One byproduct of my job is getting earfuls from diners on what Seattle's no good at in the restaurant department. Here are the major ones. How true are they?
Seattle restaurants are getting louder. The trend in sleek unupholstered decor, the transformation of bars into restaurants, the rise in music volume, and urban restaurateurs’ increasing desire to lure young professionals—it all adds up to a new normal where you not only can’t hear your companion speak, it was designed that way on purpose. Ironic from restaurateurs who talk a good game—as when they want you to sit at their communal tables—about enhancing community. But perfect for when you don’t care what your companion has to say! True.
Seattle restaurant critics always review the same restaurants because they’re in league with them. This one just won’t die. The truth is, restaurant critics generally get their heads turned by the same places because those places feature a name chef or big word-of-mouth. I don’t let restaurants pay my meal, let them know who I am, or let them know I’m coming, and the best of my confreres in this business don’t either. False.
Seattle restaurants have crappy service. Ouch. This old canard particularly stings in this city whose business icons—Nordstrom, REI, Starbucks, Amazon—are revered as customer service pioneers. But there is something about our youth culture, our studied informality, and our wide passive-aggressive streak that makes restaurant service here a particular challenge—from the nongreeting at the door to the waiter who doesn’t know the answer and doesn’t offer to find out. I am not talking about every restaurant. But I am talking about enough of them to pronounce this one, alas, true.
Seattle has lousy seafood restaurants. For ages we had a whole bunch of lackluster waterfront seafood spots, but we also had Ray’s Boathouse, which trailblazed high-quality seafood. So what happened when it became a lackluster waterfront seafood spot? A whole bunch of very fine fish houses sprang up, from Walrus and the Carpenter to Tanglewood Supreme to Westward to the exceptional RockCreek Seafood. False!
Seattle diners won’t sustain fine-dining restaurants. See: the demise of Le Gourmand and Rover’s, the transformation of places like the Book Bindery and Aragona to the more accessible Hommage and Vespolina, the populist slide of places like MistralKitchen into happy hour emporiums—it all validates a truth some Seattle restaurateurs have had to learn the hard way. Sure, we have Canlis. Exception that proves the rule. True.
Tom Douglas restaurants are overpriced. This one depends on your perspective. Tom Douglas pays his employees a living wage and dispenses better benefits than many restaurateurs. Which may mean Tom Douglas restaurants are more expensive than others—but considering where the money goes, this critic would sooner call them fairly priced. False.
Bellevue has almost no distinctive restaurants. Come now, Seattle…aren’t we above suburb bashing? The problem is, there’s very little argument on this one. Bellevue’s best almost all have outposts in Seattle (see Monsoon, see Din Tai Fung, see Purple Cafe and Wine Bar), with too few exceptions—a few admirable regional Asian spots with limited appeal, the wonderful Bis on Main—to save this one from being anything but true.
The more memorable the view, the more forgettable the food. Think Leschi, think the south shore of Lake Union, think the Space Needle. Though the contrarian in me would love to dispute it—and though Marination Ma Kai, God bless it, exists—I’m afraid we’ll have to call this one generally true.
Seattle is hopeless for a dressy evening out. Canlis has a dress code (no casual attire, jackets for the gentlemen)—and that’s it for sartorial prescriptions in this town. True.
Seattle lacks great Indian food. It’s the global cuisine I hear the most whining about, and despite a handful of places that I have admired—Shanik, Taste of India, Traveler’s Thali House, and Naan n Curry in Renton have all provided variously good meals in recent years—we still don’t have a knock-it-out-of-the-park killer representative of this cuisine. Sad but true.