Image: Amos Morgan

Tasting Sampler Bite-size nibbles draw novelty out of the menu.

LOOKING TO OPEN a restaurant? You could either take the artiste’s approach, where you unleash your unique culinary vision and hope somebody bites. Or you could take the marketer’s approach, where you find out what exactly the people want to eat, then direct your kitchen to cook it.

Larry Kurofsky, who owns the new downtown Purple Café and Wine Bar with his wife Tabitha, is a restaurateur of the marketing school. “We look at our numbers, see what we’re selling, and if something’s not selling well we take it off the menu,” he says. Five years ago, Kurofsky launched the original Purple in Woodinville, followed two years later by another in Kirkland.

So important is guest input to Kurofsky, he launched a diner survey at Woodinville last spring and implemented the changes his patrons asked for. Bigger menu. Mix ’n’ match salad, soup, and sandwich selections. An emphasis on a relaxed instead of table–turning lunch pace. A burger.

All of this may occur to you as you enter the new downtown Purple. It’s enormous, 225 seats, and it’s crowded. Sometimes, like at 6:15 on a recent Thursday evening, it’s crammed: 45–minute wait for a party of one. Say what you will about the marketer’s approach. It does tend to pack a house.

And this is some house: A soaring chamber wrapped in floor–to–ceiling windows and anchored with a massive central tower lined with Purple’s stock–in–trade—wine. At the tower’s base is the bar; around it winds a dramatic circular staircase, which accesses the high wines. Behind that is another staircase leading to a mezzanine loft, anchored by another bar.

Throughout prevails a dim–lit wine–cellar vibe, casually clattering beneath a towering steel latticework ceiling, which suspends swirls of track lights and faux candles illuminating the surge and swell of the business–district crowd. That crowded Thursday I wedged myself into the one open barstool in the place, between a pair of business associates talking shop while loudly savoring stuffed pork chops and a hip young gent brazenly lubricating his gorgeous date with “just one more glass” (or three) of chardonnay. Across the way, a couple of young professional women pulled treasures out of Nordstrom bags, a solo business traveler nursed a Manhattan, a classy older couple dined in companionable silence on soups and half–salads. Sitting amid them all, gazing through the copious glass at the throngs of passersby on Fourth & University, I felt like I had located the beating heart of downtown.

There is, in fact, no other place like it downtown—no other place casual enough for dropping in, festive enough for an occasion, centrally visible enough to stay on diners’ radar, and proffering so vast and—surprise, surprise—crowd–pleasing a menu. Day and night, the list offers a dozen starters, salads with or without added protein, a few pastas, a few sandwiches, a few pizzas, a few desserts, a few prix–fixe options, tasting trios, wine flights. By evening, a half–dozen additional entrées. If you can’t find something you feel like eating on this menu, you don’t feel like eating.