Best Restaurants 2006
COMPILING A BEST RESTAURANTS ISSUE in Seattle is a little like trying to choose the best water in Puget Sound: There’s a stunning lot to choose from. And best…for what? For one diner “best” might mean the newest “It” restaurant to open in the last year; for another, it might mean one of our enduring classics. On one night “best” might signify a great place to take the kiddies, while on a very different night it might mean the place to go for an odyssey through one great chef’s unique vision. Sometimes “best” means food from around the world. Sometimes it means a place pulsating with Seattle’s unique urban vibe.
And so we’ve chosen 30 of the finest, divided into the same categories you use in choosing restaurants, each entry loaded with the kind of insider tips you won’t get off the restaurant’s Web site. In choosing we used the following recipe: Take one restaurant critic seasoned with two decades’ experience reviewing Seattle restaurants. Sprinkle with the input of trusted informants far and wide. Marinate in many, many, many dining rooms for the better part of a year. Let simmer. Puree in word processor for, oh, three months—and voila!
Since any restaurant is only as good as its staff, we highlight some of the best of Seattle’s restaurant personnel and assemble a Dream Team so fine, it’s enough to make a diner lay awake nights salivating over the restaurant they could create. Think fantasy baseball—for restaurant geeks. Then turn to our Trend of the Year nomination to discover that the latest fashion in restaurants is something that could actually put an end to the restaurant as we know it. (And no—it’s not that buzz kill of a raw–food disclaimer the state now mandates on every menu.)
The message? Quick—now’s the time to visit Seattle’s great restaurants! Lucky thing you’ve got your guide!
Best New Restaurants
928 12th Ave, Capitol Hill | 206-325-6947 www.licorous.com
Never have Seattle foodies so eagerly awaited the opening of a bar. That’s because Licorous, which means “tempting the appetite,” is really a culinary destination in the guise of a snazzy cocktail salon. Owner–chef Johnathan Sundstrom launched the gauzy mauve–and–persimmon spot as a holding pen for the overflow from his perpetually slammed Lark two doors down, but his fastidious attention to the menu of small–plate noshes—bison tartine with huckleberries, Maine scallops over lemon cucumbers, richly nutty financier cakes lasciviously drenched in brown butter—vaults the food well out of the realm of cocktail ballast.
Order up! Though you can throw a cocktail onion in this town and hit a mixologist, the Licorous menu’s list of food–cocktail pairings is still a rare wonderment around here. In one seasonal pairing we savored the citrussy gin cocktail Langue du Chat along with Sundstrom’s signature rabbit leg confit and corona bean–lemon salad; a cocktail called the Lark (prosecco with grapefruit and Campari) arrived with a little dish of white Saturn peach slices. Perfect.
Prime time Seats are plentiful, tables fewer. If you’re coming for dinner best to arrive right at 6pm when it opens.
Pssssst Though two separate concerns, Lark and Licorous operate as a seamless entity when you’re waiting in one for dinner in the other. The kindly staff from either will fetch you personally off your barstool to escort you down the street to your table.
But… Platefuls may be considerably smaller than your appetite.
1423 34th Ave, Madrona
| 206-322-14600 www.cremantseattle.com
Traditional as butter, classic to its roasted–marrow bones—Crémant has blessed Madrona with a neighborhood bistro worth moving to the neighborhood for. Paris–trained owner–chef Scott Emerick knows how to gild a roast chicken and compose a perfect moules frites, and he does so with admirable restraint, rigorous consistency, and—sacre bleu!—reasonable prices. All that, along with festive flutes of the sparkling wine they call crémant, rendered this one a classic from the instant it opened.
Order up! Now that it’s wintry out, Emerick’s cram–packed Toulousian cassoulet is back on the menu, presented à table in a Le Creuset casserole.
Prime time After 9pm, when the place fills up with off–duty restaurant folk, you can dessert on Emerick’s specially aged cheese or crispy crème brûlée—and enjoy the best spontaneous shot at a table.
Pssssst It’s not visible from the restaurant, but a private space in the garden out back houses 10 to 18 for private soirees.
But… The bare concrete walls, not exactly a cliché of French elegance, have inspired smart–alecks to lovingly dub the place Cémant.
