FIRST TO GIVE US UPMARKET ETHNIC
Wait, aren’t Vietnamese restaurants supposed to be dives? Eric and Sophie Banh never got the memo. When Monsoon opened its doors in the most stylish converted coffee shop on Capitol Hill, streamlined and sleek, looking far more Rodeo Drive than Little Saigon, its intelligent and silken fare (duck leg confit with baby bok choy, grilled beef in la lot leaves) in a whole other realm from the homely noodle bowls and spring rolls we’d long associated with Vietnamese food—well, let’s just say you can pinpoint that as the precise moment Seattle became cosmopolitan.
DESCENDANTS Tamarind Tree, La Carta de Oaxaca, May Thai Restaurant
FIRST TO SOPHISTICATE EUROPEAN FOOD
The ’80s blew a fresh breeze of modern Europe through Seattle, from the lighter French fare of restaurants like Le Tastevin and Campagne, to the nuova cucina that took Italian cuisine beyond meatballs and red sauce. Nowhere was this done with sleeker style than at Capitol Hill’s Settebello, the starkly fashionable restaurant on Olive Way’s slope into downtown. There the handsome, white-haired, Italian-born Luciano Bardinelli not only trained a cityful of future restaurateurs—Salute’s Raffaele Calise, Lampreia’s Scott Carsberg—he retrained our very palates to favor a finer variant of Italian cuisine. From one’s seat at a table in Luch’s place, savoring sweetbreads with peppers and cream, surveying a room filled with (such as they were) Seattle “celebrities”—well, all of a sudden, Toto, Seattle wasn’t Kansas anymore.
DESCENDANTS Mistral, Lampreia
FIRST TO MAKE FINE CUISINE CASUAL
Remember when restaurants were formal destinations you planned weeks in advance to visit? Neither do we—because restaurants like Salute came along to turn that musty paradigm on its ear. The original Bryant address at 55th and 35th (others still exist under variations of the name, but under different ownership) wore an offhand, candles-shoved-in-chianti-bottles exuberance and was strung with twinkling lights and heady with garlic. Pasta’s cheap, so prices remained relatively low, which begat legions of regulars; a no-reservations policy (decades ahead of its current heyday) allowed neighbors spontaneity and guaranteed a constant line, which only burnished its reputation. Launched by Settebello alum Raffaele Calise, Salute boasted glorious food—like the marinara and the pizza—but it was the electric, everyone’s-here energy of the front of the house that made the place a come-as-you-are party every night of the week. Ever wonder why there’s now a casual pasta house in nearly every neighborhood? Salute established the template that would dominate Seattle’s restaurant landscape for the next decade.
DESCENDANTS Salvatore, Ciao Bella, Mondello
FIRST TO BREAK THE RULES
It was the restaurant that established the maverick chef Tom Douglas as a superstar and, in so doing, it broke more ground than a jackhammer. How? By shattering the rules, as giddily as possible. Serve world-class food in a glitter-painted athletic-club commissary? Check. Mix lowbrow with highbrow on the same menu? Check. (Before Sport, we’d never fine-dined on burgers, but here Douglas was baking his own buns and spreading the freshly ground meat with housemade red-onion jam.) Combine New American and Pacific Rim cuisines in so fresh and pioneering a way it basically invents “fusion cuisine”? Check-check. Through his stunning palate, natural irreverence, and brazen whimsical streak Douglas busted down any culinary convention that got in the way of simple deliciousness. Then, after leaving Sport in 1989 to launch his own family of restaurants he broke the biggest rule of all: He trained his own competitors, raising the culinary quality of an entire city by elevating his best chefs, and even supporting many of them as they spun off into restaurants of their own.
DESCENDANTS Dahlia Lounge, Stumbling Goat Bistro, Coupage