Seattle Restaurants: New Trends in Dining Out
[pioneer square as dining destination]
Best of the trend: Little Uncle
There’s a bit of a speakeasy feel to the new Little Uncle, which is tucked below street level in an old brick building on Yesler in Pioneer Square (88 Yesler Way; 206.223.8529; littleuncleseattle.com). Inside, the atmosphere is boisterous, and chef-owners Wiley and PK Frank seem giddy with the freedom of expanding their Thai menu beyond the first delicious bites we tasted at their walk-up shop on Capitol Hill. (Never fear, it’s still open.) You can still get the exquisite tofu pad thai ($8.80), but now you can also nibble on lime-scented fish cakes ($5.50) or a flatbread roll-up of fragrant curried lamb roti ($7.50) as you sip hot, sweet Thai tea. For now, it’s a lunch spot, like many other new Pioneer Square cafés, but we’ll take what we can get. Little Uncle exemplifies a hopeful iconoclastic energy that we haven’t seen in the neighborhood for decades.
See also: Il Corvo, Bar Sajor, Rain Shadow Meats, Altstadt, The London Plane
Best of the trend: Le Pichet
No doubt, “nose to tail” cooking is a foodie buzz phrase, deployed as often as “farm to table.” But at downtown’s sublime Le Pichet (1933 First Ave.; 206.256.1499; lepichetseattle.com), it’s not marketing and it’s not a trend; it’s how the restaurant has always done things, simple as that. Pork tongue ($11) is sliced thin, then crisped, the star of a pear, celery root and black currant salad; and the daily offerings of 13 pâtés and cured sausages ($7–$12) are all made in-house, allowing the kitchen to utilize every bit of the carefully sourced meat. Opened by chef Jim Drohman and Joanne Herron 14 years ago, with tiled floors, wood banquettes and long bistro mirrors set at an angle, the place hums with a sort of civilized, big-city energy; romantic at night, comfortable at midday. And where else are you going to find good, rustic French wines for $5–$7 a glass? Our crush on Le Pichet endures.
See also: Café Presse, Le Petit Cochon, Dot’s Charcuterie and Bistrot, Bar Sajor, Miller’s Guild (Photo: Belltown’s French Le Pichet, where nose-to-tail dining has been on the menu all along)
Best of the Trend: Mamnoon
What is it that makes Capitol Hill’s Mamnoon (Capitol Hill, 1508 Melrose Ave.; 206.906.9606; mamnoonrestaurant.com) work so well? The room, with its dark walls and bubbling blown-glass light fixtures, is a bit of contemporary chic that’s refreshingly distinct from the current wave of refined folksiness elsewhere. In the end, though, we love Mamnoon for taking a favorite genre, Middle Eastern food, to new, thrilling levels of polish and intensity. At lunch it’s a go-to spot (with a takeout window!) for deliciously textured flatbread sandwiches ($7–$9). At dinner, go large on the small mezze plates; the humblest-sounding dishes are often the lushest, such as beet and tahini dip, red lentil soup and good old hummus ($7–$9). Share a big entrée such as the steak with chello, rice cooked in the Persian style, as light and flaky as a fresh snowfall ($40). Desserts, again, offer a fresh perspective: The milk pudding ($7), a creamy parfait of custard, preserved apricots and crunchy pistachio praline, is an exquisite layered excavation project.
See also: Café Turko, Cafe Munir, Vios
Want more amazing restaurant suggestions? Read about the Best New Restaurants in Seattle here.
[the big—but not too big—night out]
Best of the Trend: Lark
Why don’t we come here more often? We always find ourselves whispering this to each other halfway into dinner at Capitol Hill’s lovely, warm and gracious Lark (926 12th Ave.; 206.323.5275; larkseattle.com). The dining room is texturally seductive—soaring rustic wood ceilings, sheer curtains that billow when servers pass by—and echoes John Sundstrom’s cooking, which is elegant and refined, but still solidly of the earth, sky and sea. Here, you’ll spread the platonic ideal of chicken liver—butter-smooth, rich and thick—onto toasted walnut ficelle ($11), and marvel at the texture of semolina gnocchi, soft and light yet substantial, sautéed in a mellow melding of anchovies, pine nuts and fine Parmesan ($17). Lark celebrated its 10th anniversary in December, published a looker of a cookbook in 2013, and the kitchen and service are still expert and exacting. We say it’s a fine time to rediscover its abiding charms.