15015 Main St, Bellevue
An explosion of vivid orange walls and bold Szechuan chilies, this Lake Hills stunner was the best thing to happen east of Lake Washington this year. Chef Cheng Biao Yang came from Seattle’s heralded Seven Stars Pepper, and seemingly brought his entire Chinese–born fan base with him—hence the rapturous Mandarin murmurings that make up the background music in the large, lofty, bamboo–softened space. Diners especially love the vast menu’s seafood dishes and exotic vegetables. Savvy servers deftly manage the ever present crowd.
Order up! Chow mein with hand–shaved noodles; hot pots you cook at the table
Prime time Now. Late autumn through spring is Dungeness season, and the Szechuan crab—a whole Dungeness gloriously spangled with red chilies, green onions, and peanuts—is a fire–breathing masterpiece.
Pssssst Kids under 3 eat free. (Don’t fret—mildness requests almost always penetrate the language barrier.)
But… We’d sure love to have more than two beer selections.
1411 N 45th St, Wallingford| 206-633-0801 www.tilthrestaurant.com
The freshest newcomer in town was open just three weeks as we went to press—and if this is what owner–chef Maria Hines can do in three weeks, we’re seriously breathless to see what she’ll be doing in a year. In Tilth the former Earth & Ocean chef has created Seattle’s most culinarily ambitious, certified organic restaurant, in a cozy Wallingford house brightened with the spring greens and earth tones of new shoots and whole grains. Here farmers and fishers and foragers are exalted like rock stars, their products lovingly crafted into dishes of implausibly intense flavors, by a chef with a bold vision and a fascination with texture.
Order up! Skagit River Ranch’s crispy pork belly; Pete Knutson’s sockeye salmon
Prime time The fresh ingredients and cheerful surroundings evoke lazy weekend mornings. Good thing Hines serves brunch.
Pssssst The wine list isn’t organic—most winemakers add sulfites to stabilize the wines—but it does feature a rich selection of wines made from organically farmed grapes, like Oregon’s Sokol Blosser label.
But… An edible overview like this, of the best of the Pacific Northwest, could put the Space Needle observation deck out of business forever.
555 Aloha St
, Queen Anne| 206-216-0600 www.veilrestaurant.com
The restaurant whose decor out–whites the competition spent the better part of its first year undergoing overhyping—and collecting attendant mixed reviews. But from the vantage point of its first anniversary this month, chef Shannon Galusha is darn near unassailable, flaring the chops he honed at French Laundry in flavor–drenched dishes like caramelly black cod over beets with horseradish cream. His presentations may look precious and overdesigned, but they always taste substantive and intelligent—a fitting parallel of the cool space that becomes warm and festive the longer the evening grows.
Order up! The sake–cassis martini known as “The Veil”; lobster mac ’n’ cheese; housemade salted peanut butter ice cream
Prime time The rule of thumb in this blinding restaurant seems to be the darker the sky, the busier the house. Early evenings and long summer nights allow your pick of tables, but in the dark of midwinter, when rosy lights pink up all the white, the place buzzes like a diner. Perhaps doctors should prescribe regular dinners at Veil for the seasonally depressed.
Pssssst So far the foie–gras protesters that have picketed Crush, Campagne, and Union haven’t targeted Veil—perhaps because Galusha’s new artisan–quality producer, Aubon Canard in Minnesota, is too small to allow anything but spotty availability. If you’re jonesing for the stuff, first call to find out if there’s any in the house. If they have it, run, don’t walk. Galusha’s wicked way with the luscious lobes—lavished with lobster mushrooms, or tarted up with peanut butter and jelly—makes it disappear early.
But… The cool, blanched aesthetic combined with a chill ambient electronic soundtrack leaves some diners, well, cold.
Best Classic Restaurants
2808 E Madison St, Madison Valley| 206-325-7442 www.rovers–seattle.com
Thierry Rautureau’s French cuisine is virtually flawless, his house restaurant special–occasion elegant, and his servers among the most polished in town. So how Rover’s manages unpretentiousness on top of it is one of the finer mysteries of Seattle’s food cosmos. Perhaps it’s because the chef himself, every inch the affable host, meets and greets nightly.
