A Lofty Life - Kirkland, Washington's bin vivant


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Chef Lisa Nakamura

Photo: Karen Loftus

Sommelier Dawn Smith

I couldn’t wait to see what was in store at bin vivant. It’s no wonder they are making magic at this provocative new spot at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland, just outside of Seattle, Wash., with two inspired women at the helm. Chef Lisa Nakamura, hailing from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa, Calif. and a few global spots in between, and Dawn Smith, the long running sommelier at Canlis, often touted as Seattle’s best restaurant, are clearly changing the way we approach food and wine.

Rather than planning the meal first and pairing after the fact, the ladies at bin vivant let the wine lead the way. Once the pours are put in place, the food is then carefuly paired with it. Smith knows her stuff and she makes the process playful, so bin vivant is for both the serious wine connoisseur and wine lovers of all levels. 

Nakamura has lived in many ports in between her home in Hawaii and her recent return to Seattle. From Korea to Germany to France, her many global influences make their way onto the plate, all the while adhering to the seasonal sensibilities that are fundamental to many of Seattle's celebrated spots. Harvest was the theme for the local cuisine served when I visited, and it played a prominent role on the bin vivant menu as well.

The lovely and approachable Nakamura talked about the meticulousness of the menu planning process, saying that something as simple as an asparagus can throw the entire plate off. My friend and I took her suggestions and started with her caramelized scallops and the sweet potato gnocchi made with brie cheese, chestnuts and white truffle oil, which knocked us off our culinary feet. Each dish has the suggested pairings. For instance, the scallops' suggested pair was Not Quite Sweet. Look left on your menu and there are three whites in Not Quite Sweet category to choose from, a riesling, a pinot gris and a clos du breuill.

The gnocchi’s pairs were Fruit and Cream, three different chardonnays. You can choose one of the suggested three or go for the full flight (of three), which I strongly suggest. You will be hard pressed to find a better wine by the glass menu anywhere. Many Seattle-based restaurants celebrate the local wineries in Washington and the Pacific Northwest. Smith points her cork in the local direction, too, but is not limited to local only. She is well known for having one of the best international wine lists in the city. One of the boons in the restaurant is an air-tight system that can keep a wine fresh for a 30-day period, versus other restaurants that may uncork and continue to pour days later, a pet peeve of mine. So, each individual glass here is as fresh as if it was just opened for your consumption.

For our main, we had the sautéed Hawaiian sunfish paired with Fruit and Cream (a nod to Nakamura’s Hawaiian roots) a part of the seasonal influence with its roasted venison with pumpkin speatzle paired with Earthy Goodness (a rich group of sultry reds, a les sinard from Chateauneuf du Pape, an Italian valpolicella and a Spanish solanes) and red wine chocolate demi. These harvest driven dishes were our favorite by far.

As we gazed at the view of Lake Washington, my friend and I finished off our culinary adventure with a final trio of autumn gelato for our dessert, perfectly paired with our evening’s bliss.

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