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Originally published November 15, 2009 at 12:17 AM | Page modified November 15, 2009 at 11:19 AM

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Portraits

Nobody eats alone at The Thomas Street Bistro

At The Thomas Street Bistro on Seattle's Capitol Hill, the food is simple, the wine plentiful, the conversation all-around and the service all-knowing. There's something for everybody, and anybody.

It's just a little place on a side street. Capitol Hill. But not the Broadway, mohawk-hair part. Or the Pike, urban-upscale part. A quiet pocket of town where people live, some for decades, in solid brick buildings.

And there is where it is. The Thomas Street Bistro, calling passers-by with a string of twinkly lights and a menu on a music stand. Food looks fine, nothing unusual. But something about the place pulls you up the steps and through the door. Maybe it's the wall paint inside, the color of shrimp and sage. Maybe it's the odd assortment of diners around the dozen or so tables laughing and jousting a finger into the air to make a point or refilling water glasses from long, slender bottles of clear glass and ceramic corks or the music-major jazz. Or maybe it's because nobody's inside at all.

Just know this, when you go to dinner at the Thomas Street Bistro you've got to bring something to the table.

The evening's server hurries in out of the rain (and out of his last class at Cornish) around 7. First thing he does is plug in his guitar, starts to play. "Need any bread?" he asks. This is a confusing question, the first time. The composing major entertains and clears plates.

Like the conversation at the next table? By all means join in. Exchange names and push the tables together. Nobody eats alone here, even if you're all by yourself. Perhaps you'd prefer to sing or read something or take that shot at stand-up. You certainly may. As bellies fill, hearts open.

Adam — it's his place — shops, cooks, serves and brings things out you didn't order. He knows what you need. (And according to Adam, you always need dessert.) He sits and chats between orders. The regulars are so regular he's got their phone numbers on speed dial. Craig's a vegetarian. There are three things on the menu for him. Lamb and coq au vin for the carnivores. Wine all around.

About three hours in (has it really been three hours?) you think, 'I know what this is.' This is not Seattle. It's not hot or trendy or precious or hip. It's Paris or Hamburg or Leningrad or Rome.

When it's time to depart you will always leave something behind and take something to go.

I couldn't recommend it more. Please don't go.

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