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Originally published Friday, June 15, 2012 at 5:32 AM

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Restaurant review

Skelly and the Bean: creativity from construction to the kitchen

Skelly and the Bean is the epitome of community, with supporters helping get the restaurant off the ground, a Wall of Love that thanks boosters and a locally sourced menu.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

"Ham and Eggs" $8
NW Salad $11
Burger $15
Half Chicken $24
Grilled Pork Chop $26

Skelly and the Bean

2 stars

Contemporary American

2359 10th Ave. E., Seattle

206-328-2326

www.skellyandthebean.com

Reservations: Accepted

Hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Prices: $$$ (starters $7-$12, mains $15-$26)

Drinks: Cocktails, local beers, Northwest/California/European wine list

Parking: On street

Sound: Moderate to loud

Who should go: If you live in the 'hood, come for a cocktail, stay for dinner; expect surprises from a menu as changeable as the Northwest weather.

Credit cards: Visa/MC

Access: No obstacles

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Few restaurants have a backstory as heartwarming as Zephyr Paquette's Skelly and the Bean.

This might be her first solo venture as an owner/chef, but Paquette is hardly going it alone. For starters, there are the restaurant's namesakes: young Skelly and his sister, Bean, who supplied early encouragement and the first few dollars of seed money — most of it in coins. Other small investors soon followed (and continue to do so). Those who contribute at least a grand become members entitled to guaranteed seating and a monthly food credit of $125.

Numerous friends and supporters donated energy, expertise and time. They painted and paneled, scavenged for equipment and scrounged for furnishings. The cheery Capitol Hill dining room, filled with mismatched tables and chairs from many eras, looks a little like a Goodwill showroom.

Paquette thanks her many boosters on the "Wall of Love." She also found another way of giving back: On Monday and Tuesday nights, her kitchen becomes the equivalent of an improv stage for budding cooks who want to sharpen their game.

Paquette's own menu, offered Wednesdays through Sundays, has an extemporaneous quality, too, committed as it is to locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Alongside the Wall of Love, a chalkboard lists items eligible for a dish dubbed "Three-way on the Side." Diners choose a trio of sides from a roster that is mostly vegetables (broccoli raab, pea vines and braised greens recently among them), but also legumes and starches, including a silver pail of Petit Paquets, the chef's first-rate rendition of tater tots.

As that chalkboard attests, this place is a produce paradise. Pickled vegetables are part of the gratis bread-and-butter service. A salad might feature fiddleheads or beet greens. Recent specials showcased asparagus wrapped in lardo, and grilled garlic buds with a sharp, green herb sauce. Both plates had an intriguing splash of vanilla oil, and both were paired with cheese: Kurtwood Farm's camem-brie-ish Dinah's cheese veiled in radish slices with the garlic; ripe tellegio dotted with bits of orange zest with the asparagus.

Those plates showed Paquette at her freewheeling best. She takes chances that sometimes work, but sometimes don't. I love her witty take on "ham and eggs": warm slices of ham cupping whole deviled eggs erupting with creamy filling. A brawny T-bone pork chop was boldly charred, juicy and tender to the bone. But halibut steak was overcooked and served over lackluster lentils enlivened somewhat by sweet Muscat grapes.

Risotto lacked finesse, and it, too, was bland, despite nuggets of savory rabbit sausage and a plethora of vegetables, including nettles and radish. I found a pinch of sea salt from a wooden bowl at the table was often helpful.

Half a chicken from Stokesberry Farm, a regular on the menu, is prepared numerous ways. I had it roasted with pungent sage sausage stuffed under the skin of the breast. That didn't prevent either the white meat or the sausage from drying out, but the leg and thigh were exquisite, as were the accompaniments: braised greens and tiny white and purple potatoes in a saffron-spinach sauce.

Pastry chef Kathleen Callahan shows her own imaginative streak. Grapefruit subtly flavored an elegant vanilla layer cake and its buttercream frosting, served with a mint-flecked grapefruit compote on the side. The marvelous "buttered scotch" pudding spiked with a wee bit of Oban's was Paquette's idea, but Callahan added the rolled snickerdoodle cookie that pokes from it like a fat cigar.

A smooth veteran leads the front of the house: Jef Fike, whose bistro Cassis once occupied these premises. Large groups frequently fill the dining room, possibly enthusiastic investors spending their dining credits. It can put the kitchen under duress.

One night, after a meal gone particularly awry, I saw Paquette through the kitchen pass-through visibly sag; her shoulders slumped, her ball-capped head bowed. It may have been relief or discouragement — but I'm sure it wasn't an admission of defeat. There's a pluckiness about Skelly and the Bean that I admire. If you're in the neighborhood, give it try.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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