At Columbia City’s Off Alley, a punk rock mentality and no-rules cooking take center stage
Evan Leichtling started listening to punk rock at the age of 12, a self-proclaimed “weird kid” who felt isolated growing up on Whidbey Island. As he began his training to become a chef — at culinary school and fine dining Seattle restaurants like Lark — Leichtling spent his weekends getting tattoos and hanging out in colorful clothes at local venues like the Funhouse and the Lava Lounge. “The little punk rock community embraced me with all my weirdness,” he says.
Although Leichtling loved the creativity involved in the kitchen, he often felt trapped by dress codes, white tablecloths, jazz music, pretentiousness, and the separation between waiters, waiters, and patrons. which he saw in many restaurants where he worked.
Meanwhile, Meghna Prakash had spent most of her life in India training to become a lawyer, but was unhappy with her busy lifestyle. She moved to Paris on a whim, thinking, “That must be better than working stupid corporate hours at a law firm in Mumbai.” The experience of moving abroad boosted her confidence and fueled her obsession with food and wine, she says.
The two met in Paris in 2014 while Leichtling was traveling through Europe before his stint at Akelarre, a three-star Michelin restaurant in San Sebastián, Spain. They started dating when Leichtling moved to Paris to work at another restaurant and, in 2019, returned to Seattle to host pop-ups together under the name Fowl and Offal – with the intention still being to their kind of restaurant.
Off Alley, the 14-seat restaurant and natural wine bar the now-married couple opened last summer, is a rejection of all the rules by which the couple felt limited in their respective careers. Instead of the typical American style of service that tries to offer something for every type of customer, Leichtling cooks what it wants, and Prakash – who handles the service and wine side of the operation – speaks to customers without deference. , all with the aim of removing the pretentious aspects of eating well and creating a more egalitarian service atmosphere. “You entered our house; now hang out and enjoy,” Prakash says.
On a night out at the restaurant – a narrow, remodeled brick alley with the kitchen at the back and the dining room, a narrow counter along one wall, at the front – diners munch on bites like grilled quail with nettles or fried pig’s head with cherry preserves as he was engulfed in thunderous punk rock, loud conversations between strangers and shouted communications between service staff and cooks. The scene is pure chaos, and that’s the point: Leichtling says all these “strange things are happening at the same time as [customers] don’t really understand” are a deliberate attempt to confuse diners and help them let their guard down, to create an environment that is no different from the inclusive punk environments in which he flourished as a young man.
“I grew up in these fun, noisy environments without a lot of rules and shackles in place,” he says. This same philosophy is tied to the menus, which Leichtling writes daily on a blackboard posted on an Instagram account with more than 1,000 followers, and Prakash’s wine list.
While many American restaurants are careful to meet dietary restrictions, always including a good survey of vegetable, meat and fish dishes, Leichtling simply cooks the best local ingredients he can find in an instant, without cumbersome handling. (no meat gels or vegetable mousses). here), usually in a French or Spanish style. Thus, nine out of 12 dishes in a winter menu could be meat, since the green vegetables are not yet out of the ground, while a summer menu could be richer in vegetables. Although the portions are large enough to share, the entire menu can work as a cohesive tasting menu for a group. Dishes are served while supplies last, then cleared from the board.
This approach also helps Leichtling introduce customers to foods they haven’t tried yet, like animal offal (a hidden word in the restaurant’s name) and underutilized fish species, like kinki, a local species of rockfish popular among chefs in Japan but rarely seen on menus in Seattle.
Likewise, Prakash’s hand-written wine list focuses on the kind of low-intervention wines she and Leichtling fell in love with while drinking in laid-back bistros in Paris, normally from small, little-known winemakers.
The couple say they have no plans to expand the restaurant or change restaurants in the future. “It’s not a water lily,” says Leichtling. “I am who I am. If you don’t like it, fuck it, I don’t care.
Off Alley is located at 4903 Rainier Avenue South.