See also: Cafe Juanita, Book Bindery, Spinasse (Photo: The warm and rustic dining room at Capitol Hill’s superb Lark)
[everyday authentic asian delights]
Best of the Trend: Spicy Talk Bistro
So much talk in the past several years has been given to cheeky Asian-influenced restaurants that shop among traditions with casual aplomb. That makes a solid old-school, strip-mall neighborhood restaurant like Redmond’s Spicy Talk Bistro (16650 Redmond Way; 425.558.7858; spicytalkbistro.com) stand out all the more. We recommend gathering a big gang to visit, because portions at this Szechuan standby, helmed by Cheng Biao Yang, are generous, and you’ll be hard-pressed to choose among the dishes, such as hand-shaved dan dan noodles in a rich, savory sauce ($8.25), a scintillating braise of pork belly, tofu and mushrooms ($12.99) or fiery wild chili chicken that practically quivers with capsaicin ($9.95). It’s wide-awake food that will make you glad you chose not to go downtown for dinner.
See also: Mike’s Noodle House, Malay Satay Hut, Pho Bac, Kukai Ramen, Green Leaf
[oysters and wine=dinner]
Best of the Trend: Westward and Little Gull
Oysters are getting the star treatment they deserve: Oyster bars are popping up all over town, showcasing the sea jewels on cracked ice, with crisp white wines meant for pairing chosen to accent their fine flavor. We like this approach to our waterways’ most bountiful—and sustainable—seafood: oysters as the main attraction, rather than the prelude to the main course. There may be no better place to make a meal of white wine and a dozen (or more) oysters than at Little Gull, the adjoining oyster bar to Westward (2501 N Northlake Way; 206.552.8215; westwardseattle.com), North Lake Union’s spirited, Mediterranean-themed seafood spot. There, one might hop onto a barstool at the indoor oyster bar, belly adjacent to the iced-down bivalves ($15–$18 for half-dozen). Or, in better weather, relax beside the oyster-shell-encased fire pit in an Adirondack chair with a knockout view of the city.
See also: The Walrus and the Carpenter, Taylor Shellfish, Elliott’s Oyster House
Your Daily Bread
Please don’t take this the wrong way—we could’ve chosen a dozen worthy dishes from Holly Smith’s seasonally aware northern Italian Kirkland dinner destination. But among the many gracious touches that elevate a meal here is the bread plate at Cafe Juanita (9702 NE 120th Place; 425.823.1505; cafejuanita.com), a generous and beautiful assortment of warm house-made breads (usually including tender focaccia), along with three types of freshly made crackers and fine salted butter. It is a warm gesture, an impressive introduction to the restaurant, and one that is served gratis. Elsewhere in Seattle, where bread is fetishized and obsessed over, the sour loaf at Sitka & Spruce is damp to the touch on the inside and with a distinct sour tang, baked to a dark walnut-hued finish. It stands out, and above. And it’s also available at Matt Dillon’s Pioneer Square market/eatery, The London Plane. 322 Occidental Ave.; 206.624.1374; thelondonplaneseattle.com
[eating out healthier]
Best of the Trend: Vif
We love a lush and lusty meal, but this year has also brought a hearty crop of places—largely lunch spots—that deliver delightful flavors, textures and refinement, drawing from a less meat-dominated plate of ingredients. The centerpieces of a meal at Vif (Fremont, 4401 Fremont Ave. S; 206.557.7357; vifseattle.com) are vegetables, fruits and grains—buffed and polished with a bit of butter here and there—and the fine Campagne-honed technique of Lauren Feldman. In this glassy, convivial spot (formerly occupied by Herfy’s Burgers), representative of a new wave of sunshiny bakeries/cafés, you can get seasonal fruit galettes ($4) or a gorgeous bowl of curried lentil soup ($7) and a lush little bit of frittata ($6). When you’re done, you don’t feel logy and overstuffed, just deliciously sated. And the fact that Vif is also a wine shop specializing in organic and biodynamic wines makes it all the more appealing. It’s earthy, hippie fare doctored with just the right amount of refinement to keep us craving more.
