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Originally published July 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 4, 2007 at 2:40 AM

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Taste of the Town

Matt's in the Market reopens; Café Presse is new

Got fireworks? We need some! Why? To celebrate the debut of a couple of long-awaited restaurant offshoots, the expansion and re-opening...

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Nancy Leson on KPLU

The Seattle Times restaurant critic's commentaries on food and restaurants can be heard on KPLU-FM (88.5) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Wednesdays, and at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays.

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Got fireworks? We need some!

Why? To celebrate the debut of a couple of long-awaited restaurant offshoots, the expansion and re-opening of a Pike Place Market favorite, and the news that the smallest wine bar in Greater Seattle opened in (yippee!) my neighborhood.

Matt's in the moment

It's been a year and a half since I wrote about the impending expansion of tiny Matt's in the Market, 94 Pike St., Suite 32, Seattle; 206-467-7909. (Taste of the Town, Jan. 18, 2006.) And what a long strange trip it's been.

Last fall, the next-door-neighboring demo began, to make room for his additional space. Then, after a busy 2006 Christmas season, owner Matt Janke closed his place and engaged in a little R&R, expecting to re-open within a couple of months. It's been an agonizing wait ever since.

Hardcore fans — myself among them — have been glued to Matt's blog (see www.mattsinthemarket.com) as the revamp drama unfolded. An education in delayed gratification, that blog is a documentary of dashed deadlines and a rare, honest and very personal look into the private life of a hard-working restaurant guy whose fan base is legion.

But on June 27th — Matt's 47th birthday — the inspection gods came through with the big thumbs-up. That night he welcomed paying guests to his new and (how can it be possible?) improved restaurant. After a months-long multitude of close-but-no-stogie debut dates, Matt's is finally doing business in expanded digs, a ravishing remodel embracing the southwest corner on the second story of the Pike Place Market's Corner Market Building.

Incredibly, the former skinny little room — with only nine counter seats, a few tables and a galley-size kitchen/wine bar/dishwashing area — has magically managed to retain its intimate feel despite the fact that its footprint is now nearly three times the original size.

Remember the single arched window? Now there are four, rimmed with tables, looking out onto the Market clock. The old "Counter Intelligence" sign hangs over an actual bar, serving actual booze and the friendly wines that Matt's has long been known for.

The eating counter has been rebuilt and reconfigured; its seats now facing an expansive open kitchen. Yes sir-ee, a real kitchen, with a grill (for grilling rib-eye steaks!), an actual stove (where clams piri piri are still steamed!), and room for a quartet of cooks to roam freely (plating up smoked catfish salad!). There's even (whoa!) an adjacent dishwashing room.

And there, last Wednesday night, doing the voodoo that he does so well, was the restaurant's namesake, working the room on his birthday with casual aplomb, seating guests, serving salmon, pouring champagne and taking a bow as a jazz trio fêted him with a favored tune — Jerome Kern's "I'm Old Fashioned." Yet it was the room itself that sung of old-fashioned comfort and visual romance. A fitting birthday gift, indeed; for us and for Janke. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, dinner 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

They Presse'd on

A year ago I reported that Jim Drohman and Joanne Herron planned to open an offshoot of that other little Pike Place Market charmer, Le Pichet: www.lepichetseattle.com. (Café Presse to bring Parisian "corner spot" to Capitol Hill). And in keeping with the ongoing discussion of delayed gratification, six months after their earliest ETA, they finally did it.

Café Presse (1117 12th Ave., Seattle, 206-709-7674, cafepresseseattle.com) is now open near the corner of 12th and Madison in Seattle University's backyard. I stopped in for a look-see last week and here's what I saw:

Racks of newspapers and magazines waiting near the door. Herron, lovely as ever, running the café with her patented brand of elegance. Exposed brick and beams lending that de rigueur "old" look to an industrial-chic setting. A lengthy bar anchored by an espresso machine and populated with some of Seattle's savviest diners — hello Bob and Lynn Peterson! More tables! And, in the way-back, a sunny sliver of a room full-up with patrons taking advantage of an all-day menu of miraculously modestly priced French classics.

That menu nods vigorously in the direction of Le Pichet's. It offers simple snacks such as pain et beurre (baguette with butter and jam), charcuterie, soups and salads, omelets and various "croques" — dishes that range from $2.50 to a whomping $9. Plus a few full-on "plats" including steak frites ($16) and Presse's version of Pichet's vaunted poulet roti (a whole chicken for two, roasted to order, $26). Coffee and croissants? Salade Niçoise and sauv blanc? Steak and a scotch? Oui, mes amis. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Via West Galer

And now, from the "Let's get small(er)" department, there's the Second Coming of Via Tribunali, which made its long-awaited Queen Anne debut late last month (at 317 W. Galer St., Seattle, 206-264-7768) — six months later than expected.

The new Via Trib sits in a quiet neighborhood storefront atop Queen Anne Hill, kitty-corner to Trader Joe's, and it looks much like the original, only smaller: same rustic ambiance, same dome-shaped pizza oven in the corner, same traditional-pizza-centric menu.

Unlike its scenester-haunt sibling on Capitol Hill (913 E. Pike St., Seattle; 206-322-9234), this family-friendlier pizzeria isn't about a bar scene or in-vogue vibe. But you can rest assured you'll still be waiting for a seat. And — here we grow again — we now have something else to wait for: According to the company Web site (viatribunali.com), a third Via Tribunali is "coming soon" — to Georgetown.

Love at first sip

As if drinking rosé at Matt's in the Market on its (re)opening night wasn't enough to thrill me to the marrow, back home in Edmonds I sipped another glassful of summer pink at what can only be described as a cross between Le Pichet and a shoebox.

What did I do to deserve Daphnes (415 ½ Main St., 425-776-6402)? Here, next to the Edmonds Theater, two window tables and a four-seat bar constitute a full house. This miniature mom-n-pop shop, selling "beer, wine & a little food" is a homecoming of sorts for Edmonds native and Bishop Blanchet graduate Brian Taylor.

I found him tending bar in a crisp white barman's coat, working alongside his partner Louise Favier (with baby Jack draped over her shoulder). The pair made a splash in Brooklyn where they (still) own the Greenpoint Coffeehouse and Pencil Factory Bar, and in Long Island City, where they co-own L.I.C. Bar (check 'em out at greenpointcoffeehouse.com).

Back "home" to tend to family business, they're slicing Salumi meats and imported cheeses, pouring pints and fine wines and bringing joy to this wine lover. One who — rockets red glare! — could heretofore find little to do on my hometown's Main Street after 9 p.m. save for shooting a cannon down the block. Daphnes is open limited hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Ballard's Dandelion to close Sunday

On a sad note, Dandelion (5809 24th Ave. N.W., 206-708-8088), the beloved Ballard bistro that was the longtime dream of chef Carol Nockold, will close Sunday, says owner Connie Palmore, who co-founded the sunny little cafe with Nockold in 2004. Closing Dandelion is "a bittersweet, emotional thing to do," says Palmore, a former systems analyst for Starbucks. "But it's time."

A year after opening Dandelion, Palmore's life and business partner was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Nockold continued to run her "dream restaurant," with the help of chef Kristy Scott, as the progressively degenerative disease took its toll. Nockold died in December and Palmore has run the place with Scott's assistance since.

"Kristy and I have had an amazing post-Carol experience," Palmore says. "We've tried to stay true to what Carol would have wanted, but neither one of us is Carol."

She expects to turn the keys over to new owner Jeff Birkner mid-July, and says that Birkner plans to re-open as an upscale Tex-Mex cafe and bar.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com. More columns are available at seattletimes.com/nancyleson.

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