Overall rating: 6,5/10
Date of visit: September 2015
From what I could understand during my first visit in Seattle, Altura has quickly come to be seen as one of the best, if not the best, restaurant in Seattle. Although Tripadvisor is far from the best source on this, Altura does top their list. Rarely do the high-end restaurants actually do that in my experience. And also, Altura seems to be hailed as a refreshing alternative to the more well-established restaurants in the city. The chef of Altura is Nathan Lockwood.
Altura serves both a la carte dishes and a tasting menu, and it’s quite a small restaurant with crammed space and, unfortunately, poor acoustics. I had a seat at the counter with overview of the kitchen, and I chose the tasting menu. There is also the option of having two main courses instead of one, which comes with a supplement. I opted for one. This was priced at $137 (€125) before tax and tip. I also drank a glass of white wine, priced at $18, meaning $155. With tax this all came to $169.88. I’m still a bit confused about how to tip in America (some sources say it’s minimum 15 % of the total before tax, whereas others say it’s 20 % of the total after tax. Others again say that if you didn’t like the service at all, you tip 10 %. Why even tip if you don’t like the service?). And go without tipping? Maybe you’ve seen the episode of The Sopranos, where Christopher only tips a little bit, and I prefer not ending up in a situation like that. In any case, I tipped $23, which is the same as I have tipped in some of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. Was the service just as good? Not at all, but it was good, no doubt about that. So, in total the bill came to $192,88.
So, let’s start the rundown:
First small dish was a brioche with olive as well as a potato cream with caviar and spinach. This was simply but surprisingly tasty (8/10).
Unfortunately, this proved to be one of the only dishes that reached this level in this meal. Next dish was a tartar with root vegetables, parmesan cream, sunflower seeds, an egg yolk of a quail egg and edible flowers. Nice enough, but nothing earth-shattering (7/10). As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not a great fan of tartar in any way or form, so a tartar lover might have appreciated this more than me.
Next was a small piece of fried bread with lardo (6-7/10).
A piece of smoked kampachi, also known as yellowtail, was served next with half a cherry tomato on top. To me it seemed very similar to smoked mackarel (6-7/10).
Grilled and chewy cuttlefish and octopus was served with mushrooms, watercress and chili. The menu also said rose and cinammon, but they could have told me anything, ’cause it was so spicy all I could taste was chili. I know it’s been done before, but I honestly don’t understand why they would pair chili with something as delicately flavoured as octopus. Yes, I’m not fond of spicy food at all, but this was simply pointless to be honest (3/10). If this was a one-off mistake or it was always supposed to be like this I can’t say.
Next dish was a pleasant highlight though: Black abalone, deep-fried kale, and a “sauce” of burnt garlic and honey. The sauce here was the highlight, but the abalone itself was also very lovely and not chewy at all. The dish did seem to be coated in a lot of butter, which might be partly why it was enjoyable (7-8/10).
Next was a small risotto with celery leaves and lobster according to the waiter (I asked), but the menu said prawns. This was cooked with a shellfish stock, which, unfortunately, overpowered the lobster/prawns, which made the lobster a bit of a waste. Personally, I would have liked the texture more creamy, but… (6/10)
Bread then appeared, which was a loaf with truffle and chantarelles, served with duck liver paté on the side. The bread had just a hint of truffle, but mostly just tasted like mushrooms. The pate was quite nice though.
Next dish was braised shortrib tortellini with dill flower, roasted beetroots, and bone marrow crisps that weren’t really crisp. Overall 7/10 but more for the tortellini themselves.
The main course was duck breast with “variations of radish”, one of them being daikon if I’m not mistaken, spicy pickled cherries and a lovely braising sauce. Honestly, I don’t like daikons very much, and the cherries were, again, too spicy for me. Overall 6/10, but more for the duck and sauce.
A palate cleanser consisted of sorrel granita, grape sorbet, and tarragon leaves (6/10).
The cheese serving was a honey cracker with gorgonzola and sage in-between. One of the better cheese servings I’ve had, partly because it wasn’t so incredibly powerful as many cheese servings in high-end restaurants often are (7/10).
Dessert was vanilla pannacotta, red and black currants, huckleberries, hungarian honey truffle, pine nuts, crumble and balsamic vinegar. The first thing I did was to try the truffle alone, which was called honey truffle because it was supposed to be taste like honey. I could somehow see that, but like most other times I’ve had truffle, this seemed like an expensive waste of money, as it hardly had any flavour. When I had magnificent truffle at Azurmendi I knew my tastebuds weren’t the problem, because those truffles were extraordinary! My ex-wife has had truffle with me in several restaurants and was also only impressed by the ones in Azurmendi. In any case, this dessert was pleasant without being a revelation. The vinegar was nice although not as good as some of the ones I had in Italy (as can be expected). Overall 7/10.
Petit fours was “Roman style hot chocolate”, which I believe was hot chocolate with a mascarpone ice cream. It came with small bites of rhubarb, hazelnut, cherry and fig as well as a small madeleine. I don’t have a grade in my note, but as far as I recall I would have give around 7/10.
So, a meal that was overall acceptable but often not particularly thrilling. Granted, there were highlights but most of the food was just slightly above average. Often, there was nothing wrong with food, actually if you leave out the octopus dish nothing went wrong, but I simply lacked excitement, and at almost $200 I better be excited. An average score of all the dishes comes to 6,5/10. First I had wanted to give a total of 7/10, but then I asked myself: Would I go back and pay another $200 for a similar meal? Not really. Had I had a completely different menu I might have been more excited. However, my experience at Daniel in New York seemed quite similar: Prettily presented food at an extraordinary price that simply lacked excitement. So, maybe this is just what you can expect from a high-end restaurant in America. However, I will say that there was somehow some kind of value for money here, because I did get 13 courses for my money. In Daniel I got 7 and paid a little bit more. The food mostly also looked nice on the plate.
The pace of the meal was also fairly good, although courses were served ranging between five and thirty minutes after each other.
Then there was the service. It was certainly good, but did I feel as “special” here as at some of the best restaurants I’ve been too? No. The waiters were certainly friendly and helpful, but it all seemed a bit rushed – often they served a dish, told me what was on the plate and then walked away before I could ask them to repeat, as I often simply couldn’t hear them due to the poor acoustics in the place.