Having a blog always keeps me on my toes... Where do people find my Madeleine musings as Ms. Proust? How do they come to me? Well one handy feature on TypePad is a Visitor Stats section which lets you know how many people have looked at your site & what search engine found you!
The two coolest things about this is A.) I now know wine lovers as far as Israel have come across my site, & B.) I know what people want to know about when they're looking to chow down. So when I saw today that someone was googling for information on Elemental at Gasworks, after another reader was asking if anyone had been there, I realized that I never gave my input on my experience a year ago... Since this is an interactive experience, I'd love to hear your input on how things are going at this quirky little spot, but for now, here's my take.
First off, just try finding the place... No real street traffic or visability present, hidden below yet another perfectly bland Fremont condo complex, it's hard to imagine a gourmet haunt choosing set up shop here. Seemingly, it works. Ken, myself, & a wine rep buddy went there months after it first opened & unfortunately, right after a few very favorable reviews came out on the place. Word on this unusual find spread like wildfire & even though we got there early enough to get on the list (the place is teeny-tiny & they can't handle much more than twenty seats), we still had a good 45 minute wait before us.
Since Phred (yes Phred & that tells you something about the place) *definitely* runs the show when it comes to his baby's wine program, we had to survive off of a chintzy glass of anonymous wine (more about that later), a carafe of his infamous cucumber water, & conversation to get us through the wait. No appetizers to order, no cocktails to soothe our spirits, just the promise of a great meal based on our friend's rantings. Thankfully, I hear that they do offer popcorn now as an appeaser of sorts which fits with the theatrical nature of the place.
I saw countless peeved couples turned away at the door, as Phred explained they wouldn't get a seat for hours (without apology) but when Nancy Leson calls you irrestible? Well there you go. Speaking to folks at a wine dinner recently, I hear things have calmed down a bit, at least on weeknights, so perhaps it's worth giving a whirl in E's sophomore year. Being in the customer service trade, it made me grimmace to see such ego at the door but to be honest, that's part of the package here. If you want to be in the driver's seat, this is not the place for you. Up for a night of reckless endangerment? By all means, this host is aimed to please.
Come as you are, Elemental has a "clubby" atmosphere that doesn't require dressing up--Phred & his hard-working wife, Laurie who runs the kitchen, live on a houseboat on Lake Union & keep things casual--but at a manic pace & with an obvious respect for regulars. I personally felt bad for the gal while she was slaving away in the kitchen & Phred talks your ear off on the floor. But they strike a fine balance--he, former-sommelier at Lake Union Cafe & she, a former waitress turned chef. And if she's happy in the kitchen, what could be better?
My meal (seconded by recent diner reports) was good, probably very good considering what it cost me, wine & all. Laurie is unschooled when it comes to cooking, so the feeling is that of dining at a friend's home who knows how to offer a hodge-podge of dishes, but manages to pull off a Big Night. What singles out Elemental from the pack is Phred's incorrible approach to wine. Be it taste-maker or dictator, you can test your senses & walk out all the wiser--if that rascal gives his secrets away--otherwise it's about as fun as a double-blind tasting where the label is never revealed.
The physical menu is a conversation piece itself, fashioned out of industrial copper sheeting with daily specials hand-written. I had heard about the infamous foie gras, pb & j sandwich which folks went ga-ga over at the onset, but with a seasonal & organic list of offerings based on the whims of the creator, I guess we were behind the curve since it was no longer on the list of offerings. However, I'm quite suspicious that this unusual concoction made its way as a permanent menu item at the very pink mod-spot, Veil, thanks to these folks.
You can order three items from four flights of courses for a set price, or order light from the list of $7, $10, $13 or $18 categories which might come in handy if you want to dine light or late since they stay open until midnight, a real rareity as we've found that Fremont shuts down early if you're not looking for pub fare. Of our most memorable dishes, I had a tenderly cooked veal chop with gigandes, large flat white beans, that felt maternal & homey. Our friend went out on a limb with a deliciously messy plate of Short Ribs on Garlic Waffles, but I feel badly even talking about it as the point is mute--this place changes with the weather.
A year later, would I go back? I'm curious, but with so many new kitchens to taste from, the verdict is still out. But taking into consideration Phred's continous round of crazy pours of obscure favorites, why wouldn't you (at least once) take advantage of their tax & tip inclusive policy of three courses for $36 dollars if you lived anywhere near? They're living their dream & that's more than elemental.