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2015: The year Capitol Hill got a mews. 

Restaurants Created a Neighborhood. Someone must’ve occupied the Pike/Madison/Broadway Triangle before 38,000 restaurants colonized it this year—but that southernmost sector of Pike/Pine now feels like a bonafide brand-new neighborhood. Think Lark, Meat + Bread, Slab Sandwiches and Pie, and Bitter/Raw in the Central Agency Building. Optimism Brewing Co. at Broadway and Union. Chop Shop, Kurt Farm Shop, Amandine, and Bar Ferd’nand in the lovely Chophouse Row. Soi at Tenth and Union. And now the Renee Erickson trifecta of Bateau, Bar Melusine, and General Porpoise.

 Carlile Room Venerated Vegetables. Vegetables began taking up more and more of the plate across town, but nowhere so intentionally as at Tom Douglas’ most original restaurant in years, The Carlile Room. There you pick your plant dishes first, really cool ones like delicata squash crudo with honeycrisps and peanuts and mint, then embellish with meat as a side dish. Now that’s priorities for a small planet.

 Jason Stratton Went to Mamnoon. We cried when the celebrated chef left Cascina Spinasse and the artful Artusi, we rejoiced when he opened the Spanish Aragona, we puzzled when we actually ate there, we watched as it became Vendemmia* Vespolina, we watched in mounting disbelief as that shuttered…and then, midsummer, we marveled when he turned up at the Syrian treasure, Mamnoon: one of Seattle’s most storied chefs showing up in one of Seattle’s most extraordinary restaurants. We’ll call that defining.

 Stateside Debuted its Creamsicles. And they were stunning—Vietnamese iced coffee and Thai iced tea flavors. But this of course is but one example standing in for a much larger point: That Eric Johnson is one kick-ass chef who knows exactly how to apply his high-end Michelin-house-honed skills to the humblest of enterprises.  Dismiss the Creamsicle if you must—but translating a confection like this into Asian dialects using modernist technique…that’s the kind of skill that might just earn a place Restaurant of the Year.

 Saucy Starches Became A Thing. Saucy starches have been around for centuries. But 2015 became the year they got super interesting around here, in moments including the launch of pasta lunchroom Il Corvo’s occasional dinner program, the settling of the peripatetic Kraken Congee into a basement in Pioneer Square, the introduction of the beguiling Gnocchi Bar to insatiable Capitol Hill. That’s humble wheat, rice, and potatoes, folks, with all kinds of intrigue on top.  

 Kaiseki Arrived. Before Naka opened its doors in June, Seattle’s only taste of higher-end Japanese food came from chef’s choice omakase in our better sushi houses. Now we have Naka, enshrining the traditional, multi-course, rigorously seasonal Japanese style of eating known as kaiseki—and it’s but one example of Asian cuisines gaining more sophisticated representation in this town. Naka offers varying levels of kaiseki at differing price points; you can even dine a la carte. But what distinguishes all of the dishes is freshness, robust flavor, and breathtakingly artful platings.

 Restaurants Went Tipless. Institution of the $15-an-hour minimum wage got a bunch of restaurateurs rethinking remuneration of their service staff—and Ivar’s was the first restaurant outfit to announce, last spring, that gratuities would no longer be expected from patrons, but knit into menu prices instead. Renee Erickson followed with a similar announcement for her properties, followed by newbies like Lionhead, Mollusk, and Optimism Brewing.

 Blaine Wetzel Released Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest. The wunderkind chef who put Lummi Island’s Willows Inn on the world’s gastronomic map released his cookbook this year, and it captures all the crystalline brilliance of Wetzel’s craft. Even if you don’t think you’re a fan of, say, berries with dried beets and salt-cured bone marrow…just reading how Wetzel executes it is like a window into creation itself, with photos as winsome and mist-drenched as Lummi Island.

 Shiro Kashiba Came Back. Shiro gave Seattle its first sushi, then its best sushi, then like a human Whack-a-Mole retired about 38 times only to pop back up in a different place. This year he roared back with Sushi Kashiba, a beautiful space in the heart of Pike Place Market, whose fish stalls he’s been shopping for years. Welcome back, Shiro.

 Paseo Rose from the Dead. Twice. The Cuban sandwich cult-fave closed in 2014 to much wailing and gnashing of teeth…only to reopen in 2015 thanks to a longtime fan who bought both locations, all the equipment, and the Paseo name. The recipes, however, stayed in the original owners’ family, two members of which opened Un Bien as a not-so-thinly-veiled Paseo redux. Which better enshrines the spirit and Cuban flavors of the original? A whole lot of Seattleites spent a ridiculous amount of 2015 chewing on that very question.  

* And apologies to the very-much-still-in-business Vendemmia, which I confused with the shuttered Vespolina in the original version of this post. Oy.

 

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