Monday, February 13, 2012

Seattle's Amber Den

When I moved to Seattle a year ago, I started one of the most important albeit difficult parts of relocating:  finding a new neighborhood haunt.

You know, the type of place to go for a quick drink on a Friday night.  The type of place to plop at a table with the laptop on a Sunday afternoon and write a blog post.  The type of place where you go pound down a few after a really tough day at work.  The closer to home the better.

It takes a special environment to fulfill these stringent requirements and diverse purposes.  In Corvallis, we were blessed with Block 15 Brewpub and my debit card statement is evidence of just how much time I spent there.

The neighborhood I live in, Ballard, has hundreds of eateries and drinkeries.  I've found many fantastic standbys, but nothing that just had that feel yet.  A few months ago, when walking home from the farmers market, I passed by a defunct coffee shop at 17th Ave NW and NW 56th Street and saw an intriguing sign:  Coming Soon:  The Amber Den.  Wine.  Beer.  Food.   Well hell, I like all of those things.  Even better?  It's close.  An elevator ride an 325 feet of walking close.  I was excited.  Could it new place?

The Amber Den opened the first week of February, and I was itching to check it out.  Last Friday, I grabbed a few friends and we made the hike.

About Amber Den

According to various online features quoting owner Nick Simonton, The Amber Den seeks to fill a missing niche in the Ballard culinary scene:  a good neighborhood corner hangout.  Seeking to be accessible, unpretentious, warm and cozy, the Den seems like our kind of place.

The Amber Den is split into an upper floor seating area and a downstairs area, with a bar anchoring the middle of the room as you walk in the door.  Most of the tables I observed were 2 or 3 top bistro style tables, although there were some larger seating spaces as well as some very comfortable looking soft seating tucked into some of the window nooks.  Four wall-mounted wine racks are prominently displayed next to the bar.  

Comfortable and cozy?  Check.

The Wine

The list presented a combination of Northwest and import wines at a variety of price points.  With approximately 10 selections by-the-bottle and 4 wines offered by the glass, I selected a glass of the 2009 Proletariat Wine Company Bordeaux Blend to get started. 

As the establishment continues to grow and evolve, I hope to see a bit larger glass pour selection and an expanded Northwest inventory.  With time...
The Beer

Three beers on tap and five bottled selection offered a nice selection as I transitioned to beer for my second drink of the evening.  I was quite pleased that all three draught beers were from the Puget Sound area, a Maritime Pacific Imperial Pale Ale won me over and left me feeling warm and toasty.

They also had hard cider available.  

The Food

Featuring a number of appetizers and small plates, we ordered a number of items to get a sense of the fare:
  • Meat and Cheese Plate
  • Albondigas (Meatballs)
  • Ciliegina (Cheese Balls)
  • Garlic Shrimp
  • Short Ribs
For our group, the garlic shrimp were spot on and the clear winner.  Featuring a taste of Chorizo, garlic, and a light sauce, they were delicious.   The meatballs, cheese balls, and short ribs were fine but nothing to write home about.

While not necessarily appropriate for a full-on dinner, the menu offers some great snacks to pair with your drink of choice.

General Observations

All in all, I was satisfied with my Amber Den experience and believe they have a ton of promise.  With only two weeks under their belt, there are definitely some areas of improvement to be had but nothing that is a show-stopper or unexpected for a brand-new establisment.

A a true neighborhood hangout, the Amber Den blends a number of genres.  It's not a brewpub, not a wine bar, and not a restaurant -- and you won't see the depth in any of those specific areas that you might at a specialty establishment.  I think that very wise on the part of the owners, and I'll be interested to see if the market drives them in any particular direction as the identity becomes more established.

I may have found my new neighborhood haunt.

The Amber Den on Urbanspoon


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