As counterintuitive as it may seem, several restaurants in a cluster tend to generate more business for everyone rather than stealing customers from each other. Funny how that works.
Joule, which moved from its original location in Wallingford, and The Whale Wins joined the shared-space crowd in October, coexisting on the first floor of an airy converted warehouse coined the Fremont Collective. The two restaurants couldn’t look or feel less alike. Imagine the proverbial devil and angel on either shoulder.
Joule is the devil: dim, shadowy, sexy. As if to drive home the point, a fire pit blazes outside on the patio and cocktail sippers take full advantage. In its Wallingford incarnation, the bookish interior of Joule hardly hinted at the wildly good, radically original dishes that chefs and owners Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi were putting out. That mismatch of fiery food in a subdued setting had its charms. But, like a child star outgrowing her pigtails, the new Joule has dropped the shy façade. It also has a broader appeal. There’s an entire section of the menu devoted to steaks (the best is a tenderloin with funky preserved tofu and fried shallots on top; $19), although the short rib with grilled kimchi is another delicious choice ($18), as are several takes on vegetables, such as gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with walnut pesto ($9) and potatoes roasted in miso brown butter ($9).
With chefs this talented, it’s worth pushing outside your comfort zone. Order the toast with smoked bone marrow and oyster butter ($6), which will knock your eyes into the back of your head. Also go for the mackerel and its arresting green curry cilantro sauce ($17). Get two orders of the rice cakes (chewy, like mochi) in a seductive Korean chili sauce with hunks of chorizo strewn throughout, because it’ll be your new favorite dish ($12).
And then there’s the angel. The Whale Wins, across the shared entrance hall from Joule, echoes owner Renéee Erickson’s aesthetic at the Boat Street Café and The Walrus and the Carpenter: pristine white on white, with nooks carved into the tiled walls for displaying stacks of round logs destined for the wood-burning oven. Look up and you’ll see that even the lights are playing friendly: They spell out “hello” backward and forward.
Servers in pressed navy-and-white pinstripe aprons prance around the room, happily suggesting a rosé to pair with your roasted half-chicken. The Whale Wins is at its best during the day, when it’s nice to share the grilled toast with curried tomato paste and grilled sardines under a tangle of crisp fennel ($8), the radicchio in buttermilk-poppy seed dressing with toasted hazelnuts ($12), and clams roasted and served in a sublime cream infused with thyme and lemon ($12 and $20).
Come evening, the charms of the restaurant suffer a bit because most of the dishes are served at room temperature. Room-temperature food seems more appropriate at lunchtime; in the evening, the plates of roasted vegetables and even the beef tenderloin seem a little less special when they aren’t rushed to the table while warm. The few dishes cooked in the oven and served hot—such as a tender hunk of pork roasted with apples, onions and mustard ($14 and $20) or trout with a marvelous walnut sauce singing with lemon zest ($16)—are the dishes I’ll remember most. With the wood-fired oven in full view, I wanted more of the food to carry a whisper of wood smoke to the table. Very few did.
Still, there’s something very smart about the yin-and-yang approach the two restaurateurs have taken here. No matter which shoulder you incline your head toward, something tasty awaits.
3506 Stone Way N., Seattle. Joule, dinner daily and weekend brunch (10 a.m.–2 p.m.); 206.632.5685, joulerestaurant.com. The Whale Wins, lunch and dinner Wednesday–Sunday; 206.632.9425, thewhalewins.com.