Plum Bistro Seattle Review

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Plum Bistro, Seattle

1429 12th Ave
Seattle, WA

(206) 838-5333
info@plumbistro.com

~$40 USD/person with drinks (dinner)

Restaurant Type : Fine Dining | Casual
Diamonds : ♦♦♦♦♦♦

Outside the open windows, the rain comes down in sheets. It pours across the pavement and runs in rivers along the curb. I sip my whiskey-laced horchata, and enjoy that particular coziness that comes at the expense of another’s misery. Someone is wading up the hill across the street, in thick rubber boots and gore-tex jacket, battened down, hunched over. Sopping wet.

Could any scene be more Seattle?

I love the West Coast and spent years living their full-time, but when I wonder why I left, it’s rain that reminds me.

Still, there are many worse places to be in the rain than drinking an aperitif at the Plum Bistro. It’s a bit strange actually, as I think about that word bistro . . . I think of a casual French restaurant, with service full of bonhomie and rustic cuisine, perhaps family run. But this isn’t that exactly. In fact, it’s such an American restaurant that my espresso comes quick—on the express; the house special is a hamburger; and my yam fries are made out of sweet potato. If you yourself are American, as in being from the United States of America, than likely none of that sentence seemed out of place.

But if there was such a thing as a quintessentially American bistro, the Plum might be the thing. The food is good, a cut well above fast food or chain restaurant, but though there is the occasional flourish, there’s nothing ponce or fanciful about it. The staff certainly don’t seem like a family, nor are they as garrulous or even as vaguely bohemian as I might expect the staff of a bistro to be. I remember once eating at a vegetarian bistro in Paris, now closed (in fact, one that was the subject of an episode of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares). The food was outrageously bad. But the whole time I was there, I knew I was at a bistro. Our server was the girlfriend of the owner. Our pasta was home-made pene in tomato sauce, there was far too much good red wine, but certainly no cocktails to drink. The evening had a jazz soundtrack, not Duke Ellington on the drums, but Nina Simone and some French chanteuse I couldn’t identify.

Our server at the Plum is tattooed and pierced within an inch of her life. Blackalicious is on the stereo. Their isn’t anything worn or down-at-the-heels about my surroundings. But the vibe is as friendly and casual as a tabby cat or a chocolate lab. The vaguely industrial fake garage feel of the architecture is softened by thick beams and wooden tables. The cold night air is warmed by ample heat and candle-light. Every one of the tables is full, and everyone is chatting—not in a shouty club drown or five-star whisper, but intimately, with the occasional burst of laughter.

In the late evening, the bistro shines. It’s our favourite place in Seattle to chill and recover from a day walking uphill (logically we must have walked down some hills to, but like San Francisco, the uphill treks in Seattle are the only walks I remember). Tonight, famished and damp, we’ve ordered the charred broccolini and yam fries to start, a Mama Africa salad, Crazy Jamaican burger, and grilled olive pesto tofu. And drinks. Too much beer and wine to admit to. And of course, a before dinner aperitif.

“You’re a lush,” my partner declares, sipping her house lemonade.

“But I’m in a celebratory mood!”

She rolls her eyes.

If there is a complaint I have about the Plum Bistro, it may be that they charge celebratory prices. At least, it seems that things have climbed since we started going years ago. Entrées average perhaps $18, and all told our cheque tonight will top a cool $100. Although, as is often the case at American restaurants, we could share one entrée and me more than full. In fact we often do. But tonight is special. A mental health day if not a national holiday, and so we tuck in.

Crazy Jamaican Burger

Yam fries and broccolini and the Mama Africa salad are far too much to start. . . and perhaps it sounds like too many things going on. But they are in fact delicious. There is a unifying sweet earthiness to each, which makes them the perfect gastronomic warm-up on this sleet filled day. The fries are perfectly cooked, lightly fried, then tossed with fresh garlic and dry jerk seasoning. The barbecue sauce that accompanies them tastes like Texas. But it’s smoky charred flavour doesn’t rub the charred Italian flavoured broccolini the wrong way at all. Brocolli and rabe and all things dark green are particular favourites of mine. I hog the plate while my companion eyes the millet and quinoa base of Mama Africa dubiously. Our order was perhaps unthinking—the grains are perfectly cooked, the sweet millet complementing the nutty quinoa, but they are too much at this stage in the evening. We pick instead at the ‘seasonal fruit’—some passable blueberries—and enjoy the snap of pumpkin seeds in our mouths as they bruise the bog-standard mixed greens. I pick out the tempeh, enjoying it’s umami flavour, and the way it complements my dark ale. In fact I make a note to make something tempeh-and-beery at home soon.

We know we shouldn’t have had so many appetizers, but we both tried something new to us for our main course, and wanted to hedge our bets.

Needlessly.

The mains are both amazing.

Well, alright, the pesto encrusted tofu cutlet—is just fine. The tofu isn’t eraser hard and has been marinated. The olive pesto is bright and sprightly, with a parsley and peppery finish. The smashed potato and green beans along the side are well cooked, neither raw nor mush—but nothing individual really stands out, except perhaps the full bodied fruttato olive oil drizzled over the plate, and the droll colour of the purple potatoes. If we’re honest, and if anything we’re usually too honest—when we hear smashed potatoes we think of perfectly slow roasted spuds cooked to a fondant finish, then broken and grilled to have some char and a bit of a crisp skin. These taste as boiled and grilled as yesterday’s mashed potatoes—only someone has forgotten the salt. In all, it goes down OK, but my darling only nibbles around the plate.

As for me, I don’t eat a lot of mayo, for obvious reasons, but my Crazy Jamaican burger is slick with chipotle-garlic infused deliciousness. It’s creamy with a subtle kick that punts the jerk flavoured patty into the sublime. It’s delicious and spicy and rich. I almost bite off my own thumb devouring it. And my burger despising partner eats the dainty bite I save her and smiles.

“Perhaps I’ll order that next time.”

I’m shocked actually. It’s true that she eats whatever she eats daintily In precise, small, and savoured bites. But it’s also true that she despises messy food. I recall her delicate shudder eating rice with her hands in India—perhaps the only time I’ve seen my hiking, gardening, and tool-loving friend afraid to get her hands dirty.

But then again, the burger really is that good. I suppose that if coq-au-vin or something equally revolting is the French bistro’s forte, then the burger must be the American bistro’s speciality—but where most artisanal burgers fail to deliver real heat and depth of flavour, the Plum delivers. In fact, the Plum bistro delivers most of the time on most things. Because we’ve gone often enough that it’s something of a haunt, I think we know our way around the menu enough to avoid the things that don’t strike our fancy: the pizzas taste like they came from a grocery-store deli, we despise the “chai yam bruschetta” on principle, and neither of us love cauliflower. And though we think these are mines that may ruin the meals of other eaters, surely somebody must like them, because we ourselves are so smitten with our favourites: the cocktails—which change often; the burgers which are all good; the raw lasagne with walnut pesto that fires up my saliva glands, and the vermouth marinated tempeh—which would be perfect if only I’d remember to have it without the mashed potatoes.

If you are visiting Seattle, we heartily recommend it. And here’s a tip: the bistro’s Happy Hour specials are a cherry of a deal. From 4-10 on Sunday, and Monday-Friday from 3-6, things are crazy cheap (though there is a one drink/ minimum): $3 sliders and main-sized appetizers at around $7 each. (Again, we’d steer you clear of the pizza, which comes on a Greek style pita that’s assuredly not prepared in house, and comes topped by quite generic, tomato—not marinara— but tomato, sauce.)

Outside view

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