Friday, September 12, 2008

The Corson Building: $262 to work too hard at eating.


So, I finally went HERE, which is the most-talked about new restaurant in Seattle.

The Corson Building is in an old (1908?) brick house with tall ceilings and the most murderous acoustics in the land. My friend and dining companion Tracy made three bathrooms trips just to find some quiet since the roar of the restaurant was that unbearable. I threatened to walk into the kitchen to ask for mini-lobster bibs to catch the blood that I figured was by now running from my ears. Yes, the noise was that bad.*

Anyway, this restaurant is sort of rustic and communal. There are 3 big tables that seat about 10. Dinner is about $130 each. You are served whatever they happen to be cooking. It's prix fixe. Fine.


But this is what I learned:

Fuck communal dinners.

Unless I am with my family and we're having a big, wonderful kick-off-your-shoes casual event, I have no business paying for the servers to drop off heavy platters and only to find myself scooping my own portion onto my plate. It's way too much work.
So, last night. the plate would come, it would start with the person to my right, would go all the way around, and by the time it got to Tracy and me, half the table was done eating. There was also NO ROOM on the tables to set anything down, really. The tables are too small for their impressive assemblage of wine glasses, etc. Perhaps they should have considered passing 2 separate plates at each end of the table. Tracy was eying the food as it languished at the other end mimicking that fucking kid from Oliver, "Please sir, can I have some more?"

And speaking of no room, Tracy had no room to sit. She basically had to sit on the corner. We were shocked no one noticed.
She didn't look comfortable. And she wasn't. Kind of a bummer.

"How's your $130 meal going, Trace?"
"Super. I'm thinking of taking my plate into the bathroom."

The portions were so small and the meal so long to finally wrap up, that after the first 2 courses, 4 of us were openly fantasizing about stopping at Taco Time on the way home to get Mexi-Fries. We were hungry, and my spoonful of beets and matchbook-sized portion of trout was not going to cut it.

After the first course, the chef came out to talk to us. He was cute, seemed like an okay guy, but at that moment, I realized why I would never be back: The Corson Building is the hipster Herbfarm. And The Corson Building is really all about The Corson Building, not you. They want you to know where the milk came from, they want to tell you the "ground rules." They are - fairly - proud of their experiment, but it's a little precious for me.

The servers, I should note, were LOVELY. Seriously, really kind and cool. And don't get me started about Wylie Bush (a co-owner, I think). Holy shit. He's minutes from being the newest start of SILVER FEAST with his lust-inducing salt & pepper hair.


Wylie.

The best part of the evening (aside from Mr. Bush) was being seated next to someone from The New York Times, someone from Vanity Fair, and the food blogger from The Seattle Times. The 2nd half of the meal produced REALLY good gossip and great conversation.

The food - mixed bag. All the veggies were pretty great. The beets were amazing. They produced some kind of flatbread that was too cake-y for my taste. They served two kinds of fish. The mackerel I couldn't finish. I can't repeat here in polite company what I thought it smelled like. The trout was great. One of the veggie dishes had garbanzo beans that, I believe, were roasted. Have you ever had a stale, months-old just-found-my-old-Halloween-candy Whopper (chocolate malted ball)? That's what the texture was like, which, for the record, is not a texture I want to enjoy at dinner.

So there you have it. Would I recommend it? No. Not yet, anyway. For two people, there are so many exciting ways you can spend $262 eating your way around Seattle, that I will tell you here, save your pennies. The Corson Building is a bit more work than it's worth.

If the following happened, then yes:
1) Do something about the grounds outside. I think they are working on this, but by next summer it would be great if they seated some people outside. The fig tree, the chickens, the doves, the veggies... it's all great. And yes, you would have to contend with the noise of the train, but it's nothing compared to the noise inside.

2) Either serve us, or seat us at tables with enough room to be be comfortable. Passing everything around when you're cramped just worries me that I am going to knock over one of the 3 glasses in front of me.


*To his credit, the chef and owner Matt Dillon mentioned the noise issue in his opening remarks, but he also said, "Something about my self-respect won't allow me to intall acoustic tiles in here." And for decor freaks everywhere, I think we can all agree, he's taking the right position on the issue.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

What was the dessert situation?

Decorno said...

Oh, it was good. Gilled peaches, a tiny little pastry cracker thing about the size of two stamps (no joke) and some kind of lemon verbena creme en glaze.

Uncle Beefy said...

Ugh! It sounds totally un-delightful! I was thinking of celebrating a big birthday here but would absolutely look elsewhere after hearing this, E. Sitting on a corner? Ears bleeding? And the communal plate thing isn't entirely appealing to me if I'm paying that much, to eat what I couldn't choose, and then imagining if I got some bite-size portion 'cause Mr. Porker-patrol down the way decided he'd eat on everyone's behalf at the table! No stank you!