Order up! Unlike other joints with prix–fixe menus, Rover’s is easygoing enough to let diners order à la carte if they’re on a budget. We say break the bank and go the whole eight–course nine–yards, particularly if one of them is his signature scrambled egg with crème fraîche and caviar.
Prime time Evening celebrations are Rover’s raison d’être, which may be why so few know that it’s also open for lunch on Fridays.
Pssssst Vegetarians resigned to French food avoidance can finally enjoy it at Rover’s, in five inspired courses.
But… Purists may snort that Rautureau went Hollywood with his “Chef–in–the–Hat” schtick. Our mouth’s too full of foie gras to comment.
9702 NE 120th Pl, Kirkland| 425-823-1505 www.cafejuanita.com
From the artfully composed plate of varietal breads at the top of the meal to the pastry chef’s gratis parting confection, the finest destination on the Eastside remains a steady stunner of a showcase for owner–chef Holly Smith’s gifts. She’s a chef of the first order, interpreting the cuisine of Northern Italy through the bounty of our own local harvests, from perfect local beets and heirloom tomatoes to Oregon lamb and local Wagyu beef. But she also knows a thing or 10 about the gracious warmth it takes to succeed in the hospitality business.
Order up! Grilled octopus with fennel, chickpeas, and green sauce; rabbit braised in Arneis with Ligurian chickpea crepe, pancetta, and porcini
Prime time Whatever the occasion—from quiet anniversaries to raucous reunions—celebration dinners are always successful here because you are in the hands of the finest service staff in the region.
Pssssst Always a bridesmaid but never a bride when it comes to the prestigious James Beard awards, the twice–nominated Smith has been asked to cook at the James Beard House this spring.
But… Like many of us, the grande dame is showing her age from the exterior. Time for a makeover?
2576 Aurora Ave N, Queen Anne
| 206-283-3313 www.canlis.com
It doesn’t get more classic in Seattle than the third–generation family–owned dinner house grandly surveying the sweep of Lake Union. Every old–school component is in place: Striking midcentury architecture, creamy split–level design, the city’s swankiest piano bar, unassailable service, exalted surf ’n’ turf, lots of Big Cheese regulars who “personally know” Chris Canlis, a recommended dress policy, an award–winning sommelier and matching wine collection (which recently snagged Wine Spectator’s rare highest honor, the Grand Award, for the 10th year running)—and, oh…that view.
*Order up!* Original Canlis Salad; steak tartare
Prime time Want 7:30pm Saturday? Book about four weeks in advance.
Pssssst The only way to drop in without a reservation is to eat in the bar.
But… We’re not complaining, but that famous Canlis valet trick of bringing your car around without a claim check? How do they do that?
14590 NE 145th St, Woodinville| 425-485-5300
Everything you’ve heard about the iconic Pacific Northwest restaurant is true. It’s an epic experience, priced accordingly, with nine–course dinners that are justly world–class. Chef Jerry Traunfeld combines the worldly sophistication of his dazzling palate with a northwesterner’s plain delight in the garden, and the result is a celebration of regional ingredients where a whole lot of sensual pleasure comes with a welcome dollop of instruction.
Order up! Each dinner has a theme, of which the midsummer and autumn lineups—including wild mushrooms in late October and fresh game in November—make particularly fine showcases for Traunfeld’s art.
Prime time Next weekend, anyone? The Herbfarm’s persistent reputation for impenetrability is mostly a holdover from the smaller rooms and limited seatings of earlier incarnations. In its large installation near Woodinville’s Willows Lodge, reservations no longer have to be made months in advance.
Pssssst Before dinner, don’t miss the garden tour—even if it’s raining. After, don’t be a fool: Get a room at the Willows.
But… Don’t commit to five hours here unless you’re truly down with chintz and Louis Quatorze everything. No room in the region so richly gilds the lily.
94 Pike St, Ste 34, Pike Place Market| 206-467-9990
Brilliant executions of Northwest–French haute cuisine served in an enchanting Pike Place Market aerie make for what one could arguably call the most roundly rewarding restaurant experience in town. Sumptuous is the word, to describe both the imaginative classics brought to the table and the impossibly romantic mystique of the room. Add to all this that the place is solid enough to have seamlessly weathered a change of ownership three years ago, thanks in part to longtime servers like the professional’s professional, Nadia Ferrari.
