Having pledged to take a hiatus from fine dining, the New Restaurant Seattle crew braves Capitol Hill on a Saturday night in the summer to check out hot new Capitol Cider.
We head past the quiet upstairs, where couples are having appropriately candlelit second dates, and down into the bar, pub-like and English, with long communal tables where hipsters play Ticket to Ride and booths where you can happily envision spending an afternoon with your laptop, if only they opened before 4pm. And, unbeknownst to any of us, a friend of The Bartender and The Celiac, Phil, manages the bar. Accidentally excellent.
Who chose it: The Gourmand
What we drank:
- It’s a cider bar. So many ciders to choose from. Whether your taste runs to dry or sweet, they can accommodate. The Celiac came into the evening with a general dislike of cider, finding everything she’d tried either too sweet (Angry Orchards and the like) or “dry and flavorless” (Strongbow). Capitol Cider changed all that, opening her eyes to a whole new kind of delicious gluten-free drinking.
- The Writer and The Gourmand used to live in London, where they first learned to drink cider and fell in love with Weston’s Organic Cider. Sadly, the Weston’s folk don’t export it. But they do export something called the Special Reserve, which is a pretty close second. Phil showed us around and took us back to his ‘Weston’s Annex’ where he has a pallet’s worth of cases, at least, stacked up. The Writer squealed in excitement.
- Phil is a bartender extraordinaire, so The Gourmand, The Celiac, and The Bartender all asked for cocktails, leaving themselves in his hands. He returned with three offerings. They tried them all and happily found that each had a favorite:
- Rye and stuff: The Celiac’s choice
- Calvados and stuff: The Gourmand’s choice
- Smith and Cross rum and stuff: The Bartender’s choice
- We now ask Phil for his favorite cider. He’d told us earlier (while touring the cold room, after the squealing in the Weston’s Annex), that he loved the offerings of Eric Bordelet (sorry, it’s in French) and quickly converted us to his way of thinking with a bottle of Poire Authentique. A lovely, lightly alcoholic (~4%), sparkling delight of a cider with a sweet beginning and a clean finish. Even The Celiac fell in love.
- We’re determined to try a few of their draft ciders, so Phil and his trusty helper David arrive with a flight for us to sample:
- Finn River pear: inspires no strong feelings. It’s the Rose Nylund of ciders.
- Snowdrift Cliffbreaks: The Celiac and The Writer agree – it’s easy to see why this is the cidermaker’s most popular cider. It’s sweet, without being cloying. It’s got a bit of sparkle.
- Reverend Nat’s Ginger: I want to like this; it’s such a natural combination. But it’s got something offputting about it. As The Gourmand says, it’s the kind of thing I’d drink if my stomach was upset. Which is not to say we didn’t finish it.
- Castañón Cask: It’s dry and funky. The Gourmand and The Bartender love it, in all its woody, weathered, barnyard grassiness.
What we ate:
- We let Phil curate the menu for us. He asked if we had any restrictions, and The Celiac says about her gluten-intolerance. Phil comes out with the news that cues the second squealing moment of the evening: the entire kitchen is gluten-free. Everything. Let’s let that sink in. They don’t bring any gluten into the kitchen. So none can come out. Not even on the fish and chips. The Celiac’s mind is blown.
- Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes: Even the Tomato Haters like this, though it’s a little light on the burrata and we left a few tomatoes on the plate.
- Avocado salad: pretty good. The Gourmand really liked the pea vines.
- Grilled corn: yum. Make sure you get that cotija cheese. According to the menu there’s harissa, which we all know is well-loved in this crowd, but I didn’t detect it.
- Kampachi crudo: so pretty. It looks like Miró.
- Grilled baby zucchini: we could have eaten that herb aioli with a spoon. This is where we started double-dipping, germs and cross-contamination be damned.
- Fish and chips: So. Freaking. Good. And The Celiac, who hasn’t had proper fish and chips in years, was in heaven. The chips were perfect: thick enough to have a delicously potato-y inside, with just the right amount of crunch and salt on the outside. Tartar sauce to die for. We doubled down and had two orders.
- Grilled quail with bitter greens: what a combination. The one thing that, before we decided to let Phil take charge, we’d all agreed we wanted. We were right.
After all that, we did not have room for dessert, although The Celiac was sorely tempted by the promise of cobbler. We promise to plan ahead better next time.
Ambiance: It’s a bar. Upstairs was more restaurant-like. The downstairs, being a bar, was a bit noisy. What else are Saturday nights for, if not for blowing off a little steam with a friendly game of shuffleboard? One complaint: the women’s bathroom is strangely designed, with one stall so tiny that even The Celiac, who is all of 5 feet tall, found her toes sticking out from under the door and the other so big The Gourmand swears she saw 14 people coming out of it at once.
Gluten-free-friendliness: Outstanding. How can you go wrong with a cider bar and a gluten-free kitchen? They don’t advertise their gluten-free-ness, which was the subject of much discussion. In the end we decided it was probably to forestall the haters, who would look at a “gluten-free” menu and expect terrible things to ensue. They’d be wrong.
The damage: $250-ish.
The verdict: This might have been the best find of New Restaurant Seattle yet. This kind of find is why we do New Restaurant Seattle. Half the party was initially lukewarm on the idea of a cider bar in Capitol Hill, but trying new things is the whole point. It’s our surprise new favorite place in Capitol Hill, and we’re checking calendars to plan our next visit.