Your old Iberian favorite is enjoying a performance renaissance, in tiny quarters as thick with old-country mood as any place in Seattle. In winter the cozy haunt glows and warms like a flame; in summer the walls roll up for balmy cross-breezes. Little plates of Basque tapas—a selection of Basque sheep’s milk cheeses with quince paste, moist braised pork belly in a creamy sauce with salmon caviar, thin slices of tender beef shoulder over bright tomato confit with grilled escarole—crowd your copper table or (better yet) your perch at the copper bar. And these days, there’s simply no going wrong with any of it. For goodness sake, order wine. Even if you’re there for weekend brunch.
WHAT TO ORDER
The best of the long small-plates menu typically involves fresh Galician peppers (the classic is a plate of simply oiled and sea-salted fried Padróns, impeccably sourced) or seafood. If cuttlefish (Mediterranean squid) with blackened onions and stunning piquillo pepper vinaigrette is on the card, order it and thank us later.
Somewhere in the course of its 60-plus years, Canlis went from restaurant to icon, and why on earth wouldn’t it? The classy midcentury design, the sweeping Lake Union view, the swanky piano bar, the fawning service, the exacting food—it all adds up to something nearly mythic, not to say mythically priced. The brilliance of Canlis is that, under the young third-generation owners, it isn’t content to let mythic be enough. Jason Franey is an extraordinary chef, having achieved an improbable balance: nudging the old girl into the new century (foie gras terrine with rhubarb, celery, and warm cocoa brioche, a minty pea soup with hon-shimeji mushrooms) without back-burnering classics like the mint-speckled Canlis salad or the vermouth-garlic Peter Canlis prawns. It all adds up to a Seattle destination whose special—occasion status is more than met by the quality of its product.
WHAT TO ORDER
The steaks remain perfect, but serious diners owe it to themselves to see what Franey is doing on the contemporary side of the menu.
Adventurous dining meets good eatin’ at this stunner in North Capitol Hill, brought to you by the culinary genius and Herbfarm alum Jerry Traunfeld. In this perky unupholstered room, Traunfeld serves up seven or 10-dish thalis, a Hindi word for several small plates assembled on a platter (available in a vegetarian version as well); thus delivering all the whimsical variety of the small-plate concept with none of the misfired pairings. And so one takes a bite of crisp-crusted Wagyu beef with tomatoes and capers, then a bite of broccoli lit with fresh oregano, then a sip of corn soup with basil—and each intelligently plays off the other, crafted as it was by a maestro in the art of showcasing and combining Northwest flavors. All this, plus near flawless execution and terrifically informed service, makes Poppy the place to show off Northwest bounty to visiting foodies.
WHAT TO ORDER
Eggplant fries with sea salt and honey—one of Seattle’s classic appetizers—with an herbal cocktail to start. Any one of the housemade fruit ice creams to finish. (Desserts are a must in this house.) After the show? One of Traunfeld’s post-9pm “naan-wiches,” sinful $6 assemblages of things like tandoori chicken, spicy slaw, and yogurt sauce.
The standout among a prolific chef’s burgeoning empire (Tavolàta, How to Cook a Wolf, Anchovies and Olives, and big plans for the future), Staple and Fancy has the benefit of that chef, Ethan Stowell, at the stoves. That’s a big part of what makes dinner at this rakishly industrial space in Ballard Ave’s historic brick Kolstrand Building so appealing. The other part being the space itself: comfortable in its workingman’s skin—love the original painted brick—and veritably bursting with diners all night long. Staple and Fancy has charisma.
Stowell does a minimalist take on rustic Italian fare—Treviso salad with anchovy dressing, potato gnocchi with Bolognese and mint, lemon-kissed linguine with basil-pistachio pesto—conceived simply and executed with care. The best way to enjoy it is to spring for the four-course prix-fixe chef’s sampling: a combo of noshy starters, pasta, entree, and dessert.
WHAT TO ORDER
The four-courser, which the whole table must order (they serve family style) and, at $45 per head, represents the deal of the century. If the fried oysters aren’t included, see if they’re available a la carte; they’re the best of that wicked species in town. Finish with the ricotta cheesecake on a gentle almond crust.