Can you tell me what’s in that? No!… it’s elemental

We had some friends in town this weekend and made some plans to go out to dinner Saturday night.  We tried to get a reservation at the Book Bindery at a decent time, but as a popular new spot with limited seating, 5 pm and 9:30 pm were the only availabilities. 5:30 was pathetically actually a rather appealing time for us, but we figured our out-of-town guests wouldn’t be pumped to eat the early bird hour.  There are couple of really nice restaurants within stumbling distance (Cantinetta, Elemental) of our house, and we decided we should choose the most adventurous (and booziest) restaurant of the two, and potentially in all of Seattle, Elemental.

This is what the typical diner looks like after a relaxing meal at Elemental!

As your San Francisco Giants were playing the Phillies in Game 6 of the NLCS, we started out at Casa Taylor watching the game and enjoying some wine and light snacks.  Our friend Kirk works for a wine broker and is pretty knowledgeable about wines and I had spent the day yelling at a rainy golf tournament and lubricating my throat with beers, as such, I was also very knowledgeable.  Maggie and I talked up our other experiences at Elemental whereby the husband (somelier) and wife (chef) team had both delighted our palates and ignored and insulted us at every opportunity (him not her).

For those that don’t know, Elemental is a small restaurant above Gasworks park that’s housed in a modern condo complex.  It’s minamilist through and through without signage, menus, or prices.  There are  a couple of other spots like this in Seattle which focus on small courses, local ingredients and purveyors, extensive wine pairings, and the experience of eating.  Elemental simply likes to crank up the wine pairings and ignore the supposed tenets of restaurant ownership – be nice to the guests.

As we sat in the adjoining wine bar waiting for our table, it was clear that Megan and Kirk were excited about the place and the fact that they were experiencing something new.  We had a nice bottle of Primitivo at END (Elemental Next Door).  END is fun because you can actually peruse the bottles as you would in wine store and each bottle is $30 so there is no consideration you have to give to price – you just try what looks interesting.

We had a good conversation which at multiple points Kirk said, “I can’t believe we don’t have a restaurant like this in San Francisco.  It would do great.  We love to be punished.”

When we asked how long it might take for us to get seated our server let us know that an average dinner might take 3 hours (“if you’re in a rush”) or up to 5 hours and that, “hopefully, they’ll be enough food when you’re seated.”  Huh?  Well, right around 11 pm, we were seated and the husband/sommelier immediately walked up to ask us if we’d like a cocktail – “perhaps a Negroni or a Manhattan”?

This is NOT what it looks like at ELEMENTAL. There is no indecision because there is no ordering.

Our previous cocktail experience at Elemental was pretty funny and something that we relayed to Megan and Kirk.  It was a late night and we were with a group of friends having a nightcap.  One of us made the correct order of an extra dry Bombay Saphire martini and was rewarded with a free flight of exotic and small-batch gins.  One of us made the incorrect order of a dirty Stoli Martini and was punished with a drink that could not have been further from a dirty Stoli Martini – I believe it had cinnamon in it.  This story typifies the Elemental experience – say something that the sommelier finds smart or interesting and you’re offered a world of new experiences – but say something that is in some way displeasing to the sommelier and you’re ignored, dismissed, or given a dirty look.  It’s a great experience for the food masochist or someone who believes they have unflappable and impeccable taste.

Megan ordered something I can’t remember, Maggie asked for something “like a Sidecar” and was given nothing like a Sidecar, I, trying desperately to order something correctly incorrectly asked for “brown gin” and was first given a look of both disgust and derision but ultimately rewarded with a deliciously juniper-y gin drink, Kirk made the ultimate mistake – he said he didn’t want a cocktail and wanted to just stick to red wine.

“Well, if you were going to “stick to red wine” you should have just stayed next door.  That’s not how we do this.”

Kirk was appalled when the sommelier dropped off something that seemed to made with a combination of champagne, vermouth, and loathing, and said something to the effect of, “what a jerk.”

We had the experience that we expected, a delicious meal, and just enough insulting behavior from the sommelier to make Elemental interesting and a conversation piece for our guests.  It only lasted about 1.5 hours as we had to get back to my cousin, who was babysitting, by a reasonable hour, like 1 am.