Order up! If you can get your party to agree, the eight–course prix–fixe menu is the way to go. If not, steer into the tarts, the savory Napoleons, or anything from the sea.
Prime time Go Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night when there’s a valet downstairs (near the Market’s information kiosk) to park your car.
Pssssst Want to enjoy more affordable food from the same kitchen? Shea’s Lounge next door is equally romantic, serving casual noshes at about half the price.
But… The view out over Pike Place Market rooftops is more charming than grand. Adjust expectations accordingly.
Best Family Restaurants
Perché No Pasta & Vino
1319 N 49th St, Greenlake| 206-547-0222
It’s only been open a few months, but boasts the kind of pedigree that running starts—and solid performers—are made of. Just like at its lower Counterbalance sibling the housemade pastas are dependable and the owners, the Kongs, jolly as long–lost relatives. Parents should note that the Greenlake branch is about three times bigger and deliberately child–friendly, with a sunny multilevel interior, a pasta–heavy kids menu, and the strains of “Finiculi Finicula” bouncing through the room. Meanwhile grownups can enjoy the vast list of pastas, some admirably intriguing, and a whopping four dozen wines by the glass. (One at a time, mind you.)
Order up! Little kids: A (teensy) pasta off the kids list. Big kids: Something chewy–cheesy from the terrific selection of focaccia bruschetta. Huge kids: Let the kitchen show its stuff with the squid–ink fettucine with white beans, anchovies, and truckloads of garlic.
Prime time Winter. A good number of the summertime tables are outside, featuring glorious vistas of the exhaust clouds over the intersection of Stone Way & 50th.
Pssssst If you’re bringing kids, perch in the balcony—they’ll be less underfoot and will love looking down on the open kitchen.
But… We don’t know who started the trend of no salt on the tables, but we sure wish Perché No wouldn’t perpetuate it.
Eats Market Café
2600 SW Barton St, West Seattle| 206-933-1200
It’s Grandma food, prepared just like Grandma would have done if she too had apprenticed at Zabar’s. Come mornings for brioche French toast and homemade cinnamon–raisin goo buns; evenings for braised beef brisket and Bubbie’s Bolognese. A friendly staff and accommodating booths makes bringing the kiddies here a breeze. When those kids ask what Bolognese is, think twice before answering “spaghetti.” It’ll ruin ’em for yours.
Order up! Reuben sandwich; the city’s best chicken matzoh–ball soup.
Prime time Brunch, which fans virtually forced them to start serving daily, when they roll out the applewood–smoked bacon and gravy–smothered buttermilk biscuits.
Pssssst Order dessert first: Co–owner Toby Matasar used to run the pastry program for Tom Douglas Restaurants.
But… It’s shiny enough to be the model home in a subdivision.
18005 NE 68th St, Redmond| 425-556-5972
Familiar enough for rugrats (buttered pasta, tomato soup and grilled white cheddar cheese sandwich), intriguing enough for their parents (crispy duck breast with pickled cherries and Januik merlot pressings), comforting enough to feel like home (grilled rib eye with blue cheese, onions, and veggie mashers), yet perpetually crackling with action. Pomegranate, the merry food warehouse where chef and caterer Lisa Dupar’s standards never flag, is a family treasure.
Order up! The crunchy–crusted smoky pizza they call firebread, topped with whatever they’ve got going; and anything Mexican
Prime time Weekend brunch, when they lavish the firebread with caramel–apples and the Bayou Bloody Marys flow like rain.
Pssssst For kitchen voyeurs and cooking show addicts, the dining room offers fishbowl views of Dupar’s caterers honey–glazing
tenderloins, marinating halibut, frosting tortes, and much more.
But… No bar—though word on the street says an expansion is in the works.
