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Fear No Fun

In the competitive restaurant world of Seattle, fun can be a buzzkill. A serious façade—spare interior; impeccably groomed servers knowledgeable about the provenance of every ingredient: tiny, sober portions on big white plates—is shorthand for high quality. Playfulness connotes something less sophisticated, more Dave & Buster’s-ish.

Which is how Trove, a new, experimental restaurant on Capitol Hill, veers in a new direction. Like a Shibuya-based Archie McPhee crossed with an artisanal food court, Trove aspires to youthful energy and pop novelty in its dishes and décor. Its massive, corner location at Pike and Summit houses four separate service zones, each dedicated to a different type of Korean fusion food, with a hands-on, roast-your-own barbecue component as the pièce de résistance. The whole place is operated by the husband-wife chef-restaurateur duo behind Joule and Revel, restaurants known for presenting thoughtful Korean fusion in funky, convivial spaces.

At the front of Trove, a vintage ice cream truck peddles parfaits from a walk-up window; immediately inside is a noodle bar lined with giant windows on one side and a fast-paced, white-walled open kitchen on the other. Beyond that, a dark-wood barroom offers a few tables and a 10-stooled bar opposite a neon diorama of an exploding volcano. The main dining area dominates the back half of the space, with most of the tables centerpieced by a gas grill. Here the cherry-red ceiling nearly throbs like a vital organ, ducted and trussed. Iggy Azalea and Biggie Smalls pump from the PA. Young drinkers and diners, a panoply of ethnicities and fashion styles, shuffle through the Technicolor dreamscape space gawping like tourists.

“Am I allowed to walk around with my drink?” a woman asked the bartender. (Yes, he said, but not in the noodle bar. Because…?)

On a recent Sunday evening—a week after Trove opened, not enough time to eliminate the kinks from such an unconventional concept—I drank a well-made old fashioned, named a “Tacoma fashioned” and mixed with “Rainier syrup” that I didn’t taste, as well as a buttery pilsner from an Eastern Washington brewery I’d never heard of.

The barbecue menu isn’t available at the bar, only noodles—another head-scratcher. I lingered over a robust, savory bowl of fennel noodles, manila clams and five-spice sausage that was inexplicably served in a paper bowl. Exquisite as the dish was, it deserved a more substantive vessel.

“It’s biodegradable,” the bartender explained, and great for takeout. And yet the parfait—the item most conducive to takeout—comes in a glass jar that’s “yours to keep.” Or smash on the sidewalk after you walk outside. Glass takeout is a questionable stylistic decision.

As a practical dining experience, Trove is pretty far out, demanding a lot of flexibility from diners—an ambition that’s provocative in its own right. It rewards with delicious, innovative fare in an involving, intriguing environment—reason enough to go back.

Photo from Trove's Facebook page.

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