Best Of The City

11 Restaurants with Great Atmospheres

In honor of Valentine’s Day, some dining rooms worthy of an amorous liaison.

By Kathryn Robinson February 3, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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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). But whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. 17 Broadway E, Capitol Hill, 206-402-6749; $$$

Brimmer and Heeltap

Out of a winsome whitewashed farmhouse setting in Ballard come plates of inspired Korean fusion so buoyant they ricochet across the palate like pinballs: dishes like octopus-mizuna salad frisky with herbs and root vegetables and chili oil, or sumptuous morsels of broiled pork shoulder with kimchi-doused green apples—served as larges or smalls to enable full dinners or affordable grazing. The food is intelligent and satisfying, the welcome genuine, the bar scene lively (credit thoughtful cocktails), and the enchanting hidden courtyard a sun-dappled must on the romance tour. 425 NW Market St, Ballard, 206-420-2534; $$$

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Brimmer and Heeltap

Image: Olivia Brent

Cafe Flora

Long the vegetarian standard-bearer in town, this beloved Madison Valley dining room can make gluten free taste good. Its quesadilla starter—roasted yam in a corn tortilla with pumpkin-seed-cilantro-scallion spread, salsa verde, and lime creme fraiche—is happily inhaled. The menu continues in this gleefully inventive vein, careening from one clever textural harvest (artichoke croquettes, served with citrus cream and chili lime sauces on a bed of lentils and slaw with orange-ginger vinaigrette) to the next (grilled polenta cakes with roasted oyster and cremini mushrooms, kale, delicata squash, pomegranate molasses, fig balsamic reduction, and Point Reyes blue cheese). The menu changes with the seasons, but certain dishes—the comfort-filled Oaxaca tacos, the delectable portobello Wellington—must remain lest a city revolt. All are enjoyed in a window-wrapped room, particularly pleasant during weekend brunch, and an atrium complete with burbling fountain.
2901 E Madison St, Madison Valley, 206-325-9100;

Lark, Bitter/Raw

John Sundstrom relocated his fanatically beloved Lark to the warehousey flank of Pike/Pine off Madison, spinning out a starlit space—indigo banquettes, white linens, a welkin of pendants overhead—as elegant as any in town. Out of the rafters he carved a casual bar, Bitter/Raw, offering charcuterie and crudo, along with plenty of bitter cocktails. But Lark, once the upstart that pioneered small-plate dining, has become the noble elder; grownups come here for that disappearing species—relaxing high-end dinners—assembled either from small plates or a combination of mains and Sundstrom’s famous grains. The menu is long and speckled with old favorites (eel with saba, skillet of mascarpone-creamy farro) and executed, as in crisped pork belly with cauliflower puree and rye whiskey glaze, with Lark’s reliably able hand. Less sure is service, throwing into bold relief the poise of this food even as it reminds that this is, after all, still Pike/Pine. 952 E Seneca St, Capitol Hill, 206-323-5275; $$$$, $$

Le Pichet

Francophiles sniffed out Le Pichet the instant it opened, and they’ve been here ever since. One step inside the slender First Ave bistro with the little black awning transports you directly to the Right Bank of Paris—with all the buzz of lively conversation, the pulse of an all-day crowd, and the petit ceramic pitchers of wine it’s named for. Just like in Paris, the menu is full of terrines, pates, charcuterie, and entrees like moules frites, that perfect combination of shellfish and fries that passes as fast food in France; or succulent roast chicken for two, which is renowned across the city and worth the hour wait. Just like in Paris, that chicken might at times arrive slightly overcooked. C’est la vie: You’ll be back to idle away a morning with cafe au lait and a baguette or to lunch on country pate with greens. Evenings the place fills up and gets noisy, but this is one spot that understands that more tables packed closely together is more intimate than tables spaced too far apart. 1933 First Ave, Downtown, 206-256-1499; $$


