On one hand, you have the chefs and restaurateurs who believe decor should be minimal, almost nonexistent—lest the presence of a painting or two distract from the scallop seared to perfection on your plate.
And then you have those restaurants decorated within an inch of their lives, futzed up like Victorian dolls with chachkies and dohickeys that seem to proliferate before your overstimulated eyes.
In between are the pretty places. The food is great, yes, but the design makes you want to remodel your house in their images. When you’re in it not just for the food but also the pretty, I suggest you sup at one of these five lookers.
1. Sometime in your life, I want you to do this for yourself. I want you to take a weekday lunch at Sitka and Spruce. I want you order something luscious. Anything on the menu will pretty much do, a deconstructed salad Niçoise, a “chickpea puree” (Read:hummus) accompanied by a smattering of al dente carrots, a green salad—leaves piled like coats on a bed at a cocktail party—with a vinaigrette just pungent enough to keep things interesting.
You can watch Matt Dillon and his team of burly young cooks prepare your food in the open kitchen, or wander over to the little pantry along the interior wall where mason jars filled with fragrant herbs and spices line the shelves. The expression “treat yourself” is a little icky, but do it anyway, and do it here.
2. Those scarlet parasols dangling from the ceiling, the white-washed window panes, the pink-rimmed radish slices fanned out upon your tartine, farm-fresh butter beneath spread as thick as icing on a cake: Boat Street Cafe charms in so many ways, it’s difficult to talk about.
3. I don’t go to Lark a lot. For me, it’s about special occasions. I like to really do it up in this intimate little food church, with its gorgeous exposed beams, its tiny votives twinkling, its perfect little plates of drippy pork belly and crisp, oiled asparagus appearing on the table the way gifts show up under the tree on Christmas Eve. Lark is my happy place.
4. Place Pigalle is a restaurant that could only exist in Pike Place Market. It’s French-inspired, of course, and it has that creaky, narrow charm and that sense of being perched atop a watery world below. This is Seattle, yo. Seattle at its most charmingly oddball and maritime. I love the trompe l’oeil mirrored wall near the entrance—every time I go I almost walk to the left, straight into the reflection of the small dining room to my right.
And I love most the roasted chipotle chicken “sandwich.” (It’s served with some buttery toasties and roasted peppers.) What manner of magic is happening in Pigalle’s wee kitchen that they can produce chicken this juicy and crispy-skinned and…interesting? It’s as if they’re secretly produced a duck-chicken hybrid back there, because the skin is just sooo crispy. Try that chicken.
5. And then there is Tilth, tucked into a Wallingford craftsmen. You want to come here for brunch or for dinner on a summer evening when the sun stays up, so you can soak up the perfect shades of lemon and grass on the walls, the way the light sparkles all over the glassware, the smiles on peoples’ faces as they dig into their croque monsieurs (stuffed with a decadent amount of black forest ham), their mini duck burgers, and their silky fillets of sockeye salmon.