4918 Rainier Ave S, Columbia City| 206-721-3501
4411 Stone Way N, Wallingford| 206-633-3800
At any given crowded moment—and all the moments are crammed in this pair of authentic Neapolitan crowd–pleasers—it seems that half the crowd consists of children. Smart parents. The place is casual and forgivingly clattery (especially the vast new Wallingford outpost), serves apple juice and cheese pizza, dispenses a packet of bendable Wikki Stix for little people to amuse themselves, and offers a dessert called “biscotti and assorted Italian cookies and candy.” And did we mention underpriced?
Order up! The Tutta Bella Mista, with its sweet red onions, matchstick carrots, roasted red peppers, generously dispensed kalamatas, optional gorgonzola, and creamy–dreamy white beans, wins our vote for finest house salad in town. With it? Anything that’s been in that fancy wood–fired oven.
Prime time Ever since the liquor board busted Tutta Bella for one of the many things that made them so neighborly—gratis wine for any adult in line for a table—waiting isn’t nearly the fun it once was. Alas, unless you arrive very early at Columbia City—a wait is all but guaranteed.
Pssssst Don’t go thinking it’s a reservation—but they’ll do their best to save you a table if you call before you come. (Don’t tell ’em you heard it from us.)
But… We’re pretty sure carta da musica is Italian for “What’s bland flatbread doing on such a sensational menu?”
Vios Cafe and Market Place
903 19th Ave E, Capitol Hill| 206-329-3236 www.vioscafe.com
Boisterous as a Greek family reunion, this Capitol Hill fixture features families happily clustering around communal tables all day for orzo salads and souvlaki sandwiches; all evening for grilled lamb chops and zucchini tarts. It’s beautifully executed and briskly flavorful. Kids choose spaghetti or a hummus plate off a menu they can color, then skedaddle off to the fenced–in play area in back while their parents blissfully disappear into the Retsina.
Order up! Chicken souvlaki with tzatziki; Greek salad
Prime time More families seem to congregate Tuesday nights, after Vios’s two–day closure, than any other.
Pssssst One recent evening’s sighting of no fewer than six pregnant women made us wonder just how far the life–giving spirit of this place actually reaches.
But… If you believe children should be seen and not heard—Vios ain’t your place.
Best Chef-Inspired Restaurants
2319 E Madison St, Madison Valley| 206-302-7874
Looking deeply superficial in its white–on–white LA decor, Crush is a serious kitchen masquerading as a see–and–be scene. Thank young owner–chef Jason Wilson, whose commitment to seasonal and sustainable ingredients, deft marriages of comfort–textures with contemporary treatments, and ability to keep the experience affordable together create one of the most satisfying restaurant experiences in town.
Order up! Braised short ribs with truffle oil; housemade chocolates with fillings such as Earl Grey tea or spearmint
Prime time Chef Wilson’s just entering his, having snagged a prestigious berth on this year’s Food & Wine’s list of the Best New Chefs in America.
Pssssst Chef Wilson and his wife Nicole haven’t given up their catering sideline, which they pursue off–site at a spacious South Lake Union warehouse in addition to gigs in private locations.
But… Fashion can trump function here, as more than one diner has found out by trying to balance her knife across her curvaceous bread plate—and buttering her lap instead.
Boat Street Café
3131 Western Ave, Ste 301, Belltown| 206-632-4602 www.boatstreetcafe.com
Beneath the whitewashed rafters of this airy Belltown chamber Renée Erickson unfurls her loving homage to the foods and moods of southern France. Every detail sketches the most Provençal of scenes: here a sardine plate, musky with beets and softly moistened greens; there a wax–dripped Grenache bottle for a candlestick; there a roasted poussin draped in hard cider cream over apples and onions. Erickson’s flavors are simple and distilled; her skill, both as flawless culinary craftsman and famously nice manager of people, lend the Boat Street an irresistible exuberance.
Order up! Whatever savory flan she’s making that day; amaretto bread pudding
Prime time Now that the SAM Sculpture Park and about 30,000 new condo units have rendered this neighborhood the epicenter of Seattle—all the time is prime at Boat Street.
Pssssst Susan Kaplan, who—as the original Boat Street owner—was Erickson’s first mentor, as well as the proprietor of the late, great Sophie’s Donuts, runs the lunch program in the adjoining Boat Street Kitchen.
But… You’re on your own for parking.
