REVIEW: Marmite Seattle
First, let me preface with an acknowledgment. When it comes to food reviews, I wish to write with full honesty. It’s something I can’t do as a freelance writer for magazines, tip-toeing around a business’ shortcomings. More importantly, it comes from a place of respect and love. A respect for the ingredients, the art of dining (no matter how casual or formal the setting), and anyone who may read this, and a love for seeing restaurants thrive. I want to help them provide a multi- sensory euphoria for its patrons and for foodies to spend their time and money at places worthwhile.
That being said, the food on my visit to Marmite was disappointing. My family and I went for my mum’s birthday dinner, and while the service was nothing short of exceptional and the ambiance sent from the heavens, the food did not hold its own. Overall, it fared quite poorly considering the 27 years experience behind Chef Bruce Nataly and his previous restaurant, Le Gourmand. People seem to love Marmite’s lunch menu and weekend brunches so I was surprised by our dinner’s lackluster performance. While I feel no urge to return, I am curious to see how the food develops because this restaurant could be an unrefined diamond with the potential to turn into a jewel (okay, I'm kind of reaching here, but you get the point).
Speaking of jewels and things that shine, there is a gorgeous overhanging piece composed of multiple fishing nets made of crystal. From a distance, I thought it was a crystal cloud! It’s the second thing I noticed walking towards Chophouse Row. The first was the exposed kitchen, flames from the grill dancing in the night. I nearly squealed at the sight of the chef’s table adorned with baskets of fresh vegetables. We had reserved four seats at the end, right next to the action for dinner and a show.
A Quick Overview:
- Food Highlights: bread and that coffee macaron
- Food Letdowns: everything else
- Setting and Ambiance: stellar
- Service: exceptional
The wine ($58/bottle)was a good red: low in tannins, medium to full-bodied, and unoffensive all-around. Ulri ordered the rhubarb mint soda, but it really didn't have any flavour.
We ordered bread and butter ($(8) along with a pâté which, unfortunately, never arrived (we weren’t charged for it though). Since Chef Sara Naftley owns the bakery, Amandine, next door, I assume she bakes the fantastic bread. Everyone agreed that the bread was the tastiest part of the evening. We were given a selection of three: sourdough, a maltier sourdough with pecans, and baguette. The bake on the sourdough was sheer perfection. Textbook perfection. I savored the tiny piece like a survivor on a deserted island. The baguette had the most developed and interesting flavor I've ever experienced in a baguette, and I want to know what kind of flour she uses! The texture of the other sourdough was almost crumbly but somehow moist with the wonderful crunch of pecans. It’s a shame that the butter was incredibly bland. We stopped putting butter on the bread because it was muting the beauty of those treasured slices.
For starters, we ordered two Composed Salads ($14 each). Watching them grill the greens, Ulri and I were both concerned with the level of char. It looked like the flames were melting the leaves into oblivion, but I trusted the chefs to know what they were doing. To our dismany, the end result was, for lack of better words, burnt. The natural bitterness of the radicchio was intensely enhanced by the charring — really not pleasant experience to eat. The romaine was easier on the palate but sad, due to over-grilling. The salad’s redeeming elements were the pickled radishes and carrots; however, the pieces were incredibly tiny and sparse. If the romaine and radicchio were chopped and combined together, along with more of the pickled vegetables, the salad would have been much more balanced. At $14, I felt conned. Thankfully, we had our wine and bread to keep our spirits up for our entrées.
Ravioles with Young Nettles:
The best entrée of the four. The thought of eating nettles definitely did not interest me, but I can’t actually recall much flavor from the filling. It was creamy and nicely accompanied its delicate and perfectly cooked pasta covering. But what made the dish shine was the walnut sauce. It’s my new favourite, and I want it on everything. I don’t really eat pasta, but I want it just so I can have more walnut sauce. The sauce was almost briney (it’s a word, according to me), and that edge of saltiness brightened up what could have been a one-note dish.
Just some pork. I think watching them grill that hunk of meat and then trim it on the cutting board set my expectations too high. It was cooked well but rather bland. I like the idea of the bread pudding, but it tasted like watered down Thanksgiving stuffing. However, it was nice to eat from a pasture-raised pig; the meat has actual substance to it, but again, seasoning was off.
Coq au Vin Blanc:
The chicken itself was delicious with the skin cooked to that wonderful state of golden-brown saltiness expected with a roast chicken (one of my fave dishes of all time). It was served with a creamy mash which was rich and well seasoned. The problem arose with the sauce accompanying the mushrooms and onions. It may have been a reduction of the chicken jus— delicious but salty. When added to the already salted mash, it was practically uneatable. The pearl onions and mushrooms were beautifully cooked, but I think the sauce and its accompaniments were a last minute change which backfired. The dish also need some acidity to brighten up the flavours.
As someone who is usually a vegetarian in the U.S., I rarely order a meat dish unless I feel it’s something I absolutely cannot miss. In this case, I wish I hadn’t been so adventurous. Imagine a roulade of what feels like the most tenderized octopus ever, surrounded by a layer of boiled cartilage, all wrapped around a thin layer of soggy bacon. I managed to eat about half of it. Textures aside, every component of the roulade had no seasoning or flavour, and the sauce was more like a thin jam with tasteless mustard seeds. Also, not a single piece of green to liven up the dish in flavor or just aesthetics? I’m not a squeamish eater, but this dish should be reserved for Halloween.
Dessert was a hazelnut panna cotta and three small macarons. Since they knew it was mum’s birthday, they put a candle on her plate, and it was absolutely precious! Now what was on the plate was not a panda cotta. It was thick like a cheesecake but gummy at the same time. No luscious jiggle factor here. The chocolate and lemon macaron was good, but the chocolate was amazing. I am still in awe of the intensity of the coffee flavor. My mouth is drooling. All I want for my birthday is a box of their coffee macarons. The orange macaron, however, was so bitter as hell. I took asmall second bite for good measure, but it was the same.
I’ll be keeping my eye on the reviews for Marmite’s dinner service, but for now, I’d definitely say they have a lot more kinks to work out. Overall, the dishes lack balance in texture, flavour, and general appearance. There’s room for refinement and improvement so in the meanwhile, I plan to explore what Amandine has to offer next door!