TASTE collage  
Imagine, if you will, an art museum restaurant.  Make the image in your head very vivid, very detailed.  In fact, close your eyes and picture this restaurant…  (OK, open your eyes now so you can keep reading.)  Now, imagine the sterile, lifeless walls of that restaurant covered with vibrant Seattle artwork.  Those heat lamps you’re picturing in the kitchen?  Replace them with pans of slowly roasting, locally-raised pork shoulders.  The cafeteria-inspired, cavernous dining room?  Swap it for about an upscale, inviting decor with a first-class bar and a wall full of Pacific Northwest wine.  Now you’re just barely starting to get the picture of TASTE, the Seattle Art Museum’s bold, revitalized restaurant.

On a recent visit to TASTE, I was very impressed with not only the atmosphere and the quality of the food, but also the karmic value of my dinner.  In the last two years, TASTE has managed to source 69% of its ingredients from local farmers, infusing over $1M back into family-owned farms.  Particularly relevant to today’s economy, TASTE’s dedication to supporting small and local farms is commendable.

Executive chef, Craig Hetherington writes,

“As a chef, it is my responsibility to support the local farmers.  It is my goal to ingrain that responsibility into everybody who comes on board so that when they move on they have that sense of awareness.”

But, if you just wanted to feel warm and fuzzy, you’d build a garden out of used Prius tires and pay a dozen mixed-race orphans from developing nations a living wage to grow biofuel.  No, you’re actually hungry too.  So its a good thing that the food at TASTE is pretty killer.  My favorite dish was their “flight and bites” sampler ($13, pictured top left).  It includes an open-faced pulled pork sandwich, a fried calzone stuffed with italian sausage, and a grown-up mac & cheese, each paired with a taste of three different Seattle beers.  Also excellent was the farro risotto ($7/$17, pictured middle left) topped with locally foraged chantrelle mushrooms.  Disappointgly, I was underwhelmed with the seared halibut, which although perfectly cooked, lacked any discernable flavor.  Good thing they have excellent blended table salt (which you can purchase to take home).

Recently joining TASTE is pastry chef Lucy Damkoehler, formerly of Seattle’s Andaluca and New York’s Gramercy Tavern.  Lucy executed admirably on an apple tart with peanut butter ice cream ($7, pictured lower left).  The delicateness of the pastry, complimented by the paper-thin apple slices was presented artfully (it looks like a division problem – geeks like math :-)).  She topped the peanut butter ice cream with a pinch of sea salt, which brightens the flavors until you are nearly forced to smile.

Whether you’re hungry after a long day of art watching, or just in the downtown corridor looking for a great meal, suspend all your preconceptions about museum food and head over to TASTE.

TASTE Restaurant on Urbanspoon