926 12th Ave, Capitol Hill| 206-323-5275 www.larkseattle.com
It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of Lark. This wood–raftered, gauze–curtained beauty vaulted small–plate dining to its current prominence in Seattle It would be impossible to overstate the influence of the chef, Johnathan Sundstrom. His devotion to perfect seasonal ingredients and canny grasp of the combinations in which to present plates have upped the bar for dining in this town, and inspired a city full of acolytes.
Order up! Share two or three small plates per diner. If crispy duck leg is on the card, don’t ignore it.
Prime time Lark still doesn’t accept reservations, so arrive at the top of the evening if you don’t want to wait.
Pssssst If you are shut out of a table, no worries—Licorous, Sundstrom’s new bar just paces down the sidewalk, will keep you in elegant cocktails and noshes till a table comes up.
But… Good thing Sundstrom keeps the place staffed with servers gentle as therapists; some diners may need to be talked through the small–plate thing.
113 Blanchard St, Belltown| 206-770-7799
Seattle’s most under–heralded great chef, William Belickis, presides over every aspect of this pretty and more–than–a–little–reverent temple of haute cuisine in Belltown. He sniffs out the most impeccable sources, whips them into modern European innovations—when’s the last time you sampled a pan–seared scallop over sliced mango and apple with corn, horseradish, and sweet cicely?—and sometimes even brings them out to the table himself. All the better, to thank the talented young buck.
Order up! Whatever issues forth from Belickis’s imagination that night—there is no printed menu—in your choice of seven or eight courses. When they ask if you care to spend an extra $100 per person for matched wines, just say yes.
Prime time Anytime you and your constitution can commit the whole evening to dinner.
Pssssst You are in the maestro’s hands, but he is willing to custom–extemporize according to dietary restrictions.
But… You are in the maestro’s hands.
5411 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard| 206-789-5100
In a city that seems to have two neighborhood Italian restaurants for every diner, Volterra distinguishes itself by way of chef Don Curtiss’s sincerely Tuscan vision, applied with dependable artistry. Against the classic Ballard Avenue backdrop—burnished hues, Fabulous People—Curtiss coaxes wild mushrooms, truffle purees, roasted beets, smoked fowl, cured meats, lamb ragus, and cognac–deepened sauces into richly rustic, ever careful, gorgeously plated northern Italian expressions.
Order up! Oil soup; wild boar tenderloin with gorgonzola
Prime time Best late–night nosh on Ballard Avenue
Pssssst That savory fennel salt on Volterra’s table? Curtiss now retails his invention, which made such a splash at a recent food show that it was included in gift bags for guests at a celebrity Oscar party. (Weren’t invited? Get yours at Metropolitan Market or PCC.)
But… Service can grow curt when the joint starts jumpin’.
Best International Restaurants
2701 E Madison St, Madison Valley| 206-320-9771 www.harvestvine.com
Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, aside from having the best name in the industry, crafts the most glorious tapas in town: small plates brimming with stuffed peppers and garlicky vegetables; caramelized beans, grilled meats, and seared seafoods glistening with oil and executed to a turn. Harvest Vine’s small corner space is a very long way from Spain, but is lined with enough regional wines and sherries to evoke a cozy Basque country bodega.
Order up! Grilled venison; fried Galician peppers with sea salt
Prime time The no–reservations policy is now a thing of the past if you’re okay with a table downstairs. Or chance a drop–in if you’re yearning for a piece of the primo real–estate near Jimenez’s kitchen.
Pssssst You’ll be tempted to fill up on the tapas, but don’t—co–owner Carolin Messier de Jimenez is a world–class pastry chef.
But… Carolin and Joseba are in the process of transforming a 160–year–old chateau near Navarrenx, France, into a destination inn—a project that may leech some of their considerable energy but will no doubt enrich their regional culinary inspiration.
309 Third Ave S, Pioneer Square| 206-621-8772 www.salumicuredmeats.com
Seattle’s only truly Old World eatery is this skinny storefront in Pioneer Square. It’s cramped, the line crawls, and you probably won’t find a seat at the communal table in back. None of which matters once you sink into one of Armandino Batali’s Italian–style cured meat sandwiches, crafted from his blue–ribbon porchetta and coppa and prosciutto. We’re pretty sure they offer other stuff too—we saw a fine–looking heap of pasta drift by once—but we can’t seem to get past the city’s best sandwiches.
