Call me impetuous, but this newcomer on Beacon Hill so embodies the soul of the neighborhood restaurant that, in just half a year, it shot to the top of that very crowded category. Proprietor and pizzaiolo Jerry Corso honed his skills at Cafe Lago, Crow, the Harvest Vine—and across Italy—then spent last summer hosting fundraisers around the brick pizza oven he built himself in his backyard. His mission: to raise enough of the kind of dough that finances pizzerias, of the casual and festive sort his neighborhood was crying for.
Mission accomplished. Aromatic with wood smoke, lively with neighbors, thoughtfully stocked with bitter cocktails and rich beers and Italian reds, the warm and clean-lined Bar del Corso is not only an intoxicating place to be, it’s a dazzling place to eat, off a seasonal menu of buoyant salads, Euro antipasti, Italian desserts (oooh, the butter-milk panna cotta), and simply exquisite pizza.
WHAT TO ORDER
The pizza, silly: Corso’s own riff on Neapolitan wood-fired and thin-crusted pies, crisped and bubbled and lightly charred as expected, but slightly breadier, with more chewy elasticity, than the Neapolitan rule book might dictate. Best off the list of a half dozen are the puttanesca, lit with anchovies and hot peppers, and whatever garden special he’s listed in the fifth spot down: on our visit a fiore di zucca, bright with grilled zucchini and squash blossoms.
Scott Carsberg is Seattle’s most pretentious culinary artiste, brandishing terms like “process of creation” and “undisguised purity” without a whisper of irony. But go ahead, sample a few of the modern European small plates on the menu at his unadorned Venetian-style cicchetti bar in Belltown—and just try not to marvel at the process of creation that brought such undisguised purity to your palate.
Carsberg searches out the most pristine ingredients, then doesn’t dress them so much as reveal them: the earthbound sweetness of a ripe tomato, simply enhanced with halibut rillettes and intense panzanella sauce; the concentrated perfection of a chunk of steelhead, coaxed to moist fullness in a tagine and topped with shiitakes. Artfully composed plates hold small bites, but since nothing tops $12 you still feel like you’re getting away with murder. Cocktails are sophisticated to match.
WHAT TO ORDER
Chilled pea-mint soup—their essences almost sublimely distilled, along with embellishments that might include olive mousse or a speck popsicle—and the city’s single best dessert: orange confit with chocolate caramel mousse.
Boat Street Cafe
From its whitewashed rafters to its candlelit slate tables to its nicked oak floors, no restaurant in Seattle spins such an offhand sense of romance as the sure-handed Boat Street. Owner and chef Renee Erickson splits her time now between Boat Street and her Ballard oyster bar (see the Walrus and the Carpenter), but the details here remain lovingly attended: lemon in the water, vintage jazz in the air, housemade pickle plate on the app menu, a fleet of idiosyncratically endearing servers, and the richest bread pudding in town, its browned crags rising from a lake of heavy cream and rum butter.
WHAT TO ORDER
Erickson marries French technique with Northwest seasonal ingredients in a menu that pays about equal homage to meat and seafood, with plenty of vegetables. The crab cakes with banana–hot pepper confit are the signature dish; we prefer the thick Carlton Farms pork chop, cooked to a blushing turn, and embellished on our visit with gently sauteed Padrón peppers, a wash of romesco sauce, and perfect little walnut halves.
For those who worship at the altar of Northwest microseasonal dining, the Herbfarm in Woodinville remains the Holy of Holies. And though it’s no longer in the hands of the chef who made it famous (Jerry Traunfeld—the kitchen has seen a few chefs since he left to open Poppy), the ongoing and truly remarkable consistency of this outsized operation reminds us that owners (and founders and chefs and wine collectors and farm operators and tour givers…) Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck have always been the rudder anyway
A recent “100-mile” theme dinner showcased dishes made with ingredients (down to the salt) sourced from within that distance; true to the Herbfarm’s substance, what might have come across as self-aggrandizing or pedantic was instead an enlightening, inspiring tribute to Northwest meat and fish and produce. The salad alone, a lush assemblage of fennel and golden beets and Tropea onions and green coriander seed and mint, where a squash blossom concealed a lush pudding of egg yolk and corn polenta and a warm sorrel sauce united the whole, was the sort of creation one remembers forever.
WHAT TO ORDER
It’s more like when to order, as prix-fixe dinners are set along a theme (each lasts about two weeks), but themes change—game in early December, truffles in January, foraged foods in May; check the website for the schedule. And don’t be on the wagon for your dinner here: The Herbfarm has one of the great wine cellars in the region.