Everyone who lives in Seattle and knows anything at all about art history knows about Dale Chihuly. For the uninitiated, Chihuly is known for cascading glass sculptures and structures made out of hundreds or thousands of smaller pieces, and has been creating and installing them all over the world for decades. With the recently opened Chihuly Garden & Glass Exhibition Hall came the attached Collections Cafe, an art collection in of itself.
Each table at the cafe holds a collection of items, from antique citrus reamers to toy soldiers. I was given a table filled with glittering Christmas ornaments, one of the more popular spots. (It looks like you can ask to reserve a particular table, as people were staring at their favorites.) Music was soft, pop and eclectic from bands I couldn’t place.
The space feels like they wanted you to keep your attention on the art. Light wood tables to hold the items curated under glass, bright green plastic chairs, black and white leather and fabric booths. There are accordions hanging on the ceiling and splashes of neon glass along one wall. The opposite wall is almost entirely glass, so the space is full of light.
It’s hard to feel sad when you look up and there are accordions on the ceiling.
The menu reads as Pacific Northwest-seasonal, with a nod to the eclectic reflecting Chihuly’s world travels. I don’t think I’ve seen any other menu in Seattle with both Chicken Paprikás ($19) and Grilled Pacific Octopus ($8/$11). I started with honey cucumber lemonade ($5), something where you have to appreciate cucumber in your drink to appreciate it. In this rendition the honey and cucumber notes dominate, with a citrus background to pull some of the honey’s sweetness. Mellow and floral, it would have been just as lovely in July.
Then again, on that cold morning I was most excited for the french onion soup ($7). While not as pretty as the plating at ART, the peppery, hearty rendition was just as delicious with two slices of sourdough topped with oozy gruyere. It looks like a small serving, but it’s very filling and I could see just coming in for that soup and a salad.
The rainbow chard and roasted mushroom salad (small $9; large $13) was a warm, hearty chunk of winter. The torn sourdough croutons were toasted, and I loved the wispy, nutty fontina. Chard isn’t everyone’s favorite leafy green, but the bitter savory notes worked great against the warm garlic vinaigrette and chanterelle mushrooms.
Butternut squash ravioli ($18) came covered in grated Parmesan Reggiano – a bit sharp for me with the mellow walnut brown butter. The cranberries, which looked like they were quickly put over the heat to warm them up, brought a bracing kick of tartness to an otherwise soothing dish. The ravioli’s velvety, nutty interior combined with the brown butter for a bite of squash with lemony end notes.
The orange panna cotta, new to the winter menu, arrived in a delicate glass cup and topped with orange and grapefruit supremes and small cubes of beets. The panna cotta was sweet, almost like eating a soft creamsicle, but it was best against the fresh citrus.
I only had one qualm about the experience: the cutlery, large and wavy, was hard to use for some of the dishes. I’m curious if the cutlery was a seasonal decision, another piece of art in their installation, or a permanent feature.
In the end, I felt like I was in an art gallery more than I was in a restaurant. I was one of many snapping photos, and guests spent most of their time looking up or checking out what everyone else had in their table collections. Even I spent a lot of time just watching how the changing light from outside affected the space. Maybe we all just want to appreciate our art in edible form.
305 Harrison St
Seattle, WA 98109