Small yet generous, modest yet gloriously self-assured—Altura (which in Italian means both “height” and “profound depth”) spins its delicate web of opposites in a candlelit space on North Broadway. Chef and owner Nathan Lockwood hails from the private dining club the Ruins, where he developed an eye for rococo decadence—one formidable angel hangs from the rafters—and a gift for making diners feel like treasured guests. Service is notably stunning. All this praise and we haven’t even gotten to the food: Northwest seasonal ingredients gone Italian rustic—then pushed through an elegance sieve. So off a weekly changing menu, slices of Muscovy duck might come fanned over red cabbage with crumbled amaretti and caramel-roasted turnip; scallops may be dusted with fennel pollen alongside grilled radicchio and fennel. In a refreshing departure from convention one can assemble three-, four-, or five-course meals from all parts of the menu—three starters, for instance, or four mains (apportioned accordingly)—along with an a la carte option. But whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. Closed Sun & Mon.
Art of the Table Northwest
One of the best of the unrestaurants, this teensy six-table Wallingford room with the butter-yellow walls and the World Beat music also serves careful, delectable food: eight courses, Fridays and Saturdays (a la carte midweek), along a seasonal theme that chef Dustin Ronspies shyly narrates from the kitchen door. (This may include a sermonette, be warned, about the virtue of eating communally.) The charming Ronspies is a gifted chef, turning out dishes marked by subtle contrasts and textural interplay: smoky poussin with sweet spring vegetables and yam puree, perhaps, or thin-sliced red and golden beets over whipped chevre on flaky pastry. If it’s summer you may get nasturtium petals strewn across your salad and a “full moon” of honey panna cotta for dessert—fun dishes to speed the bonding with the other foodophiles at your table.
Boat Street cafe/Boat Street Kitchen French
No place in town better captures the winsome charms of Provence than this unpretentious gem in the awkward nonneighborhood (read: lousy parking) where Western converges with Denny. Who cares where it is—it’s not on Boat Street anymore, either—because the space is utterly transporting, from the whitewashed rafters to the wood floors, and from the fresh wildflowers gushing out of watering cans to candles flickering in mismatched wine bottles. The food, presented with clockwork consistency and unbelievable value, is simplicity itself: perhaps vivid carrot soup spiked with star anise and foamy as mousse, lightly steamed salmon dressed in Meyer lemon tarragon cream and served with caramelized Brussels sprouts. Desserts—including the original Boat Street’s toe-curling amaretto bread pudding—continue the creamy aesthetic. Lunch happens in the adjoining Boat Street Kitchen.
Cafe Juanita Italian
It’s the classiest standby on the Eastside, where Holly Smith dances in the footsteps of the venerable Peter Dow. What he began in 1977 she refines and perfects, with high-end Northern Italian food rendered consistently and innovatively. Vivid dishes—like grilled squab with seared foie gras or mushroom-stuffed rabbit leg wrapped in pancetta and served with a chickpea crepe and a fennel and green salad—showcase fastidious attention to perfect ingredients and dazzling creative verve in the kitchen, a verve that stands in appealing contrast to the slightly timeworn room. Warning: Unless you’re familiar with Kirkland’s lakeside community of Juanita, you will not find this hidden spot without help. Closed Mon.
Canlis has been perched out over the vertiginous eastern edge of Queen Anne Hill for over 50 years. That makes it about as classic as it gets in this town—right down to the reconstructed surf-and-turf menu, the midcentury split-level architecture (a marvel of luxurious restraint), the dinner-jacketed clientele, the noblest mixed drinks in town, the fathoms-deep wine list, the perfectionist standard of service (where the valets remember your car without aid of a claim ticket), and the whole breathtaking sweep of Lake Union twinkling just beyond the windows. Now in its third generation of Canlis family operators, what was once the most intimidating dining room in Seattle has a friendlier, almost folksy air—but the food remains, as ever, impeccable.
