In restaurants, this was the year that plates went small and innovation large, as cocktail nosheries and wine bars dominated news of openings and chefs across town went fusion-mad. Treasured favorites, Via Tribunali to Crow to Le Pichet, gained new little siblings this year; as we went to press, Union (hats off to the energy of Ethan Stowell) was on its way to gaining its second. It was a year filled with foodie buzz, late-late dining, slammed houses, and restaurant openings, it seemed, every day. It wasn’t easy choosing the best to have opened in the last 12 months, and many worthy places landed on the cutting-room floor. Here are our picks. Debate them, decry them—and then, by all means…devour them.
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Bakery Nouveau
Opening date
December 17, 2006.
Why we love it Beauty. The scent of browning pastry and fresh chocolate greets you at the door. An elegant gilt trophy on the counter pronounces owner William Leaman the finest baker in the world. Beneath it in the case, a tidy row of truffles and petits fours and pastel confections. Beside them, acres of croissants and raisin brioches and apricot Danishes and cherry-almond-pear tarts so pretty and so flawlessly sumptuous we ignored the fact that, but for a few sandwiches and quiches, this isn’t actually a restaurant at all.
What to order A flake-perfect twice-baked almond croissant. Sigh.
Who to bring Your own good company. Whiling away an hour here with a good book, a cappuccino, and a brown-sugar pecan brioche is time well whiled. (Besides, the fewer people who know you believe breakfast requires dessert, the better.)
But sheesh… Everyone in town loves this place as much as you do—and they’re all ahead of you in line.
Bakery Nouveau, 4737 California Ave SW, West Seattle Junction, 206-923-0534; www.bakerynouveau.com


Café Presse
Opening date
June 20, 2007.
Why we love it Je ne sais quoi. From the creators of Belltown’s archetypal Le Pichet comes the Frenchest joint in town: a shrine to the way the French eat every day, from pain et beurre avec confiture all the way through to steak tartare. For its come-as-you-are informality, its quotidian price tags, and its culinary effortlessness, a place like Café Presse might be forgettable. It so isn’t.
What to order A plate of meaty steak frites and a bottle of Chateau d’Oupia Les Heretiques Vin de Pays de l’Herault. (Or whiskey, neat.)
Who to bring Grandma at breakfast, business associates at noon, the family at dinner, the revelers at midnight. In other words: everyone. It’s the wildly varied cross-section of humanity rubbing elbows in this café that lends the place its urgency and vigor.
But sheesh… Sixteen-and-a-half hours each day this busy kitchen’s at it, so perfect consistency ain’t on the menu.
Café Presse, 1117 12th Ave, First Hill, 206-709-7674; www.cafepresseseattle.com


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Matt’s in the Market
Opening date
June 27, 2007.
Why we love it Verve. There’s a reason Seattle’s food lovers followed the six-month remodeling closure of their favorite closet-size restaurant in Pike Place Market like it was the Superbowl—they were jonesing for a jolt of the fabled energy that made Matt’s kitchen the wildest zone in town, and its fresh fare some of the most creatively unrestrained. Verdict on Matt’s 2.0? Seven hundred more square feet of exciting.
What to order Seafood so fresh, those fish-tossers outside might have just fastballed it through the window. Choose the daily special (the chef chose it because it looked best that day) or, at lunch, the legendary oyster sandwich.
Who to bring Out-of-towners, who will achieve tourist nirvana when they look out the historic half-moon windows and get an eyeful of Pike Place Market, its huge sign, the pig, the bay, the ferries, the Olympics, those airborne fish.
But sheesh… Double a restaurant’s size and halve the wait, right? Yeah, right. Matt’s takes reservations, and you’d be wise to make them.
Matt’s in the Market, 94 Pike St, Pike Place Market, 206-467-7909; www.mattsinthemarket.com


Opal
Opening date
May 27, 2007.
Why we love it Splendor. It was the happiest surprise this year: an intimate bilevel geode on the penthouse level of Queen Anne, shimmering in iridescent gold and offering a menu full of ambitious global innovations that simply dazzled. Occasional formal gestures, from the covered butter dish to the careful service, don’t obliterate its status as a neighborhood restaurant so much as elevate the category altogether. A stunner.
What to order Off a menu that reads pretentious (aged goat-cheese emulsion, anyone? Peach espuma?) come plates so artistically composed, you expect a certain formal predictability of flavor. Then you take a bite of something simply exuberant, its flavors unexpected and frisky; its textures luscious as comfort food. (In other words, order one of everything.)
Who to bring Whomever you want to cuddle up with between the emulsion and the espuma …it’s a swell stage set for a promising date.
But sheesh… Espuma?
Opal, 2 Boston St, Queen Anne, 206-282-0142; www.opalseattle.com


Tavolàta
Opening date January 24, 2007.
Why we love it Electricity. The biggest restaurant news of 2007 was the unveiling of Ethan Stowell’s homage to the late-night Italian pasta joint, planted in the heart of Belltown and launched to thundering acclaim. After midnight, when the open kitchen’s jumping and the Belltown prowlers pack the house, the vibe is unparalleled. 
What to order The housemade pastas are simple and satisfying, but to be dazzled you must go with the carnage—a lamb shank, a double-cut pork chop, a grilled T-bone bigger than your face.
Who to bring Whichever of your night-owl friends cuts the streetest profile against sandblasted cement walls and dusky candlelight.
But sheesh… Be sure that friend has nothing interesting to say, because you will not hear it above the roar—particularly if you’re sitting at the huge communal table.
Tavolàta, 2323 Second Ave, Belltown, 206-838-8008; www.tavolata.com


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Verve Wine Bar & Cellar
Opening date
April 11, 2007.
Why we love it Poise. The best-kept secret of the year is this sure-handed little neighborhood wine bar off an alley in Columbia City. The wine list is small but trenchant, accompanied by a few good ciders and Belgian ales, and brilliantly served by a changing menu combining equal parts imagination and implementation, and by waiters offering equal parts warmth and wine smarts.
What to order You’ve heard of eating locally: How about from within a few blocks? Verve’s menu of salads, soups, small plates, mains, and desserts stars products from Columbia City Bakery, Bob’s Meats, and Da Pino.
Who to bring A vegetarian. Meat eaters will not be disappointed—not when their organic New Zealand lamb chops arrive tenderly roasted over garlicky kale drizzled with sweet pomegranate jus—but herbivores (particularly seafood-eating, cheese-loving herbivores) have a wide range of choices at Verve.
But sheesh… Why is no one here?
Verve Wine Bar & Cellar, 3820 S Ferdinand St, Ste 102, Columbia City, 206-760-0977; www.vervewinebar.com


Voluneer Park Café & Marketplace
Opening date
January 11, 2007.
Why we love it Authenticity. From the folksy flour-sack decor to the comfort-food-focused menu to the real butter in its Bundt cakes, this soul-rich collaboration hews to an uncompromising standard on the purity of its food sources and veritably worships at the altar of flavor.
What to order In the morning, an orange-cranberry scone so perfect it will ruin you for any other. In the evening, pot pie of the day with puffed crust.
Who to bring Whoever you find in your bed when you wake up Saturday morning: the spouse, the kids, the pooch (to be leashed outside and mollified with the café’s home-baked dog biscuits), or, ahem…the latest.
But sheesh… A girl could mark several birthdays just waiting for her cappuccino.
Volunteer Park Café & Marketplace, 1501 17th Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-328-3155; www.alwaysfreshgoodness.com