Updated Monday, January 28, 2013 at 07:16 PM
A neon sign protrudes from a red storefront hidden in a narrow alley connecting two of Magnolia’s main streets. It says Tanglewood Supreme, an odd name and an unlikely place to discover an easygoing neighborhood bistro with food that displays significant finesse.
Just three months old, Tanglewood Supreme fills a niche this quiet village may not have realized existed, until one of its residents, Kent Chappelle, had the bright idea to open a seafood-focused restaurant and the nerve to name it after a ground-beef-rice-and-tomato-soup casserole his mother used to serve the family when he was a boy.
Chappelle came to restaurateuring in a roundabout way. He started out dishwashing, bussing and waiting tables, followed by stints as a stage manager for a rock band, an event coordinator for Microsoft and a sales and marketing executive for Super Supplements.
At Tanglewood Supreme he is host, cocktail mixer and schmoozer-in-chief, wisely leaving the cooking to chef Jeffrey Kessenich (one-time chef de cuisine at Brasa) and sous chef Tyler Johnston (who gets credit for the goat’s milk cheesecake and the chili-dusted chocolate cake that you’ll want to save room for.)
The pair works with such calm synchronicity you wonder if they communicate telepathically. At lunch, I sat at the butcher-block kitchen counter watching them dip and fry fingers of cod for fish and chips, slice house-cured “salmon pastrami” and arrange imaginative salads, among them a marvelous composition of red quinoa, persimmon, Brussels sprout leaves, walnuts and salty shavings of ricotta salata.
The cod might have been crisper, but the fish could not have been fresher, while the chips — made of sweet potato, parsnip and russet potatoes — were fantastic. The lush salmon pastrami joined tomato, red onion and sharp, whole-grain mustard in a sandwich built on a Macrina Bakery pretzel roll, though I would have preferred the heartier flavor of rye bread or pumpernickel.
Port Townsend’s Cape Cleare Fishery supplies the salmon, caught by hook and line. The fillet of Alaskan king served at dinner was extraordinary. Cooked medium-rare, skin crackling like cellophane under the knife, it was paired with a pancetta-laced cranberry bean stew, buttered Brussels sprouts and dabs of pungent pumpkin purée.
Green-curry sauce dressed up Alaskan Weathervane scallops, a plump trio similar in size to the bulbous green eggplants and gougere-like puffs of naan that shared the plate. It was a thrilling combination; no less so than Hawaiian blue prawns riding a raft of green-chile polenta ringed by bitter mustard greens and a butter-finished, grapefruit-brightened broth. (That deep-fried shrimp head staring at you is a delectable lagniappe; don’t leave it, eat it.)
Chicken breast brined with tea leaves is terrific in a quieter way, with sake-spiked pan juices moistening meat, sticky rice and sautéed carrot and daikon.
Grilled albacore “crudo” was among the appetizers. The tuna was actually seared rare. Sliced and arranged with beets, frisée and hazelnuts, it made a pretty tableau that needed something more in the way of seasoning and lubrication.
Other starters double as happy-hour nibbles, among them, edamame steamed with pink peppercorns; crispy sweet-potato arancini (deep-fried rice balls stuffed with goat cheese); steamed Taylor Shellfish Farms clams and mussels in garlic and fennel broth; and fresh Totten Inlet oysters, dabbed with a restrained mignonette of green apple, shallot, lemon and chervil and bedded on salt rather than ice, which made them oddly warm.
Despite the wide-ranging menu, the choice of wines is narrow: just six bottles. Chappelle says they are growing the wine list slowly and storage space is an issue. He purposely set the corkage fee low ($15 per bottle) to encourage customers to bring their own bottles; many do. Cocktails are limited to a few classics.
Tanglewood Supreme is a place to kick back and relax. The décor is spare, the colors earthy. Lighting is soft above tables and booths, brighter near the kitchen. Service is warm, and sharper than you expect from a little hole-in-the-wall place.
I wish I could keep Tanglewood Supreme a secret. I fear long lines forming at lunch and weekend dinner reservations that must be secured weeks in advance. But it’s too good to stay under wraps for long.
Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, co-hosts “Let’s Eat” with Terry Jaymes at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. Listen to past shows at www.KIRORadio.com/letseat. Reach Cicero at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3216 W. Wheeler St., Seattle206-708-6235
Reservations: recommended for dinner Friday and Saturday; accepted on weeknights for parties of six or more only
Hours: lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; happy hour 5-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Prices: $$$ (lunch starters $3-$5, entrees $8-$10; dinner starters $4-$7, entrees $17-$24)
Drinks: Service bar stocks select spirits, a shortlist of wines, beers and sodas.
Parking: on street
Who should go: Magnolians seeking fresh, imaginatively prepared seafood; solo diners will find the kitchen counter especially inviting.
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Persimmon and quinoa salad$6
Tea leaf chicken breast$17
Hawaiian blue prawns with grilled chile polenta $22
Weathervane scallops with green curry$24
Alaskan king salmon with heirloom beans$24
The Seattle Times
Alaskan Weathervane scallops with eggplant, green curry sauce and naan puffs at Tanglewood Supreme in Magnolia.