Order up! The finocchiona (fennel salami) sandwich; the prosciutto sandwich with fig spread and goat cheese
Prime time Come before they unlock at 11am (Tue–Fri) if you don’t want to stand in line—for an hour if you’re unlucky.
Pssssst You think an hour is long? The waiting list for Batali’s big weekend dinners is three years, so get over it. Then inquire about his backroom, open a few times a week for private lunch parties of up to 10 diners (book two months in advance).
But… It’s a cruel irony: The more addicted a body becomes to this restaurant, the less able it is to wedge itself into the damn place.
1933 First Ave, Downtown| 206-256-1499 www.lepichetseattle.com
Tartines au chèvre, jambon, et confiture d’abricot: If the words transport you directly to the Marais—wait till you start sampling. Other restaurants in town give you French food the way we think of it. Le Pichet gives you French food the way it’s done in France, from the classics—cold potato–leek soup, moules frites, plenty of charcuterie—to contemporary multicultural forays, like falafel fritters with bing cherry sauce and cumin yogurt. All in a narrow storefront with a little black awning, along a charmingly leafy stretch of First Avenue.
Order up! The roast chicken, which takes an hour, with a little je ne sais quoi off the single best list of French country wines in the city.
Prime time The restaurant that feels like Paris all the time feels most like Paris in the dewy freshness of morning, over a perfect croissant and a bowl of café au lait.
Pssssst A little sister, Café Presse, will open on First Hill some time after the first of the year, featuring more of a drop–in–for–a–plate–of–olives ambiance along with racks of international magazines and newspapers.
But… What was originally conceived as a nibble–and–nosh menu doesn’t provide much variety when asked to do the destination–dining–room duty its fans demand.
Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant
2401 Second Ave, Belltown| 206-443-9844 www.shiros.com
Surgical precision meets soaring creative genius at the sushi bar of Shiro Kashiba, who after four decades has earned his stripes as Seattle’s most venerated sushi chef. That the sashimi will be scrupulously fresh and perfectly cut is a given; the fun is observing the flights of innovation that rule as the glorious norm in this spare, elegant Belltown space.
Order up! Eschew the menu, request to be dazzled, and watch a sly smile creep across the master’s face.
Prime time Whenever you can get one of the 11 seats at the sushi bar—most likely 5:30 or right after Shiro’s opens
Pssssst The list of other sushi chefs Shiro–san has mentored is long and illustrious, including Taichi Kitamura at Chiso in Fremont, Ken Yamamoto at Shiki in Queen Anne, and Ishikura at Hisago in Northgate.
But… Remember Nikko? The overripe scene and limited parking of Belltown sometimes sparks nostalgia for Kashiba’s original spot on humble King Street.
1036 S Jackson St, International District| 206-860-1404 www.tamarindtreerestaurant.com
Banish all notions of authenticity requiring authentically dingy quarters: Tamarind Tree manages exotic elegance—low lights, burbling fountains—and a real–deal Vietnamese menu, from accessible satays and phos to the wilder seafood preparations and not–sure–exactly–what–I’m–eating novelties of Southeast Asia. You will pay very little, yet leave with the feeling of truly having dined out.
Order up! Salad rolls with crispy fried tofu; stuffed squid; lemongrass martini
Prime time Exotic enough to burnish your worldly reputation, cheap enough for a gamble, licensed with a full bar—Tamarind Tree could just be the best first–date venue in town.
Pssssst In winter the best seat in the house is near the indoor fire pit. In summer it’s outside on the patio, near the fountain.
But… Servers, dependably sweet, can also be forgetful or overzealous.
Best Restaurant Atmosphere
425 NW Market St, Ballard| 206-781-4883
A straight shot of urban Paris, hidden in residential Ballard. Bold wall murals and mirrors, along with a dependable legion of Seattle’s jeunesses dorées, lend a mod, arty vibe that contrasts with next door’s ever genteel Le Gourmand, the parent restaurant with which it shares a kitchen. That setting plus cocktails like the Sambar Pear Sour, dispensed by uncommonly able barkeeps, contribute about half of the place’s considerable appeal. The other half derives from Gallic eats and transcendent desserts.