Seattle has seen a number of Marjories: the cozy Belltown original, exotic as a gypsy caravan; the windowy quarters on Capitol Hill, which kicked culinary pretentions up a notch; and most recently the evolution of that space into a relaxed neighborhood charmer like the original. Owner Donna Moodie, one of the city’s genuine hosts, has warmed hard edges with pillows and exuberant color on azure walls; in summer the garage doors roll up and the happy burble from the bar and restaurant rolls out onto the patio. Across the alley, an adjunct space seats overflow or private parties. The menu pays globe-trotting homage to Italy (with dishes like porchetta and housemade gnocchi), India (tikka masala chicken), and the American South (pork shank with grits, greens, and red-eye gravy); but the attention getter is a fat messy burger with aioli, harissa ketchup, and, if you want it, a distractingly thick slab of bacon. The dessert menu may go beyond the bourbon brioche bread pudding, but we never have. 1412 E Union St, Capitol Hill, 206-441-9842; $$

Matt's in the Market

It's Pike Place Market's neighborhood restaurant, boasting the kind of ever-present crowd and soul-rich vitality that showier joints only dream about. The appeal? One of Seattle’s iconic views, for starters, through pretty half-moon windows looking over market (there’s the pig!) and bay. As for the food, look for fresh, exuberant innovations that showcase that day’s bounty from the fishmongers and high stallers downstairs, at times pleasantly, at times extraordinarily. Lunchtime brings prices into the realm of the affordable, along with a famous lineup of inspired sandwiches. Where to bring the out-of-towners. Closed Sun. 94 Pike St, Ste 32, Pike Place Market, 206-467-7909; $$$

Restaurant Marron

Inside Seattle’s most historic dining room, decorated with murals of a Pushkin fairy tale—two-, three-, five-, and many-more-course dinners proceed along a familiar trifecta: French technique, Northwest sourcing, Asian inflections. The changing menu may include triumphs (heirloom eggplant two ways with baby leeks in foie gras vinaigrette), but productions don’t always rise above the sum of the parts—something you expect at these prices. Service is careful; at times, overly so. 806 E Roy St, Capitol Hill, 206-322-0409; $$$$ 

Restaurant Zoë

Zoë Deux.0 is the Capitol Hill (read: more casual), post–Great Recession (read: there’s a burger) version of the beloved classic, formerly of Belltown, with a dinner menu full of French-influenced small plates, yolk-dripping salads, meaty mains, and diminutive desserts. Modern methods, like Banyuls gelee cubes on a frisky steak tartare or luscious sous vide lamb ribs over black lentils, don’t call attention to themselves so much as smartly enhance the rustic preparations. All in a beautiful corner space delivering atmosphere from the Napalike garden entry to the manly industrial main room to the winsome sunroom with the boho-farmhouse vibe. Come as you are! 1318 E Union St, Capitol Hill, 206-256-2060; $$$ 

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Restaurant Zoë

Image: Olivia Brent

Serafina Osteria e Enoteca

It’s rustic Italian cuisine, in a setting so unabashedly sexy it makes raging lust look just a little uptight. To the strains of live jazz vocals, against a backdrop in all the sultry colors of a Tuscan twilight—or alfresco in a charming vine-entwined courtyard—lovers can feed one another lush forkfuls of dishes like pumpkin ravioli in brown butter-sage sauce or braised rabbit with parmesan polenta or vermouth-simmered Penn Cove mussels. A vibrant bar and perhaps a velvety panna cotta bookend your evening in a way that altogether explains why it was so hard to get a table. 2043 Eastlake Ave E, Eastlake, 206-323-0807; 


The best of Deming Maclise and James Weimann’s stage set restaurants (Bastille, Poquito’s, MacLeod’s, Rhein Haus), this sprawler in Ballard Avenue’s Hotel Ballard recalls early twentieth-century New York with gleaming hardwoods and antique glass. In the kitchen it’s all about the stone hearth oven, the chef at its helm (really named Jason Stoneburner), and the fine blistered pizzas he pulls out of it. His caramelized cauliflower bedsheet ravioli is just one of the reasons diners have so much fun here. 5214 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-695-2051; $$$

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