Cascina Spinasse Italian
Here in Pike/Pine’s rustic Piedmontese farmstead (trestle tables, wood beams, wrought-iron chandeliers, lace curtains) diners feast on robust platters of slow-stewed venison with currants and buckwheat polenta, or heirloom chicory salad with chunks of marinated rabbit and extraordinary aged balsamic vinegar—all lovingly oiled and seasoned. The pasta achieves density and delicacy at once, in ravioli of rapini with pine nuts or hearty cavatelli lavished with chanterelles. A plain ragù featuring rich, rolled Piedmontese egg-yolk noodles called tajarin is a masterpiece, giving Seattleites their first taste of pasta the way it’s done in Italy. A neighboring bar, Artusi, lets us drink like Italians too, in a room adorned with chef Jason Stratton’s art and featuring a menu of sophisticated Italian noshes and aperitifs.
The Herbfarm Northwest
It’s the pull-out-all-the-stops, Big Night Out dining room in the state, maybe in three states—and, unlikely of unlikelies, it’s also pretty close to culinarily flawless. Its genesis is the stuff of legend; a couple of humble Fall City gardeners with extra chives began selling their bounty out of a roadside cart, then a small retail shop, where they began turning the herbs into festive lunches, then multicourse dinners. Before long, the charming country restaurant had earned a regional reputation for nine-course feasts built upon a theme—Copper River salmon perhaps in late spring, truffles midwinter. Chefs comb the wilds and the deeps for the freshest seasonal components, then ingeniously combine them into the sorts of preparations that make bold new sense of Northwest plenty: Dungeness crab and spot prawns with apple-fennel salad and a frothy sea urchin sauce; Douglas fir sorbet, a bracing Herbfarm classic; or, during root vegetable week, Wagyu beef short ribs with truffled beets, glazed turnips, and a parsnip praline. It is all served with astutely matched wines off a fathomless list by a staff of courteous pros, and preceded by a lively tutorial from the chef on the herbs and ingredients on offer that evening. There’s a lot that’s unique about the Herbfarm, including its florid baroque decor (whatever isn’t gilded is covered in chintz), its four-hour dinners, its Chilean guitarist, and its lavish formality (Five forks! Five wineglasses!). But for our money, and it’s a lot of money, the gently instructional tone is the best part of the experience, revealing that the heart of this world-class destination remains its earnest and down-to-earth delight in the garden. Reservations essential. Dinner only Thu-Sun.
The Harvest Vine Spanish/Small Plates
The best tapas in Seattle come from behind the copper counter where Basque chefs assemble platitos of glistening octopus or veal tongue or smoked sturgeon, wedges of tortilla, crab-stuffed piquillo peppers, venison in pepper sauce, sumptuous garlic prawns, grilled sardines—and on and, hiccup, on. Good luck snagging a seat at that bar. With a party of eight or more, however, you can reserve the newer downstairs txoko, or “little corner,” with its Old World open-beam construction and stone walls. A big communal table, plentifully lubricated, is the best way to enjoy tapas anyway. Weekend brunches are the best-kept secret in town, for omelets and pan tostadas and the buttery, vanilla-sugared pastries called caracolillos.
When it opened in 2007, Joule was like nothing Seattle had ever tasted. Not only were Korean thrills like kimchi and fermented tofu still breaking news outside the exotic mom-and-pops of Shoreline and Federal Way, we’d never before seen them fused with classic Western cuisine. When it moved in 2012, it reemerged in sleek Fremont quarters as a Korean-fusion steak house, buzzing with loud music and an open kitchen and close quarters (and close tables) and muscular cocktails and a city full of young devotees of Joule’s aptly named sister Revel. Expect the humblest cuts of beef—pot roast, shoulder—cooked to perfectionist specs and draped in unexpected fire from chili sauces and fermented tofu; expect sides like sliced pennies of crispy-chewy rice cake with greens and chorizo, or Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto, or some other innovation you cannot believe tastes this extraordinary.
Sitka and Spruce Northwest
Seattle’s locavore dining scene got prettier the moment intense young practitioner Matt Dillon relocated Sitka from the darkest cranny in Eastlake to perhaps its most radiant height. From tables, counter seats, and a communal board in the sunlight-drenched corner of Melrose Market, diners can survey Seattle’s own Les Halles through vintage panes—there’s the butcher, there’s the blossom shop—or Dillon and crew in the open kitchen, composing the simple, hearty seasonal plates he’s known for. Look for produce adoration, enormous flavors, compulsive seasonality, and more than a few Middle Eastern tweaks—on plates that at lunchtime feel appealingly noshy, like sweet whole carrots over chickpea puree with harissa and fried mint, and at dinnertime may take your breath away.