The separate undertakings of gardening and opening a restaurant can often parallel. Both physical labors of love, sowing a seed in a particular site doesn’t guarantee success, be it a specific microclimate or a popular city block. The cultivator must know the land, the area in which they put down roots, in order to thrive and survive.
And so goes the narrative behind Seattle’s Copine, the young and lauded North Ballard restaurant, a tale of the little herb that could. According to the establishment’s lore, for years Chef Shaun McCrain and Jill Kinney — his wife, business partner general manager — had been attempting to grow the Sweet Cicely herb, a slightly fickle crop that did not want to yield although all horticulture signs pointed to it flourishing in the Seattle area. When the couple was at the now-shuttered Book Bindery, Sweet Cicely would still not prosper, but once they began plotting the concept of Copine (pronounced ko-peen), the herb bloomed with vigor and sealed their fate. Today, that same Sweet Cicely patch (and then some) supplies its leaves to the restaurant’s bread and butter plate, an homage to the gardening path that got them to Copine today.
Beyond the herbs and romantic anecdote, McCrain and Kinney have developed a restaurant atmosphere and menu that is equally utopian, based on French technique and Pacific Northwest ingredients. The partially subterranean dining room reveals exposed concrete of the modern building it sits in, with contemporary furnishings like modestly adorned bookshelves, tall armoires, slotted wood ceilings and a broad, multicolored reclaimed wood host stand, all turning a potentially sterile vibe into a cozier, homier setting. Fine dining by nature — another restaurant crop that does not particularly flourish in Seattle — the warm and welcoming staff, abutting the unpretentious and inviting environs, provide the nurturing a young restaurant needs.
Classical methods lead to striking presentations across the menu, from the lime gastrique-topped ahi tuna crudo to the house-smoked pork belly with peach compote and the pithiviers de canard (duck-filled puff pastry “pie”).
On a recent visit via the Chef’s Tasting Menu — a splurge worth diving into — enough food was plated to feed a small village of affluent Francophiles. An imaginative and delightful trio of amuse–bouche included a lightly fried “salmon ball” topped with roe, a terrarium-enclosed Dungeness crab-cucumber-radish salad (with an edible succulent in tow) and a decadent egg custard served in its shell with a brioche “bread stick.” Five more courses followed: a sweet-fresh heirloom tomato salad with bites of falafel and charred pepper romesco, unctuous house-made lobster ravioli topped with steaming consommé, flawlessly grilled and impossibly tender Akaushi Waygu beef cap, a mound of Kurtwood Farm’s Camembert-style Dinah’s Cheese served with fig butter and, finally, a kaffir lime panna cotta dolloped with semi-sweet and refreshing coconut sorbet.
Beverage director Ruven Muñoz thoughtfully paired wines — like a grower Champagne exclusively purchased in the country by Copine and a savory Valpolicella Ripasso — with dishes, and does so on a nightly basis when he isn’t behind the bar shaking up new, locally foraged twists on classic libations.
McCrain scooped up a 2017 James Beard Award semi-finalist nod for Best Chef Northwest, while the restaurant has been showered with compliments since it opened its doors in July 2016, most recently including a worthy position in Seattle Magazine‘s “9 Best New Restaurants in Seattle.” Copine also touts a “Food To Take” retail section as guests head back toward the door, with a selection of curated items rotating from duck confit dog biscuits to house pickles and potted foie gras.
It’s easy to comprehend the restaurant’s sweet narrative and expanding collection of accolades with a full belly, especially the tale of fate met tastefully on the plate.