It’s a real pleasure to encounter, at Madrona’s Bottlehouse, 1416 34th Avenue, an entire list of “difficult” wines, beers and aperitifs. Perhaps “alternative” would be a better word. There’s barely an entry on the two-page list that bows to popular pressure for the familiar or the easy-to-drink, not even the Coca-Cola (which, in the Bottlehouse’s case, comes from Mexico, so it’s sweetened with real sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup). The lone concession to convention seems to be that the place now opens every day.
And what a lovely place it is, this one-time private home which now does triple-duty. The landlords still live upstairs, while the garage and basement were converted over a decade ago into an urban winery (Willridge). The side garden, less than ten feet wide, nonetheless provides agreeably shady seating for patrons from the neighborhood; inside, there’s an element of to the décor that will remind you of Grandma’s house (if only she had such good taste!).
The owners of Bottlehouse are sommelier Henri Schock and designer Soni Dave, who got married about five years ago after starting the business together. And just as Madrona is off the beaten path (or as off the beaten path as you can get in the city), so to does the wine list offer hard-to-find bottles. For example, unless you travel to Bilbao or San Sebastian, you don’t often run across Txacoli, the tart, slightly effervescent wine of the Basque country. (Pintxo in Belltown and Harvest Vine in Madison Valley, 2701 E. Madison, also have it on their lists.) Made from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape (there’s a mouthful!), it’s not a wine to bowl you over with its complexity, but it’s a smart alternative to flavor-laden wines like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
On the beer side of things, Bottlehouse unapologetically turns its back on local microbrews. Dogfish Head’s Imperial IPA comes from Delaware, Epic Brewing’s “Escape to Colorado” IPA comes from Utah, and Ommegang Henepin Farmhouse Saison is brewed in Cooperstown, New York. Lovers of cider can enjoy the real thing, Dupont Cidre Bouché, from Normandy; there’s also Nashi Asian Pear perry from Vashon Island.
The happiest surprise was to find half a dozen terrific vermouth-based aperitif wines. When we see these at all, in most bars, they’re mixers for martinis with a gin or vodka base, which is a shame. A vermouth like Dolin has a character of its own, the subtlety of which is quickly overwhelmed by stronger spirits. They make ideal late afternoon sipping. Bottlehouse offers a flight of three aperitifs for $14, a good way to realize that they’re pretty good stand-alone drinks. All you need is a portion of fleshy, green Castelvetrano olives.
A more assertive red vermouth finds its way into cocktails like the Manhattan or the Negroni, giving an edge of sweetness (balanced, in the Manhattan, by a drop or two of bitters, and in the Negroni by the Capari). The aperitif list at Bottlehouse also includes two versions of Chinato (Erbetti and Cocchi Barolo), and a personal favorite, Bonal. That’s a gentiane-quina drink that’s slightly sweet, but with a sharp, medicinal kick (the kind you get from a gin and tonic at a bar where they make their own quinine-based tonic). The gentiane part comes from the wildflower that grows all over France; it’s also a prominent ingredient in Salers, another fortified aperitif wine from Provence.
There’s a short menu of cheese, charcuterie, and small plates; a sampler of three cheeses, for example, will set you back $17. Excellent bread, by the way, and some fine house-made pickled vegetable spears.
Back to the Bonal, then, whose lush, woodsy notes made a fine foil for the most assertive of the three cheeses that came on the sampler plate: a blue from Willapa Hills outside Chehalis, made from a blend of cow and sheep’s milk. (You can buy half a cow, if you like, for less than $1,000.) The two other cheeses, a Manchego from Spain and a cheddar-style made with goat and sheep’s milk, were fine though they obviously lacked the salty tang of the blue.
Schock and Dave were looking to expand; a year ago, they were rumored to be taking over the Madrona Ale House, 1138 34th Avenue, but instead settled on a downtown spot at 720 Olive Way, which they named Mr. West. An eclectic approach to food and drink, serving breakfast and lunch, with a similarly thoughtful approach to wine and wine-based cocktails.
Was there anything I didn’t like about Bottlehouse? Only one: no swizzle stick in the aperitif glass.
And hey, before we leave Madrona, let’s poke our heads into East Anchor Seafood, just down the street at 1126 34th Avenue. They opened back in March, and are expanding their menu: latest is a poke bowl made with fresh ahi tuna, pickled cucumber, avocado, edamame, seaweed salad, sriracha, and rice.
Ronald Holden writes about restaurants for Pacific Publishing. His next book, Forking Seattle, comes out this fall.