sutra-salad-assembly
Image: Olivia Brent
Best vegan food in town is in Wallingford.

Sutra

How Seattle is this: a pretty house restaurant serving four-course, prix-fixe, communal-table, vegetarian dinners, run by a yogi who prepares dishes like “masa-breaded striped eggplant, Brandywine heirloom tomato, sunflower seed–lemon–basil pesto Napoleon, served with chanterelles roasted with garlic and fennel seed, and finished with truffle oil and a Balsamic reduction,” for instance—then rings a gong before serving it for a reverent moment of silence in gratitude to the earth?

Chuckle if you must. But sustainability maven Colin Patterson (did we mention the restaurant’s light carbon footprint?) is also a chef’s chef, carefully wresting brilliance out of organic produce in novel—if wordy—combinations, pickled fiddleheads to hemp truffle sauce, in a restaurant where the cliche about carnivores being meatlessly satisfied comes true. Reservations for the nightly seatings (two on weekends) are essential; serious foodies should grab seats at the kitchen counter for an inspiring glimpse into Patterson’s vegetal world.

WHAT TO ORDER
The menu being pre-set, all diners must communicate is dietary restrictions (not surprisingly Sutra is accommodating, especially of vegans) and whether they’d like wine or—just as fun—juice pairings.
 

La Bête

With its dripping chandeliers and pretty iron filigree and tea-party china, this darkened Capitol Hill lair is Old World elegant. Make that boldly modern, with its fanciful acid-trip art and surfeit of “vision” on every elaborate plate. No, no…it’s actually more of a neighborhood drop-in, with raging early and late happy hours and a menu that offers a burger, a half chicken, and a banana split.

In fact La Bête is all of the above, in the hands of a kitchen that cares about details and never takes its eye off the ball. Plates are busy—one perfectly gilded half chicken arrived with sweet creamy corn, a chive popover, lobster mushrooms, a zucchini dice, and fresh tomatoes—but intentionally so, and carefully done, and sparked with all kinds of classic allusions. All within a space so otherworldly beautiful it feels spun from a dream.

WHAT TO ORDER
The changing menu is dependably shot through with a strong Mediterranean streak. If you’re a pork rind person, these ones are housemade, fun with cocktails, and locally famous.
 

Serious Pie

Of all 15 of his businesses, this is the one that really puts the Tom Douglas in Tom Douglas Inc. Douglas’s pie crust, a crisp-blistered chewy marvel, remains a masterpiece. His toppings—prosciutto cotto and green garlic pesto, soft egg and guanciale and arugula, yellow foot chanterelles with truffled cheese—are artisan-derived and masterfully combined. His sides, lush renditions of Italian nibbles like sunchokes with olives and oil-cured tomatoes or Tuscan kale with pine nuts and Calabrian peppers, are vivid and transporting. His desserts—cannoli with cherry and chocolate, Earl Grey panna cotta with Meyer lemon curd and apricot biscotti—are Euro yum.

All within two cozy hearth-warmed spots (check the new loft in SLU) with communal tables and plenty of communal verve. Douglas is at his best in downmarket places like these; casual joints with down-to-earth service and a culinary vision particular enough to let his trademark creativity flourish.

WHAT TO ORDER
Sweet fennel sausage with roasted peppers and provolone, or Yukon gold potato with rosemary and pecorino.
 

Crush

crush dessert
Image: Olivia Brent

Tomato and basil dessert

Amid the icy white-on-white decor, the chill electronic soundtrack, and the cool aloofness of the service—Crush will never be mistaken for warm. That understood, this idiosyncratically located house restaurant enshrines the perfectionist creativity of a chef at the very top of his game. Seven years in, Jason Wilson has proved himself incapable of resting on his formidable laurels (James Beard, Food and Wine)—and diners will taste it in the form of a thousand perfect surprises. A salad of baby lettuces and garden herbs, pocked with fresh peas and smoked hazelnuts, enlivened with burrata, and ringed with vibrant pea-mint puree. Spot prawns rich as lobster over housemade gnocchi, sparked with guanciale and asparagus. Neah Bay black cod served perfectly cooked, in its crisped skin, with glazed pork belly in a seaweedy dashi broth, bright with aromatics. There’s not a throwaway dish on this menu, where prices are high but value is higher: You are paying for a great chef’s restless intelligence.

WHAT TO ORDER
The headliner, worth every decibel of the hype: sous-vide Painted Hills short ribs, braised for two full days, butter tender within and crisp crusted without, and served with silken Yukon potato puree and truffle-horseradish pistou.
 

The Coterie Room

coterie room
Image: Olivia Brent

Alaskan sablefish

It’s about time chefs Dana Tough and Brian McCracken put their prodigious talent to something beyond a gastropub (Spur) and craft cocktail bar (Tavern Law)—impressive though they be. Through the vertical windows of this lofty Belltown corner (the former Restaurant Zoë) one spies an elegant urban space with white fin de siecle accents and a dripping crystal chandelier. But what issues from the open kitchen across the room is a thing of even rarer beauty: an unprecedented marriage of molecular gastronomy and folksy food.

Think “pork cracklins” made from dehydrated ham stock and tapioca, then served warm with a cheese-truffle fondue. Or a hunk of Alaskan sablefish, served with basil and chanterelles and sweet corn puree, and olive-oil poached in a special temperature-controlled oven to such moistness, it melts on eye contact. Precious methods, yes (that both menu and waiters play down), but applied to such down-to-earth dishes—a rib eye with onion rings, buttermilk fried chicken, mac and cheese with duck ham—it just registers as really, really good cooking. (Cooking so good, I’m banking my reputation on it: The Coterie Room had been open all of three weeks as we went to press.)

WHAT TO ORDER
A burger Homer Simpson could love, never mind the Painted Hills all-natural beef, arugula, and truffle aioli. A killer poutine, made with braised pork shoulder gravy, fried Beecher’s curds, and copious herbs. Hearty family-style meals serving two to four diners, of dishes like Wagyu brisket with ricotta whipped potatoes, or roasted pork shoulder with butter braised cabbage, local apples, and grainy mustard.