Does "contemporary new American" mean anything? That’s the question we ask ourselves every time we see yet another restaurant with quince on the menu and servers repeating “locally sourced seasonal produce” 47 times per night. Atoma does this too—although they use the term “bountiful offerings of our surroundings.”
But unlike the million other upscale Seattle restaurants with an alleged dedication to PNW produce, Atoma walks the walk. Sure, you’ll see some usual suspects like sturgeon and beef tartare on the menu, but inside this contemporary New American restaurant, there’s vegetable-based excellence happening.
Atoma is inside an old Wallingford house, and it still looks like one. So don’t expect white tablecloths while speaking in a whisper here. Between the clinking-clanking open kitchen, groups toasting with miniature martinis, and those echoey ol’ craftsman acoustics, this dimly lit dining room with a forest green paint job buzzes with energy by 7pm. Which is a perfect setting to scarf down a bunch of vegetable dishes that make us want to be anything but silent.
A non-negotiable order is the lion’s mane schnitzel. This fried mushroom slab takes on the properties of pork, pounded down into cutlet form with a silky fennel caper sauce and a salt-flecked crust. Roasted sunchokes have a home fry-like crunch, drizzled with peppery aioli and tart preserved lemon jam. And grey ghost squash cooked three ways (tempura-battered, roasted, and pickled) with pepita salsa macha is a fun mix of textures that has us architecturally engineering bites to include the whole trio.
As great as the vegetable dishes are, just don’t bother with the carnivorous plates. Black cod is underseasoned, and the bitter tatsoi can’t save it. You’ll also want to pass on the too-chewy pork collar accompanied by chunks of braised fennel, quince jam, and pickled chanterelles strewn in that add an abrupt acidity the dish just doesn't need. Except for a tasty radish cake that features tiny slices of sweet geoduck, the proteins pale compared to the plant-based stuff.
Atoma is luxurious enough to warrant celebrating a special occasion. They have a price tag to prove it. But don't keep this place in your restaurant arsenal for just anyone. Bring people who can appreciate all of the spectacular things Atoma does with stuff that grows from the ground.
Atoma's menu changes often, but here's a snapshot of what you might see.
This savory wafer is piped with creamy farmer's cheese and onion jam, which tastes like a sour cream and onion chip meant to snack on during a coronation instead of a football game. It’s light, crisp, and a great way to start the meal. Just know that each order only comes with one piece.
The radish cake also comes as a single order, but it’s worth nabbing one for every person at the table. This spongy, dense square is topped with a rich clam belly aioli, slices of fermented radish that add color and freshness, and microscopic pieces of geoduck that look like they’ve been sliced using a scalpel. The whole thing is soft and chewy with bright herby bites.
If you’re looking for free table bread at Atoma, you won't find it. What you will find are the best sourdough crumpets we’ve ever eaten. Our only wish is for more koji butter and funky fermented garlic honey to spread on these spongy beauties.
Skip this very chewy piece of pork with a dollop of quince jam, braised fennel, and pickled chanterelles. The components just don’t work well in this dish, and you’ll spend more time trying to pick at them separately than enjoying them all together in one bite.
Lion’s Mane Schnitzel
We would crawl back to this Wallingford house if it meant experiencing this mushroom cutlet (that tastes exactly like salty-crispy edges of a fried pork chop) again for the first time. Order it and be prepared to think about it every day from now on.
In true fine dining fashion, sunchokes are bound to be on the menu here—and this fried version rules. The preserved lemon jam at the bottom of the dish can get very salty, so make sure to give the whole dish a good stir.
This dish is the one instance where all the fancy vegetables dont really get along. The earthy carrot cake bottom on this baked Alaska is fine, but the parsnip and fennel ice cream on top is filled with ice crystals that make eating vegetable-based ice cream even worse than it sounds.