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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Taste of the Town

What's new: Asteroid moving to Fremont; O'Asian takes shape

Seattle Times restaurant critic

The Asteroid Cafe is blasting off, moving from its tiny digs in Wallingford (1605 N. 45th St., Seattle; 206-547-2514) to a far grander space in Fremont. "I'm psyched!" says owner, chef, sommelier, happy host and political activist Marlin Hathaway, who hopes to make the move by mid-May, with only a few days closure in between.

His little Italian restaurant with the big Italian menu (and unbelievably long wine list!) will re-

invent itself as Asteroid. You'll find it in the former wine bar and cafe space adjacent the old Red Apple Market (3601 Fremont Ave. N., Suite 207), now undergoing an extensive remodel. "Of course, I'll keep the same political flavor, menu style and wine selections as I have for the last eight years," says Hathaway. "I know no other way."

The new Asteroid will offer dinner nightly and is set to seat 60 in the dining room plus 35 in the bar (Yes, the bar! We'll no longer have to wait out in the rain for a table). A 20-seat communal table will be a prominent dining-room feature. In anticipation of a late-night bar scene, Hathaway promises live music — jazz or world beat — Wednesday through Saturday, beginning at 10 p.m.

As for the original, Hathaway intends to maintain the lease on the funky little Wallingford treasure, using it as a private banquet facility. Once things get settled, true to form, he'll offer the space to local peace groups and other progressive charities as a site for fundraising events.

Speaking of private dining facilities

Palisade (Elliott Bay Marina, 2601 W. Marina Place, Seattle, www.palisaderestaurant.com or 206-285-1000), just unveiled its newest "slice of paradise": the Alani Room, a koa-wood-trimmed party-hearty room with a dedicated kitchen, fancy audio-visual equipment, service bar and dance floor.

It's unlikely you'll recognize this as the site of the dearly departed Sanmi Sushi (closed last year), and you may never be invited to a bridal party, bar mitzvah or anniversary bash here, where the room seats 150 (and can accommodate twice that number if you add in the patio and don't sit down inside), but if you want to give the place a look-see, you'll soon have another reason to drop by.

Beginning May 1, Palisade, that big-view joint next door, resumes lunch service. On chef Kraig Hansen's menu expect the likes of bite-size Snake River Kobe beef burgers ($10.50), Macadamia nut chicken ($13.50) and lobster ravioli ($13.50), served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.weekdays.

Dim sum and then some

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Just in case you were wondering what's to become of the original Ruth's Chris restaurant, shuttered at the end of 2004 when the steakhouse moved into the Grand Hyatt, wonder no more.

Restaurateurs Janet Lau and Walter Kwan recently gutted the 10,000-square-foot space in preparation for its new life as O'Asian (800 Fifth Ave., Seattle). When it opens (ETA: mid-July), O'Asian will offer daily dim sum and other regional Chinese specialties, as well as a taste of Thailand and Vietnam.

Interior designer Hank Lo, who put his artistic mark on Wasabi Bistro, Red Fin and Jasmine, among other local Asian-themed restaurants, has taken on the task of transforming the old Ruth's Chris into a contemporary upscale restaurant and 75-seat bar. Add to that three banquet rooms and we're talking seating for 350 — and plenty of room for roaming dim sum carts.

No strangers to the business, Lau and her husband Kwan are owners of Bellevue's Top Gun Seafood Restaurant (12450 S.E. 38th St., 425-641-3386) and tiny Tropics, a Thai cafe in the Chinatown International District (606 S. Weller St., Seattle; 206-682-9888).

This is an exciting new venture for the couple, says Lau, whose husband was on a tasting tour of China when we spoke last week, accompanied by executive chef Wai King Huen. "Chef King," as he's called, also has local ties to the Chinese restaurant community — as former head chef and co-owner of Bellevue's Noble Court (1644 140th Ave. N.E.; 425-641-6011).

Chef King and his crew will prepare more than 50 changing dim sum selections, says Lau, as well as a multi-course menu offering "an educational history" of Chinese foods. And who would want to miss this: O'Asian's extensive tea selection will include the rare "monkey picked tea" — gathered by hand (paw?) by Chinese monkeys whose agility allows them to reach wild tea plants inaccessible to humans. O'Asian will be open 365 days a year for lunch, dinner and late nights in the lounge.

Arrivederci, Capitol Hill

It was a sad day March 31 when La Panzanella Bakery & Café closed its doors, 11 years after Italian baker Ciro Pasciuto began dispensing his extraordinary "Ciro's Bread" — and philosophies of life — from this charming East Union Street bake shop.

It has been several years since Pasciuto moved to California, leaving his bakery in the hands of new owner Paul Pigott and longtime general manager Antonio Galati. He also left his mother's recipe for croccantini ("little crunchy bites"), the crackers that have taken the nation by storm in his absence, winning praise — and prizes — that led the new owner to build a factory in Georgetown just to keep up with production.

Today, says Galati, they're producing 5,000 to 7,500 pounds of croccantini a day, and La Panzanella breads, formerly baked on Capitol Hill, are being produced by a Lynnwood baking company. All sigh for progress.

In the past two years, rent on the East Union Street shop has risen about 50 percent, says Galati. "Last year they increased it 20 percent, now they want to increase it practically another 30. We decided it wasn't worth it. We tried to buy the building, but they wouldn't sell."

Instead, the company will focus on its cracker production. On the day the cafe closed, Galati, who has been there from the start, shared wine with his employees (20 of whom lost their jobs with the closure). "I feel empty," he says. "But that's life. What are you going to do?"

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or taste@seattletimes.com.

See more columns at seattletimes.com/nancyleson

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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