Order up! Sable fish with pumpkin blini, wasabi crème fraîche, cucumber and lemon relish and tobiko caviar
Prime time For a nightcap at the optimistic end of a dreamy date
Pssssst An enchanted–fairytale patio opens the cozy bar to twice its size.
But… The hidden sign means you can forget about finding it from the road. Just locate Le Gourmand; it’s next door. they call crémant, rendered this one a classic from the instant it opened.
823 Fifth Ave N, Queen Anne| 206-283-8800 www.crowseattle.com
Pretheater sophisticates, arty early adopters, hipsters on leave from Belltown, and the general Seattle foodie rabble have pronounced the perpetually slammed Crow the crossroads for upmarket comfort food and sheer sizzling scene. Makes sense: The food is affordable enough for young artists and consistently exacting enough for their patrons.
Order up! House lasagna with Italian sausage; pan–roasted prosciutto–wrapped chicken
Prime time All dim–lit and warm, it’s a particularly inviting place to come in out of the rain. The later the better.
Pssssst You have the best prayer of a table around 8pm, when curtain time at the theaters down the street has cleared out the first round of revelers.
But… Puts the din in dinner.
1514 E Olive Way, Capitol Hill| 206-328-2282 www.dinetteseattle.com
One part mom’s kitchen, one part scenester salon, this Euro–retro–homespun storefront on Olive Way elevates humble bread to the pedestal it warrants—slathering it with toppings, giving it a starring role in salads—along with thoughtfully assembled traditional French and Italian regional soups, snacks, pastas, and lusciously braised meats. Absolutely yummy. Best is how it cozies up a resolutely urban stretch of city.
Order up! Thick slices of rustic toast lushly topped with herb frittata and truffle oil or with fig–anchovy–walnut paste, arugula, and prosciutto di Parma
Prime time After dark, when it goes all twinkly
Pssssst Add Dinette to the burgeoning list of fine dining establishments that have chosen Columbia City Bakery as its bread purveyor. Yeah, it’s that good.
But… Allow 15 to 150 minutes to find a parking space.
2331 Second Ave, Belltown| 206-441-9842 www.trenchtownrocks.com
From the leafy cobbled courtyard outside to the twinkling gypsy caravan interior, Marjorie serves a whole world of global noshes within just the nomadic setting they warrant. Silken draperies flutter, the soundtrack pulses from the Maghreb to the Left Bank to the barrio, and a big world of Seattle diners press close to enjoy the lusty fare.
Order up! The fish specials can almost always be counted on, but the duck confit and the brioche pudding with bourbon–caramel sauce are the classics.
Prime time Inside, where the tables are close and the lights are low, during the dead of winter; outside on the breezy courtyard in the prime of summer.
Pssssst Marjorie’s worldly sophistication extends to a racially integrated crowd, a welcome sight one doesn’t encounter much in this town.
But… The place just sustained a chef change but we’re not too worried: Seasoned owner Donna Moodie knows how to pick ’em.
615 19th Ave E, Capitol Hill| 206-325-2111 www.monsoonseattle.com
Open seven years and still peerless. The Banh siblings’ radically innovative intertwining of the Vietnamese cuisine they grew up on with the Northwest ingredients they live amidst results in giddy extravagances of fragrance and flavor. A whole city concurs: the spare, elegant repurposed garage is charged with a vital urban energy almost every night.
Order up! Crispy drunken chicken; caramelized catfish clay pot with fresh coconut juice and Thai chilies
Prime time The city’s coolest weekend dim sum brunch has replaced weekday lunch, but don’t despair—midweek, midday drunken chicken cravings can be sated in sandwich form at Eric Banh’s Baguette Box (1203 Pine St, First Hill, 206-332-0220 www.baguettebox.com).
Pssssst No idea which wines go with Asian food? Monsoon’s wine list, 4,000–bottles strong and loaded with perfect pairings, will open your mind.
But… Overburdened servers can be s…l…o…w.