Bailee's Bride said...

Despite your review, if I could copy the decor in that photo, I would! The place LOOKS goregous... too bad it sounds like it wasn't a pretty experience. Love you posts - thanks for a humorous diversion today!
Best,
Bailee's Bride

robyn said...

hahahaha. I'm so glad I didn't go there and now I feel even better that I missed it, not that we could have afforded the bill to begin with.

Consider visiting Sitka & Spruce if you haven't yet. I couldn't understand their menu even though it was written in English, and we nearly had to beg for a table since they were closing, but the staff ended up being delightful and the weird food was absolutely delicious. No regrets there.

I did take your advice about Oaxaca, which was wonderful. Thanks for all the direction-- our visit was perfect.

lucitebox said...

Have you ever had a stale, months-old just-found-my-old-Halloween-candy Whopper (chocolate malted ball)?

Yes, I have and I'm not ashamed to admit that I knew exactly what you meant. I am still giggling just thinking about your comparison.

I'm a tighwad and a cheapy at times. If I can, I like to splurge on dinner, but honestly, I think that if you're going to spend $262 on a meal, it's best spent at home with friends and lotsa wine. That said, the place looks beautiful.

For $262, I could probably dim the lights, add candles and maybe my place wouldn't appear to be the dump that it is. (That's where the wine comes in, of course.)

eM said...

polite company!
since when?

i suspected as much - I found Sitka and Spruce to be completely underwhelming. Again, I think the chef's ego is mucking up what was probabaly at some point a pretty cool lace. Seriously - who serves BLOOD SOUP on one of the hottest days of the year? The fact that is was cold did not make it seem "summery". Alos, out overcooked whole trout was unceremoniously dropped at pour table and we were left to debone and scrape skin off this hunk of fish we paid 20 bucks for.
My advice to you : try Art of the Table

Reggie said...

Loved the review! Way too much to pay for such a dining "experience" -- even at half the price it would be too expensive in my view, considering what you got for it. By the way, me thinks its spelled creme anglaise...

Decorno said...

Oopsie! :) I forgot to consult my Engish-to-Fancy/Fancy-to-English dictionary.

creme anglaise
creme anglaise
creme anglaise

I am practising so I remember. Thank you.

Be the change..... said...

I had a similar experience at an organic restaurant here in dc last weekend that was just as expensive and unpleasant. The kicker was that when I got home I got REALLY sick. I won't name the restaurant here in DC, but it rhymes with mora....

eM said...

note to self:

stop posting to blogs before you finish coffee. typos are just RUDE

decorno said...

Typos are fine by me. Because, I like the pre-coffee cranky comments.

hello gorgeous said...

That's how I feel about expensive fondue places. They airdrop UNCOOKED food and you never see them again until you've cooked your own meal and served it to yourself. Brilliant scam.

David said...

Communal dining? I've usually got enough contemp for people sitting at other tables, sharing space with strangers would put me over the edge.

David said...

Typos ahoy! contemp=contempt

Anonymous said...

The visuals were great when we came upon this place unexpectedly but looks like they need some major fine tuning in the kitchen and dining area and staff and.... Your review is so entertaining that I want more......next? Ginny

Jennifer said...

Please expand on this gossip situation!

Maison Luxe said...

okay, not good. no bueno. i am hosting a dinner party here next sunday evening. uuuugh!!!

Elizabeth said...

You saved me a trip. Thanks!

Julia said...

I'm SO glad you blogged about this. I was considering taking some out of town foodies here when they came to visit in October. I think we'll spend the month at Tilth instead.

Kwana said...

Loved your review. Felt like I was cramped in there right beside you. Thanks.

Valerie said...

Maybe some tapestries or something would mute the sound without having to resort to an acoustic drop ceiling.

Sorry it wasn't the bestest!

Decorina said...

The problem with the acoustics is probably a combination of things including the use of hard, reflective surfaces and finishes.

I suspect that it is less about his "self respect" than it is about the cost to effectively address the acoustics of the space. I'm sure they spent plenty to remodel the space - it is pretty swell. There are very sophisticated and classy ways to address the noise, but they are not cheap.

The use of communal tables may also be one based more on financial and management concerns, too. It has to be much less expensive to hire waiters to shag food on big platters from kitchen to table than it is to hire experienced waitstaff for a restaurant that charges prix fixe $130 per diner. For that price I could not settle for an atmosphere that more properly belongs in a cowboy steakhouse with sawdust on the floor.

I did get a giggle from your description of the fish being too bad to describe in polite company.

"I can't repeat here in polite company what I thought it smelled like."

Awww, c'mon. You and I know that we are not polite here! But I appreciate your decorum, whether it is earnest or in fun.

