Communal, family-style dining is a trend that has recently popped up in restaurants across the country. Some of Seattle’s most-revered restaurateurs are right on top of the trend, scheduling weekly or monthly “Sunday suppers” or making a family-style option available any time. Diners are served a multicourse dinner, family-style, sometimes at a communal table mixed with friends and strangers.
As your dutiful reviewers of all that is hip in Seattle’s hospitality community, we ventured to a few of the local eateries that offer family-style dinners to find out for ourselves: Is communal dining all it’s chalked up to be (and is that guy going to pass the peas or what)?
Volunteer Park Café (E. 17th and E. Gayler; www.alwaysfreshgoodness.com) offers a family-style supper one Sunday per month. This is a casual, three-course dinner that features local ingredients from the café garden. The menu and the price — $30 per person — are set, although vegetarian and allergy restrictions will be accommodated.
Our Sunday supper included potato-leek bisque, a fresh green salad with a salty vinaigrette dressing, lamb-and-eggplant rigatoni and a very tasty fruit crisp for dessert. There were some service glitches to be worked out, possibly associated with the challenge of serving everyone at the same time, but we were pleasantly surprised when our server offered seconds of the main course. Yes, please!
The atmosphere at Volunteer Park Café’s Sunday supper is relaxed and friendly. The place was packed (so reservations are highly recommended).
Twice a month, The Corson Building (5609 Corson Ave. S.; http://www.thecorsonbuilding.com) offers a Sunday evening supper, which includes wine, for $60 per diner. The menu is described as “akin to a simple family supper.” It is essentially a pared-down version of the elegant feasts The Corson Building serves on Saturday nights.
The six-course dinner is served family-style at communal tables (our party of five shared a table with another party of four). The servers describe each dish as it is brought out. Our supper started with greens, shaved radish and Parmesan. as well as a salted cod spread and crackers. The remaining courses were prawns served with squash and other vegetables; clams steamed in a cider broth; and pork belly over a bed of lentils. Cinnamon ice cream, poached pear and shortbread cookie for dessert finished the meal.
We must say that our family suppers — simple or not — are not quite like the one we had at The Corson Building, and not simply because they rarely consist of six courses. Although our dining companions were pleasant company, we did not share much at the table other than food. We politely avoided taking more than our share of each dish. And the menu was not very family or young-adult friendly.
The setting is unique, rustic and charming, and the gardens are lovely. But if you are looking for a casual family dining experience, perhaps this is not the place to go.
A couple months ago, Tom Douglas instituted weekly Sunday dinners at Palace Kitchen (2030 Fifth Ave.; http://tomdouglas.com/index.php/restaurants/palace-kitchen). Diners are presented three courses for $30 per person. The set menu changes each month.
We tried Palace Kitchen in November. A little leery about having another turkey dinner during the month of turkey dinners, we were not disappointed. While this dinner also had some service glitches (they forgot our first course), they made up for it by giving us extra dessert.
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of the King County Bar Bulletin. Reprinted with permission of the King County Bar Association.