See also: Juicebox, Tilikum Place Café, The Whale Wins (Photo: Fried egg tartine with romesco, arugula and manchego cheese)
Return of the Steak
After years of pig dishes dominating menus, chefs are back on the beef train. When Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang reopened Joule in “Wallingmont” (3506 Stone Way N; 206.632.5685; joulerestaurant.com), they went all in, with a steak subheader on the menu and four tender cuts to choose from. (The short rib steak with kimchi is fabulous, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them.) Martino’s on Phinney Ridge (7410 Greenwood Ave. N; 206.397.4689; martinosseattle.com) makes one heck of a smoked steak sandwich, a whopper with Santa Maria tri-tip piled deep and thick, with roasted poblano peppers and chimichurri. Downtown Seattle’s Miller’s Guild (612 Stewart St.; 206.443.3663; millersguild.com) debuted in Hotel Max in late December, making a big splash with its 9-foot-tall, wood-fired Grillworks grill, over which gorgeously marbled 75-day dry-aged beef steaks are grilled. (Sit at the chef’s counter by the grill to get a mind-blowing—and face-warming—look at the steak cookery in action.) Finally, the most recent evidence of a resurgence of steak: Ethan Stowell’s ode to steak frites, Red Cow (1423 34th Ave.; 206.454.7932; ethanstowellrestaurants.com), a brasserie that opened in February in the former Cremant/June/Restaurant Bea space in Madrona with a menu devoted to the classic bistro plate of steak and french fries. (Photo: Wearing a leather apron to protect him from the fire of the massive grill, Jason Wilson from Miller’s Guild puts finishing touches on the night’s dishes)
Teeny Tiny Restaurants
There is a special thrill in happening upon a tiny restaurant, as if one has discovered a secret place. That’s the charge we felt when we first stepped into Ethan Stowell’s Mkt. (2108 N 55th St.; 206.812.1580; ethanstowellrestaurants.com), the narrow, snug, farmers-market-driven (hence the name), 28-seat restaurant in the already tricky-to-find Tangletown nook of Green Lake. There, in an open kitchen adjacent to banquettes fit into the narrow space, chef Joe Richie keeps the small kitchen in strict order; the food here is thoughtful, interesting and, at times, outright impressive (the winter squash fritters are amazing!). When Stowell opens Noyer in late spring, he’s going even teensier. The 16-seat fine dining parlor will be located behind his newest restaurant, Madrona’s Red Cow, which opened in February. Another master at squeezing delicious restaurants into tiny spaces: Renee Erickson. Her latest, Barnacle (4743 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.706.3379; thebarnaclebar.com), flanking her Walrus and the Carpenter restaurant in Ballard, has room for just 14 at the bar, plus one eight-person booth tucked in the rear of the space. There, a list of 10–12 dishes—drinking snacks such as saltine crackers with shaved butter and anchovies marinated in Calabrian chiles, or mussels escabèche with cilantro and chewy bread—and 15 glasses of wine are on offer, plus a vast array of amari (an herbal Italian digestif that’s fast becoming commonplace in cocktail bars). For about the last year, Dot’s, the destination-worthy deli (particularly outstanding sausages), has been serving dinner, and when the lights are dimmed, it feels less like a deli, and a remarkably good meal can be enjoyed here. Now, however, after a remodel, there’s room for 29 diners at the newly coined Dot’s Charcuterie and Bistrot (4262 Fremont Ave. N; 206.687.7446; dotsdelicatessen.com). You’d be especially wise to opt for a grass-fed top sirloin bathed in rich red wine pan sauce, with exceptional hand-cut fries with garlic aioli on the side. Country-style duck liver pâté with cornichon and grain mustard is a fine way to start, as is the French onion soup, made especially deep and delicious from chicken stock made in-house.