On the spur of a Wednesday-evening-moment we rang up Nells to see if they could squeeze us in. She said, can you get here in 15 minutes and we said yes.
When we slid in the door, the room was rosy and bright but pretty quite. Within 30 minutes every seat in the house was filled. Nell's is hopping and I don't think the 25 for $25 promotion - a price fix three course offering for $25 - hurt.
We were offered a choice from three appetizers, entrées and desserts, which we were asked to choose all at once. My husband chose the white bean soup, duck confit and hazelnut chocolate torte. I went with the celery root/walnut/frisse salad, wild mushroom risotto and poached pear with goat cheese ice cream.
We added a half bottle of pinot blanc from WillaKenzie, an Oregon winery. Dry and fruity - really enjoyable.
I'm a fan of celery root, so I was looking forward to the salad. The salad was a base of lightly dressed, blanched celery root julienne topped by frisee and surrounded by a scattering of toasted walnut halves. The dressing was very light and did not overpower the three main ingredients. Nice crunch mix.
The soup was spicy, warming and just the right thing for a blustery Seattle night. White beans, pancetta and diced veggies in a mild garlicky broth with a kick of red pepper. I wish there had been leftovers for lunch!
By the time we were ready for entrées the open kitchen was putting out plate after plate to satisfy 78 seats filled within 30 minutes. We enjoyed our wine while we waited for our entrée. I appreciated the time for conversation, but some might become impatient on a Wednesday.
My risotto came in a large flat bowl, a mound of creamy, al dente risotto with big chunks of chanterelles, lots of butter and cheese and topped by quickly sautéed rapini - a nice bitterness to the creamy risotto. I would have licked the plate if no one was looking. It went beautifully with the wine.
My husbands duck confit was a leg sitting on a layer of carrot puree and sautéed baby brussel sprouts. A demi glace was drizzled over and around. The meat was not as rich as I expected with confit, and, well, my risotto was better. What can I say.
Again, there was a long spell before dessert. Our waitperson was clearly running at a million miles an hour. My pear was poached in a ruby red sauce, dressed with a scoop of goat cheese ice cream with two buttery, buttery rounds of herbed shortbread. The shortbread was the winning element. The pear was good, the ice cream was -- different. Good different. This is the choice on the menu for those who look for something with a touch of richness, but not too sweet.
That was a good balance to the incredibly rich chocolate-hazelnut cake. One bite made my heart beat faster. Really really rich, setting in a pool of cream Anglais and a scoop of ice cream. Mamma mia.
We would have enjoyed coffee, especially with the torte, but none was offered.
All in all, it was a great spur of the moment "date with the spouse" dinner at a nice but not pretentious restaurant. The 25 for $25 offerings in town are always a great chance to check out new restaurants, or familiar ones we have missed for a while.
I always think fondly too, of this location, formerly Saleh al Lago. I had my last dinner before becoming a mother there, nearly 21 years ago. I still remember where I sat. And the calamari is still on the menu. I should have tried it! :-)