Elemental on Urbanspoon


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4 thoughts on “Can you tell me what’s in that? No!… it’s elemental

  1. gary October 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm Reply

    Kung-fool, Your recent post reminded me of my pretentious restaurant story. This took place almost 20 years ago before cell phones!

    The night before leaving for a backpacking trip with my friend Norman, we planned to go out to dinner here in Santa Monica at Chinois on Main. Very hip. We were running late picking up a few last minute items. I thought it best to call to hold our reservation. We stopped at a phone booth(!), their line was busy, so we headed there. I dropped Norman off while I found a place to park. When I entered the restaurant, Norman told me that the hostess had told him that since we were late (15 or 20 minutes) they may need to “hurry us along.” My friend Norman is about 6’2″ and 220 lbs, big from his neck to his ankles, he played some football in college. We looked at each other and thought the same thing, “once we sit down, how are they going to move us?” We each told told the hostess “ok.” With two bottles of wine we had a great time. No hurry at all.

    I had the opposite experience at Spago, the big entertainment industry restaurant in Beverly Hills. My father, my brother and I were taking my mother out to dinner for her birthday. I can assure you that Sunday evening at 6.30 my 70 year old plus parents and my brother and I didn’t like we were in the “industry.” Nonetheless they couldn’t have been nicer. They walked us to a table as asked if we liked it before they pulled out the chairs. Their attitude was if you can afford this place, and it seems to be a special event for you, we can afford to be nice to you.

    Go Giants.

    • seattlekungfoolery October 31, 2010 at 3:17 pm Reply

      Hi Gary – thanks for posting a comment! That’s a great story about you and Norman and the thought that they couldn’t move you – but did they end up trying to move you or make the dinner unpleasant at all? Spago must be doing something right (and sounds like you left there as an advocate) to position itself not only as a place for entertainment folks, but as a destination restaurant for regular people too. Glad to hear that they treated you and your fam with respect. My story is less a story about not being respected than it is a story about seeking out the abuse… Thanks again!

  2. Dan J Sundgren March 24, 2011 at 1:36 pm Reply

    *Since my last review and having visited several more times I am going to save you a lot of time, suffering and money with some tips.
    *First-take $200 out of the ATM
    *Second-Go to the grocery store and buy matches, jiffy pop, a small bottle of truffle oil, a gallon of crappy Paisano wine and a turkey Hungry Man TV Dinner
    *Third-Go home invite a friend over and ask him/her to insult you relentlessly, you know, ask them to try their best to make you feel like a complete dbag
    *Fourth-cook said Hungry Man, popcorm slathered with truffle oil, tell yourself the slop is Laurie’s greatest creation ever (maybe its QUAIL! OOOOOHHH!), have your friend continue to berate you and slam crappy wine down on the table
    *Lastly, take the remaining $160 bucks or so, light the bills, watch them burn and have your angry friend put them in a very uncomfortable place.

    That my friends is EXACTLY what my last meal was here and if you don’t believe me, go try it. Go in and smile and be kind to Phred and Laurie, I promise you they will be the worst restaurant hosts ever and kick out inedible slop to you-food and unbelievable attitude that just doesnt have a place anywhere let alone a dining room. Bon Appetit!

    *PS-I hear that the Monroe State Pen is looking for a line cook and prison guard, my suggestion to these two is to polish your resumes.

    I thought I would also add this gem I found on Cornichon’s Website, pretty much sums this all up-BRAVO!:

    “And yet, just when we thought it might be safe to get back into the water: Not. We hear that Westfall lost his composure again this weekend after a guest took issue with the restaurant’s cavalier response to a question about available seating (“I’m not psychic!”). Impolite words were spoken by both parties, whereupon Westfall physically assaulted the hapless guest. Now, we know that people get into the restaurant business for all sorts of passive-aggressive reasons (“I just want to feed people” is the most common), but sadism shouldn’t be one of them. That’s just dickish.”


    • seattlekungfoolery March 25, 2011 at 9:16 am Reply

      Wow Dan, that is both hilarious and as vitriolic as Elemental! Bravo. I read Ronald’s blog religiously,, he is a great food and wine writer. You are too. Thanks for the post/rant!

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