When chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough won a "Rising Stars" award from StarChefs in 2009, it was partly due to the molecular gastronomy influences in their food at the fairly new Spur gastropub in Seattle. Two years later, they shifted focus and opened The Coterie Room. A bit more "mainstream" than Spur, the restaurant features upscale comfort food like spicy ham cracklins and a version of poutine with braised pork shoulder gravy and fried Beecher's cheese curds, as well as big, shareable platters of pan-seared trout and buttermilk fried chicken.
The Coterie Room's desserts, though, do have their delicate elements. They don't tend to be as molecular as Spur's with their espumas, crystalized zests, and other self-described "playful accompaniments," but they do tend to be playful in their own right—and downright delicious. And a regular customer will quickly come to the realization that many are marked by a classy quenelle of ice cream.
Take, for example, the Rhubarb Curd Tart ($9, pictured above). The tart comes with anise hyssop ice cream and lemon shortbread. Tartness abounds in the tart, both from the lemon and the rhubarb, with some of that fruit sitting atop its curded self. The subtle licorice-like notes of the anise hyssop work well here, and the slowly melting ice cream, seductive on the sheet of pretty-in-pink rhubarb, signifies the warm start of spring in Seattle.
Switching seasons, macerated plums are plum(b) perfect on a Semolina Custard Cake ($9). The fruit is earthy and meaty, and a bright accompaniment to the semolina custard with its buttery sweetness. As with the shortbread in the rhubarb curd tart, pine nut praline provides a textural bed. A quenelle of caramelized white chocolate ice cream again adds subtle notes—this time of chocolate and burnt sugar—to this elegant dessert.
With an abundance of pears in Washington state, the Pear Galette ($9) is a perfect dessert that enjoys a long life at The Coterie Room. This dessert features warm pears in a flaky crust, with a generous scattering of candied almonds offering a nutty, honey-like crunch. Crowning the galette is a quenelle of star anise ice cream. This aromatic Eastern spice infuses the ice cream with a little licorice flavor, though it's more fragrant with slightly tangy and bitter notes, and a pretty terrific pairing with the sweetness of the pears.
The desserts at The Coterie Room are seasonal and certainly special in their own right. The carefully spooned-shaped ovals of ice cream effectively elevate these desserts, adding complementary flavors and geometric interest, and making it clear that chefs McCracken and Tough are the kings of quenelles.
The Coterie Room
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.