And I feel for your friend sitting on the corner of the table. Reminds me of the time I went to the opera in Santa Fe with some oh-so-stuck-up friends of my ex-husband's. I was given an "orphan" seat on the end of a row where I was rained on, couldn't hear and couldn't see. He sat with his friends in choice seats elsewhere in the auditorium and *none* of them could figure out why I was so pissed off the rest of the evening. Beginning of the end, but I digress.

Loved this post, Decorno.

Anonymous said...

Who looks UP in a restaurant? But acoustic tiles you cheap dick.

Anonymous said...

A few minor adjustments without compromising the architectural structure could help the noise problem. Basically "Fabric", wall hangings, tapestries, sisal or oriental carpets that don't need to be stapled down, plants, silk ceiling hangings.... To go a little farther, wood instead of tile floors, plaster instead of wall board.... and the seats should be comfortable and the table wide enough. Yikes. Family style would usually mean welcoming in my world.

Anonymous said...

Would sisal have any noise-muffling property?

Also, installing plaster is labor-intensive. Is it THAT much more noise-absorbing than wallboard?

I am sure there are acoustic ceiling tiles that are not visually offensive out there.

Meg said...

I've been eyeing going there; it sounds so interesting... but it's so expensive... especially if you get stuck in the corner.
I saw that they're going to do some cheaper events, which may be a good way to try it without the stress and price of a marathon dinner. I'm dying to know: what was the great gossip?

Decorno said...

Philip Roth fucked Nicole Kidman.

The best part was how the story was told, so I am doing it no justice here, but that was it.

A lot of people at the table thought this was inconceivable, but I offer up the fact that she fucked a alien robot for all of that long marriage, and that she now has sex with a drug-addict who flat-irons his hair.

And with that, I rested my case.

Anonymous said...

I had heard that! It was during the filming of "The Human Stain."

You take a great idea like sex, and then two unattractive people like Philip Roth and Nichole Kidman go and ruin it.

Tracy said...

Elaine, you summarized our evening beautifully. I've been thinking about Taco Time ever since; that is my takeaway from the experience. Better food, larger portions, less arrogance amongst the staff, more TABLE ROOM and they don't hold you hostage for four hours.

Christine in dc said...

There's nothing I hate more than laying down beaucoups bucks at a restaurant that sucks.

And, I wish people would come up with an attractive alterative to acoustic tiles (or if they exist, that people would use them) because they have their place. Like in my "hip" office for example where I can hear everyone's telephone and lunchtime conversations!

24KGLDFCE said...

WYLIE

judy said...

I have a strict no-communal-tables policy. Many a time I've walked into a restaurant, gleaned that my party would be stuck sitting with strangers, and turned around and walked right back out. And the family-style serving? In my family that meant every man for himself. Not fun. Add loud to the equation and I'd rather be home eating PBJ in my jammies.

Anonymous said...

I think Wylie looks like a derelict in that outfit.

Cheese said...

hey why don't you guys all buy your own space and start your own restaurant. Seems like every one here knows how to do it better than the professionals.
As a cook I don't think any of you have any idea what it is like to prepare and execute everyday. Think about your job. Are you always on point with everything you do? DIdn't think so. And sometimes we're not either. But when it happens to you, you don't have all your mistakes spread over the blogosphere. That's why real restaurant critics visit a place more than once before rendering a verdict. Wait, not pretending to be an expert on something after one experience with it? Crazy idea

Decorno said...

Cheese - re-read the critique. It was hardly about the food, it was mostly problems of ambience & service. These things are easily controllable. If people can't get that right, they should pay more attention to their own past fine dining experiences.

Your "I'm the cook" attitude is why the Corson is in trouble. The Corson is more about being a rock star of a restaurant than providing a good experience to paying customers who enjoy great food and a pleasant experience while there.

Also, in every way that matters, I am the "real" restaurant critic here. I am the one who can afford $130 dinners as often as I care to have them. Professional critics aren't the ones who will pay to eat there with any regularity. So if the Corson can't make its customers (me) happy, it's in trouble.

I'm just the canary in the coal mine.

Decorno said...

I should note that I don't need to visit the place more than once to know that the two main problems I stated in my post are not going to be resolved:

1) they will continue to have communal dining. That won't change with a 2nd visit.

2) The chef admitted that he will do nothing about the noise problem. He interrupted our dinner to come out and give us a speech saying as much.

Please explain how visiting a 2nd time will change my mind about the two most problematic elements of my experience there.

Also, the early blog press about the restaurant was nothing buy virtual cock-sucking by food bloggers and others who want to be in the little foodie club. I don't. I am the consumer, so my posting this all over the "blogosphere" is merely a counterpoint to all the other uncritical commentary that food bloggers and food critics have offered up.

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing to read these comments two years later... I am glad places like Corson and Sitka exist in a town like Seattle.