Give a protégé of award-winning chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi a place of his own, at the former site of an iconic Seattle restaurant (Le Gourmand), and you end up with a fascinating, Asian-influenced bistro menu. At Brimmer & Heeltap ("brimmer" is a glass that's full, while "heeltap" refers to the dregs remaining in the emptied glass), chef Mike Whisenhut pays homage to his mentors at Joule and Revel while setting a style of his own, with dishes like broiled pork shoulder steak with caramelized onion kimchi, and roasted chuck steak with shio kombu salad and pickled mirepoix.
I opted for lighter fare, ordering the Octopus Soup ($13 as pictured, or $7 for a half-portion). The octopus requires extensive preparation that includes a thorough scrub with rock salt to tenderize it. That octopus, along with kombu (kelp) and Korean fish sauce made from land lances (commonly called "sand eels," though they're not actually eels), are used to make the dashi broth. There's a plentiful portion of octopus in the soup, its texture falling somewhere between soft and chewy. Parsnips, daikon, and leeks lend sharp, earthy notes to the soup, while kale adds a welcome bitterness along with leafy texture. The only downside: While Korean fish sauce has a lower fish-to-salt ratio than its typical Thai counterpart, the soup starts to taste saltier over time, making me yearn for some bread or a bowl of rice.
I did have bread of sorts as part of my meal. Brimmer & Heeltap serves Buns ($2 each)—the current one containing kabocha, walnut, and seaweed crumble. Whisenhunt originally considered steamed dumplings for the menu, but for simplicity's sake, that idea turned into a steamed bun, which eventually became a baked bun. Acknowledging the meat-heavy menu, he created a vegetarian option. In the bun, the kabocha is creamy, its natural sweetness countered by chile pepper and scallions. The "glaze" is a caramelized sugar gastrique. The combined sweetness might not make the buns an ideal companion to octopus soup, but taken alone, I could easily enjoy a plate of them solo.
At 10 p.m., Brimmer & Heeltap unveils its late night menu, which always includes the "family meal" option ("eat what we eat"), as well as Whisenhut's Sunday night spin on ramen. (The current version contains Chinese-style roast pork and Brussels sprout kimchi.) Crossing cultures, a recent family meal featured buttermilk fried chicken with napa cabbage, soy pickled bamboo shoots, Asian pear, and Sriracha pickling sauce.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.