We are relatively new to the Seattle area, having retired to Gig Harbor two years ago. We love living by the water in Gig Harbor, but sadly, the town and environs (including Tacoma) are in dire need of an upgrade when it comes to quality dining. So we find ourselves driving to Seattle for a fix more often than not. In that context, we still have much to learn (although we have tried enough of Seattle's better restaurants to appreciate how far the city has come, save for Asian food). That said, after some ten visits, my wife and I are convinced that very special things are happening at Nathan Lockwood's Altura.
For starters we like the room and the buzz, which are driven in great part by the fact that all the action is right in front of clients in Altura's fully open kitchen. When there are just one or two of us, we invariably sit at the kitchen bar, so that we can watch Lockwood's brigade put together the chef's menus. And we like talking to the line cooks -- and to Lockwood, when he is not otherwise occupied. He is an interesting, unpretentious guy, who cooked before in California, but has local Seattle roots.
The restaurant has invested wisely in its wine list, where the emphasis is on well chosen and reasonably prices reds, mostly from Italy. And the senior front of the house staff has a deep understanding of the cellar. One can rely on staff recommendations, without fear of being led only to the more expensive bottles.
Altura offers a long tasting menu, but we rarely have the stamina for that sort of thing and instead always have chosen from Lockwood's three or four course menu option (there is no a la carte menu as such). Following this approach, we have tasted perhaps 30 different savory items and a number of desserts. Virtually every plate we've tasted has been successful, especially the first courses and mains (I have respect for the second course pastas at Altura, but at times they can seem a bit over-sauced, which grates a bit on my Italian bias for more starch and less fuss). So much is striking about what Altura offers: the attention to little details (great bread, olive oil, excellent amuses bouche) fantastic ingredients (lamb, beef, rabbit, venison, heirloom vegetables) that most often are sourced from local, artisanal producers (and taste like it); the creativity and intensity of Lockwood's preparations (he told me the last time we visited that the rabbit I had ordered, which was prepared five or six different ways, took three chef six hours to prepare for the expected orders over the restaurant's five day week) and the beauty of the presentations. And best of all, Lockwood and team seem to to love what they are doing and can be expected to grow in the diversity of what they cook.
So if Altura has not made it to your short list, go (and report back).