Go German or go home with this classy establishment’s pan-fried whole trout.
Chef Cormac Mahoney was quoted by City Arts last October stating that he found the adage “farm to table” to be a “stupid term,” in more or less obscenities. Mahoney, whose stance is that all food is “farm to table” and should be sourced from the right places at the right time, is known for his audacity and bawdiness both in print and in his kitchen. His honest perception of “local” and his composition of cuisine in that belief has collected him a healthy portion of national and regional awareness.
The chef and co-owner of Madison Park Conservatory has been hailed by the likes of the omnipresent former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, his local and national colleagues and now Food and Wine has listed Mahoney as one of the Best New Chefs of 2012.
Vaguely resembling Liam Neeson circa the 1996 “Michael Collins” era crossed with the hair of Bradley Cooper and standing in a hulking build that puts him a head over most of his staff, Mahoney has a palpable presence in his food and physically in his Madison Park bistro.
The restaurant sits at the end of the boardwalk strip of eateries in Madison Park, indicated solely by the skeletal superimposed silhouette of a feathered friend that hangs as a sign on the front of the building. Upon entry, customers get a glimpse of Mahoney’s kitchen through a window that backs the host stand. Three steps in and a staircase takes imbibers up to the lounge that sports a clear shot of Lake Washington, a patio and a library study-style atmosphere. Directly below the lounge is the modest kitchen and the dining room that seats 40-50 guests in four-person squares.
The menu rotates daily, with the exception of a few staples that are held by popular demand. The cocktail list mirrors the food menu, swiveling with the seasons and the bartender’s mood. Come for bites of the ridiculously tender grilled beef tongue with mustard and piquant pickled grapes and sips of the surgically precise Manhattan served short but make sure you stay for the whole damn trout.
The Dish: Pan-fried Trout — This is Idaho trout in all of its glory – skin, tail and its googly-eyed head all intact and starring back at you. Blanketed with pine nuts, capers and currants atop a gossamer yet opulent butter sauce, the dish masters a balancing act rarely seen outside the big top. In an ambrosial melding of flavors, the capers are the tangy yang to the currants sweet ying while the rich butter and nutty pine nuts match the similar traits of the flawlessly plated fish. Beware of bones, this fish was gutted delicately in its underbelly and left for the eater to do as they wish. Which should be to savor slowly and drink harmoniously.
The Variety: German Riesling — Deutschland’s wine claim to fame is their native grape variety of Riesling that originated in the soils of the Rhine region along the identically named European river. Riesling is a grape variety that speaks of its land more than most varietals, hugely so when it’s from its motherland. Reveled for its equilibrium of flavors and textures, German Riesling tight-ropes between stone fruit and mineral aromas and flavors, bright acid and lingering residual sugar and lands on point with its dominating bouquet of petrol once aged. Its high acid, leftover sugar and ripe fruit gives well-made German Rieslings a shelf life changing from five years to fifty-five years, seldom seen in white wines outside of Burgundy.
Why It Works: Getting down to specifics in the pairing, German Riesling has that distinct quality to it that other regions can not quell to the same degree – the appeal of petrol. Thanks to the unique soils of the Rhine river, those mineral characteristics stabilize the sweetness and pull out a food wine unlike many others. The richness is comparable to the prosperous flavors of the fish and the currants but the petrol and mineral sharpness nips at the round edges of the dish.
The Recommended Match: S.A. Prum Blue Slate Kabinett Riesling — The Prum family is an institution in the Mosel region of Germany, with roots that date back to the 10th century and a winemaking dynasty to prove it. If seeking the funkier, petrol-infused aromas of an oily German Riesling, search for one with age – the 2007 vintage is exactly what it should be right now with ripe white peach, spice and dazzling acid. If the sweeter, more fruit-friendly style is your type, then try the fresh 2011 vintage that pulls out apricot, citrus and slate.
Washington State produces many fabulous Riesling, checking the orange fruits, honey and nutmeg box while Oregon is testing their consumer’s boundaries by pulling out the gasoline aromas, reminiscent of Germany. The local options are there, but like Mahoney, sometimes it’s better to get the right thing from the right place.
Madison Park Conservatory | 1927 43rd Avenue E., Seattle | (206) 324-9701