flavor-wise, however, the dish was subtle (almost too much so) and balanced (once the rather strong garlic chips were removed from the top), the fish itself a wonderful texture. the oregon venison terrine (9), with chestnuts, endive, and apple, tasted much like salami. the house rosemary bread was made into crisps to accompany and the chestnuts, a little sweet for your salty, were there if needed.
but it was the octopus (11) that really held our attention, and made us feel as though everything else we’d eaten was actually better than it was. a couple of legs were grilled (but, as the texture – far more steak-like than chewy – attested, also skillfully simmered ahead of time), giving the outside a crisp, spiced coating which concealed the suction cups. had my eyes been closed while i ate it, i would never have guessed that the dense, juicy meat had come from an ocean dweller. firm, daintily sliced vegetables – carrots, radishes – were both color and crunch, their blood orange vinaigrette the needed acidity.
caramel and cranberry (actually craisin – shouldn’t there be a distinction? no one would ever say “grape” when they really mean “raisin”) bread pudding was a successful conclusion to the meal, but couldn’t banish wistful thoughts about the octopus.zoë is back on my neighborhood radar, where it should have been all along. with my laziness, i really can’t afford to ignore any eating establishment with a full bar within six blocks of my home. i’ll be back for the octopus.