Sometimes it takes a chef venturing off her specialty to make the people recognize how special it was. Don’t misunderstand: Maria Hines’s Golden Beetle, her new Eastern Mediterranean bistro in Ballard, reveals her mastery of an exotic new landscape of classics, hummus to falafel. She’s good at that.
But what she does at Tilth she’s great at. The lavishly awarded (James Beard, The New York Times, Iron Chef) Hines is a culinary intuitive, with an innate sense of what flavors and—more importantly—textures belong together, and as ironclad a commitment to organic ingredients as any chef working in Seattle today. (The toughest organic certifier in the land pronounced Tilth one of just three organic restaurants in the country.) The room, a renovated house in sweet tones of spring green and butter yellow, exudes charm over elegance; the food—down to earth, toothsome, playful—delivers both.
WHAT TO ORDER
Tilth, prettiest with sun slanting through its windows, is a weekend brunch kind of place. If the citrus brulee is on the card, don’t miss it: orange and grapefruit slices torched to caramel, scattered with tarragon, heaped with arugula, and spangled with hazel-nuts. In the manner of Hines’s greatest successes it sounds random but tastes veritably written in the stars.
This model of modern design, a multichambered jewel box where downtown gives way to South Lake Union, is the restaurant I probably recommended most this year, on the sheer strength of its something-for-everyone versatility. It does affordable, accessible lunches of wood-oven pizzas and halibut and pork belly buns, hipster happy hours with thinking-person’s cocktails, sophisticated multicourse dinners with Euro foams and big price tags, or comfort-textured lamb leg or wood-oven pork a la carte dinners for weary drop-in shoppers.
Best, whichever of these Mistrals you visit, it’s a virtually guaranteed win, thanks to the blessed culinary OCD of chef and owner William Belickis. This guy is simply incapable of letting a subpar dish leave his kitchen. So the level of everyday execution is extraordinary: to wit, an organic half chicken, as moist as the day it was born, served alongside a puddle of fathomless mole dolloped with ricotta—the ricotta parts speckled with black sesame seeds, the mole parts with white ones. Sigh.
WHAT TO ORDER
A cocktail for sure: some of the most creatively conceived in town. Meat, of any kind—chops, lamb loin, rib eye; it’s exceptionally well treated in this house, and thoughtfully plated with harmonious sides.
Taichi Kitamura is the terrific sushi chef—affable, expert, rigorously picky—who gave us Chiso (no longer his) and Chiso Kappo in Fremont (now closed). If those were good restaurants, his Eastlake blend of the two concepts—sushi bar and omakase house—is a great one. For starters it’s a looker: a classy room as smooth and sumptuous as caramelized cod, in texturized shades of sand gray and bamboo blonde, from the sushi bar to the field of two-tops.
Then he offers food to match: sushi for aesthetes. Sleek pieces of unagi sashimi; albacore you can slice through with your tongue; always a list of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s top sustainable choices. And not just sushi, but a long list of ippin—Japanese small plates—like Oregon bay shrimp, cucumbers, and wakame seaweed sunomono, or tempura Pacific prawns with red snapper, lotus root, and Satsuma yam. These are flat-out sensational; combinations that showcase Kitamura’s stature as a sushi chef–plus—a master not just of simple raw fish, but of the considerably more complex business of cooking and offsetting it.
WHAT TO ORDER
This isn’t a sushi roll kind of place. Go for the omakase (chef’s choice) dinner, as Kitamura creates the best omakase in town. Finish with creme brulee crackling with black Okinawan cane sugar.
Matt Dillon obeys the muse—and more often than not the muse has one heck of a palate. Religiously Northwest-seasonal and brazenly unbound by convention, Dillon’s free-flowing style brings diners home-kitchen-esque combinations like “fried paneer, tomatoes, stewed greens and pine nut brown butter,” and it will be the most inspired, inevitable creation they’ve savored all year. Indeed, Dillon’s menus almost never sound as good as they are, so his cultish fans have learned to trust that when they read, say, “olive-oil poached albacore and pole beans with muhammara,” what they will get will be a mouth-filling Middle Eastern stunner, the beans and the dense fish and a mound of unbilled crunchy-chewy rye berries all wonderful textural foils, each bite a new commentary on the last. For a food lover, eating at Sitka is wicked good fun.
Abetted, of course, by the fact that it occupies one of the great restaurant spaces in the city. Dillon’s career has been filled with novelty ventures, including a closet-sized beta version of Sitka. Then came this Melrose Market corner, which from its timbered rafters to its casement windows bears a whitewashed farmhouse chic, with breezy centerpieces that feel, like the rest of this operation, considerably more foraged than formal.
WHAT TO ORDER
Dillon is enamored of Eastern Mediterranean and North African accents, so anything in these dialects will have his passion. He throws lots of love to farmer Billy Allstot, so never pass up a freakishly flavorful Billy’s tomato, which Dillon is apt to dress lightly, say with herbs and feta and smoked salt. For dessert: his gateau Basque, an almond short-crust tart with vanilla pastry cream and whatever was plucked from some nearby orchard the day before.