Art is everywhere at Seattle's Collections Café.
Imagine you’re the chef at a new Seattle restaurant where your biggest competition is not down the street, but within your walls. That was the imposing task facing chefs Jeff Maxfield and Ivan Szilak when they signed on at Collections Café. Here’s where it gets sticky: The café is located at Chihuly Garden and Glass, a spectacular 1.5-acre complex featuring eight galleries, a suspended 100-foot Glasshouse sculpture and a lush garden, all within Seattle Center. The entire complex, which sits in the shadow of the Space Needle, focuses on the life’s work of arguably America’s greatest glass blower. If you’ve ever seen Dale Chihuly’s creations, you know they’re mind-blowing eye candy.
But it gets even more interesting than that. It seems that Chihuly is something of a rabid collector. For decades, he’s been gathering all sorts of vintage items—ceramic dogs, bottle openers, inkwells, alarm clocks, plastic radios, fish decoys, tin toys, shaving brushes, 1950s cameras, juicers and more—and his collection needed a home. That home now happens to be under glass at each table in Collections Café, and also on its shelves and hung overhead (his accordion collection).
Seldom do restaurant customers elsewhere approach the tables of other customers, but the desire to see what’s contained under glass at all 28 tables in Collections Café is nearly irresistible. The sensory overload doesn’t end there. The café also features a backlit “Drawing Wall” with 36 of Chihuly’s drawings. You get the point, right? The food could easily get lost in all of this beautiful artistic clutter. It doesn’t.
One of Seattle’s top guns, chef Jason Wilson of Crush, was called in to work with Maxfield and Szilak to ensure the menu stands out. Wilson was a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2006 and a James Beard Foundation Best Chef Northwest in 2010. The trio has selected a group of elite Pacific Northwest farmers, fishermen and ranchers to supply the restaurant with the region’s best ingredients.
Featured menu items include Watermelon Skewer Salad with Ricotta Salata and Pistachio Balsamic Vinaigrette; Polly Creek Razor Clams with Chermoula and Green Tomato Chutney; Grilled Pacific Octopus with Berbere-Spiced Fingerling Potatoes; Draper Valley Chicken Breast with Melted Leek and Farro Risotto; and Carlton Farms Pork Chop with Apricot BBQ Glaze and Zucchini Cayenne Bread.
This is the type of menu that would command attention anywhere in the country. The fact that it’s a standout in the land Chihuly built is no small feat.