SNOHOMISH — One of our area’s best fine dining destinations is easy to miss.
No sign marks this tiny downtown Snohomish restaurant. You’ll know it’s a restaurant only if you glimpse wine glasses and white cloth-lined tables — at least when the window curtains are drawn.
In fact, I initially walked right past The Chef Behind the Curtain, Joel Childs’ celebration of Pacific Northwest ingredients with European culinary influences, before backing up and heading inside.
Despite its inconspicuous facade, Childs’ restaurant is mostly booked out for the next several weeks, and with good reason.
The Chef Behind the Curtain is a place to be razzled and dazzled, whether you come in by yourself, with your spouse or a group of friends. The experience is on the plate in front of you, in learning how this wine pairs with that dish, of falling in love with something you’d never tried before.
On Childs’ summer menu are aged duck ragu, handmade pappardelle, pepper chimichurri-laden branzino, pork belly, braised mushrooms, colorful purees and oils and glazes artfully dolloped on each plate. Edible architecture. Snohomish’s best-kept secret truly captures the saying, “Eat with your eyes.”
“Your moment here, from the beginning to the end, should be something special,” co-owner Bex Woolman said. “That connection, of what food and beverage can do in the way it brings people to a better place, that’s what’s so special.”
I can tell you what you won’t find at The Chef Behind the Curtain: A year-round menu, out-of-season produce and a check that could rival the average Seattle rent.
“We want to make fine dining affordable for everyone,” Childs said. For $55, each guest is served an appetizer, entrée and dessert. You can even buy a bottle of wine for around $20.
Last Thursday marked the opening dinner for Childs’ summer prix fixe menu. I found the Belfast-born chef inside a warm kitchen, tweaking dishes he’d dreamed up just the week before: pistachio crème brûlée, fat tomato slices charred with vanilla and lime, asparagus salad with briny sea beans and burrata. A garden of herbs sat behind him.
“We wanted to attract people that love change in food,” Childs said. “How do I keep people coming back? I keep changing my menu.”
The chef is more than willing to accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences. The menu bends to the will of the seasons, allowing guests to taste what grows around them in the present. That means sustainably-sourced corn, tomato, melon and strawberries for the next few months.
“America is just this melting pot of amazing cuisine and food,” said Childs, who moved to the U.S. from England in 2017. “It has access to some of the best ingredients in the world, grown right here.”
Childs keeps a sharp eye on local, healthy ingredients that support the surrounding community. Or — in his words — he’s “the weird guy smelling all the veggies” at Haggen.
This is not the snooty Hollywood version of fine dining. You won’t struggle over which utensil to use, or feel stupid for not knowing how to pronounce mille-feuille (it’s “mil-foy”, by the way. Childs currently serves this French pastry with strawberry, white chocolate, lavender and basil).
The Chef Behind The Curtain opened in February 2021. Holding only 10 seats, the tiny restaurant served as a calming respite from the pandemic. It has maintained that relaxed intimacy ever since.
“If you don’t want to be in a rush, we’re the best place for you,” Childs said.
The Chef’s success is further proof that Snohomish County is fast becoming a culinary destination, where people can go to explore food, not just order the same meat-and-potatoes dish every time they eat out. (Both are valid, respectable and equally delicious options, by the way. But therein lies the key word: options.)
Childs initially opened his restaurant to give Snohomish County residents a fine dining experience without having to travel to Seattle.
But one customer, who called The Chef “perfect for a date night,” ended his review with this:
“We made the drive from Seattle and will be doing so again in the future.”
The Chef Behind the Curtain
113 Ave. C, Snohomish
Hours: 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday
Pricing: The prix fixe menu is $55 per person and includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert. Wine pairings are available for an additional cost. Most wines cost between $18 and $40 per bottle, with more expensive offerings.
The Chef Behind The Curtain is reservation-only. To make one, go to www.exploretock.com/thechefbehindthecurtain.