The specs: #0583
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JM ate the chicken with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the smelt and tomato soup with a Pedigree.
The bill was $43, or $21.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Sardine an A; Nichole gave Sardine a B (see our grading rubric).
Sardine's closest comparison, other than of course its sister cafe Marigold, would be to us the defunct Crave for its smooth interior lines and its sheer coolness. Our earlybird reservation gave us a seat next to the only other occupied table in the central dining room, but an hour later the place was hopping. The space also spans a bar area, a bright room facing Williamson Street, and what looked like the choicest area, a back veranda with tall windows facing the water. It felt so much like something in Seattle that JM had to point out a crucial difference ("No margarine?" asked Nichole. "No [name of brutally funny Wisconsin-turned-Cascadian friend redacted]," was what he was thinking.)
There was, of course, delicious butter instead of margarine and a basket of very good, crusty bread. Nichole's cool heirloom tomato soup was August in a bowl, dressed with oil and dollop of chopped onion, cucumber, and cilantro. The Pedigree, a gin, ginger ale and lemon cocktail, arrived at the table mid-soup and was frothy and refreshing.
The smelt also arrived mid-soup. They were quite lightly fried. Bits of the breading reminded Nichole of holiday rosette batter without the powdered sugar. The dish came with a mellow, rustic slaw of chopped cabbage rendered translucent by vinegar. Probably the best part was the citrusy tartar sauce, thin yet creamy with many strips of housemade cucumber pickle.
"Miracle chicken" is how JM described his meal. Each bite from first to last started off with a salty tang, followed by a lemon zing, and rounded off with smoky, fatty richness. The meat of the half bird was totally infused with rosemary and other herbs, and though the light meat was of course a little dry, the dark meat was heavenly. A liberal dose of chicken fat, juices and malt vinegar baptized the floppy frites beneath the chicken and gave JM the rare and revelatory occasion to taste with the back of his throat.
The heady aroma of the neighboring table's after-dinner coffees was seductive, and the desserts included some baked goods and sorbet (coconut, pineapple and cherry) but nothing that appealed to us both, so we adjourned early.
Everybody seems to love Sardine, yet we couldn't both bring ourselves to that degree of affection after one visit. Maybe it was the odd timing of our courses, our proximity to the neighboring table's conversation, or the fact that if JM were to lean back at all in his somewhat rickety chair, he risked tripping a server or dipping his hair in someone else's mashed potatoes. There were certain parts of the experience that were uncomfortable, which is sad because some of the food is really good.