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Originally published December 30, 2010 at 1:01 PM | Page modified December 30, 2010 at 3:50 PM

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Visions of parsnips dance in her head: A critic reflects on dinners past

Restaurant critic Providence Cicero tells about some of the best food she has eaten in Seattle-area restaurants this year.

Special to The Seattle Times

Restaurants

Blackboard Bistro

3247 California Ave. S.W., West Seattle

206-257-4832

www.blackboardbistroseattle.com

Cicchetti

121 E. Boston St., Seattle

206-859-4155

http://serafinaseattle.com/cicchetti

Copperleaf

Cedarbrook Lodge, 18525 36th Ave. S., Seattle

206-214-4282

www.cedarbrooklodge.com

Emmer & Rye

1825 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle

206-282-0680

www.emmerandrye.com

Marjorie

1412 E. Union St., Seattle

206-441-9842

www.marjorierestaurant.com

Mistral Kitchen

2020 Westlake Ave.; Seattle

206-623-1922

www.mistral-kitchen.com

Nettletown

2238 Eastlake Ave. E.; Seattle

206-588-3607

www.nettletown.com

Terra Vista

Snoqualmie Casino

37500 S.E. North Bend Way, Snoqualmie

425-888-1234

www.snocasino.com

Toulouse Petit

601 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle

206-432-9069

www.toulousepetit.com

Ventana

2323 First Ave., Seattle

206-441-4789

www.ventanaseattle.com

It was a year of eating fabulously.

Fatty pork in pickled cherry broth at Emmer & Rye, gingerbread-crusted venison at Copperleaf and honey-roasted parsnips at Blackboard Bistro come to mind. So do sausages roasting on an open fire at Cicchetti, and bratwurst tucked next to buttered knoepfli at Nettletown.

Last month in the Dining Out issue of The Seattle Times' Sunday magazine, Pacific Northwest, I saluted my top 10 new restaurants of 2010. (If you missed it, go to seattletimes.com and search "10 favorite new restaurants.") That list singled out the best of the best. Now here's a toast to the best of the rest.

At Emmer & Rye, Seth Caswell cooks with simplicity that suits this dressed-down Queen Anne Victorian. He respects what his local, seasonal ingredients have to say. In the spring, nettles gently flavored pale green pappardelle noodles served with kale and braised rabbit in broth softly humming with thyme. In the fall, pork backfat, romano beans and new potatoes strutted through brash, coriander-stoked pickled-cherry broth.

At tiny Nettletown, Christina Choi also lets the season call the shots. I adore her knoepfli and other noodle dishes, but always consult the chalkboard specials. That's how I happened upon a brilliant BLT variation that swapped lettuce for peppercress; also amazing pickled beets, both root and stalk slivered to toothpick size and steeped with lots of ginger.

Marjorie debuted on Capitol Hill just as summer did. The season's bounty inspired chef Kylen McCarthy's fragile corn flan, adorned with chunks of lobster and set it in a translucent broth of lobster and corn. Marjorie's updated Caprese salad — peeled, basil-marinated cherry tomatoes and ripe, runny, sheep's milk cheese — was equally astonishing.

Now that winter's here, I long for a seat in front of Cicchetti's wood-fired oven and chef Dylan Giordan's superb fennel sausage braised in red wine with onions and grapes, and with it, the brown-rimmed melt of pecorino dubbed "oven floor cheese."

At Ventana in Belltown chef Joseph Conrad sneaked pecorino into potato gnocchi and paired those dainty dumplings with tiny turnips in a subtle foie gras brodo speckled with pork cracklings. He wowed me with Brussels sprouts fried in brown butter with lemon, chilies and chopped white anchovies. His fennel ice cream, atop lemon-soaked financier cake rimmed with tangerine, was one of the year's most dazzling desserts.

For unabashed indulgence, there were few rivals to Mistral Kitchen's Potatoes Robuchon. Chef William Belickis also makes a magical foie gras mousse capped with Riesling gelée, so fleeting in the mouth, yet so complex, savory and sweet, with the bitter crunch of cocoa nibs and a burst of salt on the finish.

At West Seattle's charming Blackboard Bistro Jacob Wiegner gives sweet, honey-roasted parsnips a breakout role in a composed winter salad whose sassy and savory supporting cast includes chestnuts, pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs. Another blackboard favorite: finely julienned honey crisp apple and idiazabal cheese, chive-speckled and sprinkled with good olive oil — a forkful of flavors that exploded like a meteor shower in my mouth.

Two peak-of-the-fall-season salads were high points of meals at Cedarbrook Lodge's gracious Copperleaf Restaurant. One mingled fresh figs, culatello and toasted coriander, the other foraged mushrooms, grilled leeks and sunchokes. On those plates, as well as in a dinner entree of gingerbread-crusted venison with wild huckleberry sauce, Chef Mark Bodinet memorably corralled the quintessence of autumn in the Northwest.

Two steaks make the cut, so to speak, both rib-eyes. The 2-pound tomahawk steak (American Wagyu from Mishima Ranch) at Snoqualmie Casino's sumptuous Terra Vista dining room-with-a view costs a cool $80, but it's superb and certainly a substantial dinner for two (three if you bring Fido the footlong bone).

More realistic for most of us: Toulouse Petit's 12-ounce lagniappe rib-eye. The lavishly marbled prime steak will set you back just $25 and includes estimable pommes frites. A bonus: the irresistible "Big Easy" ambiance of this Lower Queen Anne haunt for the hoi polloi, where we can pretend the good times still roll.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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