How do you cook a wolf? One Seattle restaurant may not answer that question for you, but it is likely to convince you that if anyone could cook a wolf, it would be Ethan Stowell Restaurants group’s two Seattle jewels.
Around the Christmas holidays, I had the rare pleasure of a sisters’ night out with my sister (and a welcome break from her wife and mom duties!) at How to Cook a Wolf’s Madison Park location. This modern, yet cozy restaurant, like many around the US, has expanded its covered outdoor seating to augment its sleek, modern dining room year-round, though on this occasion, we were grateful for an indoor reservation and a window seat at that. Indoors, blond wood dominates, reminding me of an architecture museum I visited in Helsinki. The sculpted bar area is a dramatic focal point of an otherwise “clean,” Scandinavian area – which somehow works with the restaurant’s Pacific Northwest take on modern Italian cuisine.
How to Cook a Wolf encourages sharing with its small plates menu inviting you and your dining companions to sample several of their small plates and pastas. The small plates menu features plenty of meat, seafood, and vegetable options to make decisions difficult. In our case, my sister and I tried a balance between meat, seafood, vegetable, and starch. Our preferred starch, agnolotti with kabocha squash (both my sister’s and my first pick from the entire menu) disappointingly was no longer available – which I’d take as a good indication it is as good as its description teased. So instead, we selected polenta fritters, homemade buffalo mozzarella with Brussels sprouts, tuna crudo, and Hanger Steak. The plates come out in the order they’re ready, as with many small plates’ restaurants, so speak up if you have a preferred order.
To accompany the meal, we selected a bottle of the restaurant’s specially made Frank the Tank Washington Red blend (named after a child, not directly for the Will Ferrell comedy Old School). This Bordeaux style blend was a dark, rich, and bold choice well suited for the Hanger steak, yet the delicate small plates were not overwhelmed by the wine’s firm structure.
The polenta fritters were large, light, and fluffy atop a swipe of lemon ricotta and accompanied by fried sage. They were reminiscent more of larger, fluffier Hush Puppies (for you Southerners – Italian clearly wasn’t the only cuisine inspiring the chef), and I wished the ricotta and sage had been more plentiful to balance out the cake-y fritters. Still, they were very good and a great starter or side for a heavier meat dish.
The homemade Buffalo mozzarella was paired with pan-fried Brussels sprouts, crispy, thin Prosciutto, and sweet cranberries for a tangy, savory, and creamy bite.
The tuna crudo also followed suit with an unexpected flavor profile – sweet citrus and Fresno chiles. The blood orange and lemon accents, together with basil seeds, almost reminded me of guava. But somehow it all worked, and the chilled dish was a great palate cleanser before the heavier Hanger steak.
The Hanger steak was truly outstanding. Suffice to say, it may have been the best preparation of Hanger steak I’ve ever had. While Hanger can be slightly tough, it was sliced into nice two-bite pieces and presented to display the contrast between its delightfully charred exterior and juicy medium-rare interior. The dish’s composition did not quite match the menu description, but this was a discrepancy in the best way. Its pale broccoli and seasonal mushrooms were tender and flavorful, but the dish’s best secret was its thin wisps of a green Romanesco and goat cheese puree that unexpectedly made both the beef (which would stand out on its own without any accompaniment) and the vegetables sing with flavor. The dish certainly was far more than met the eye, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
This meal would have been incredibly satisfying with these four plates alone, but we went with our server’s recommendation and devoured a non-traditional dessert – date cake. The dense date cake, topped with vanilla gelato and butterscotch sauce and served in a cast-iron skillet, reminded me of a bread pudding (I do love bread pudding), but bread pudding doesn’t begin to describe the unexpected marriage of flavors. It was so good that my diabetic sister dug in (ok, so I did too – we may have competed for it like we would have during a childhood Easter egg hunt) before I could snap a photo of the sweet ending to our meal.
Our first visit to How to Cook a Wolf was memorable for many reasons – first of all for a special sisters’ night out, but for one of the first truly outstanding meals I’d had in many months, inspired enough to warrant a full post in the Culinary Diplomat. We will not hesitate to return to this restaurant!