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Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Taste of the Town

New chef for 35th Street Bistro

Seattle Times restaurant critic

As if six champagnes matched with a six-course dinner isn't enough of a reason to attend the Sept. 14 wine dinner at Fremont's 35th Street Bistro (709 N. 35th St., Seattle) I'll give you another: last week's announcement that chef Steve Smrstik is now on board at the bistro. When the press release came in trumpeting the news that "the 35th Street Bistro is thrilled to announce their new chef, Steve Smrstik" I laughed out loud. I'll bet they are!

The Restaurant Formerly Known as Still Life in Fremont has suffered through a revolving-door kitchen since owner Bob Day bought the place a couple of years ago, remodeling and reopening it as a bistro a year later with a menu choreographed by consulting-chef Renee Erickson.

If Smrstik's name isn't a familiar one, it should be. A Seattle native, he's spent the past seven years at Flying Fish, flying under the radar as Chris Keff's stalwart chef de cuisine. He's worked under Tim Kelley at the Painted Table, as Walter Pisano's pastry chef at Tulio, and for Dominique Place at the dearly departed Dominique's Place.

According to Smrstik, a disagreement regarding Keff's choice to go 100 percent organic at Flying Fish prompted his departure: He was against it and says he was "given the option" of changing his mind or checking out of the system. He chose the latter. And faster than you can say, "Want a job?" he fielded offers from Kerry Sear at Cascadia and from Tom Douglas, but turned those offers down.

At 46, Smrstik says he's paid his dues working under big-name chefs. At 35th Street Bistro, he hopes to make a name for himself and, hey, I'll drink to that. You can, too — at the aforementioned champagne dinner: cost is $100 per person, excluding tax and tip. Call 206-547-9850 for reservations or visit www.35bistro.com.

The Boat will come in

"I read your column every week, and know you have been keeping tabs on Renee Erickson," writes Julia GŁtt. "A couple of months ago you wrote that her new place on Western Avenue is due to open soon. ... My friends and I are anxiously waiting for her to return to the dining scene! Do you have any updates to share regarding the Boat Street?"

"We're behind schedule, madly trying to get it finished," says Erickson. She had hoped to open early last month but now foresees a late-September opening for the new incarnation of Boat Street Cafe (3131 Western Ave.) and its box-lunch and catering arm, Boat Street Kitchen. The latter, run by Erickson's business partner Susan Kaplan, is still in operation at 2238 Eastlake Ave. E., though they expect to stop box-lunch delivery-service next week. They will continue to offer private-event catering until the new place is up and running.

Adding to the usual setbacks that tend to keep restaurants from opening on schedule was a wood-boring-beetle infestation in the old wood flooring at the Western Avenue property, Erickson says. That added an unexpected two-week delay as those floors had to be ripped out and replaced. "It's coming together though," she says. "We've passed on all our inspections."

Soon enough, then, we'll be able to inspect the place ourselves.

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Truly Mediterranean

The recent closure of Paul's Place in the University District prompted "Waaaaahs!" from several readers. "I had been going there almost every weekend for 15-plus years," wrote Roberta Skaggs, "then I didn't go for a month and the place is gone." Hey, Roberta, I feel awful, too — having never set foot in Paul Lee's eponymous restaurant, a beloved neighborhood fixture for more than 20 years.

Lee has moved on after selling the place to new owners Wael and Thitima Zeidan. And though I'll never taste the Northwest-accented comfort foods Lee prepared for his happy regulars, I look forward to seeing what the Zeidans are doing in his stead. Open only a few weeks, the word on the street is that at Truly Mediterranean (4741 12th Ave. N.E., Seattle; 206-528-7482) their Middle Eastern specialties are truly an addition to the neighborhood.

"We're a family business," says Wael, a Jordanian, late of San Francisco. Since 1992, he has owned several Truly Mediterranean outposts in the Bay Area. One remains in operation in San Francisco's Mission District. Meantime, he and his wife are happy to have landed in Seattle, where they're proud to cook foods from scratch, marinating and slicing lamb and making their own yogurt drink imbued with garlic and mint.

Their menu includes falafel and shawarma wrapped in fresh lavash; kebabs and vegetarian plates served with pita; sweet kanafeh and rice pudding for dessert — with sandwiches and main courses averaging less than $7. The Zeidans are considering adding upstairs seating and — who knows, says Wael — they may even tap his wife's abilities as a Thai cook, adding some of her native dishes to their short menu. Hours: 11 a.m-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-8 p.m. Sundays.

Molto Mediterranean

Over in the heart of Wallingford, Sam Nakour and his wife, Jasmine, have been busy with their new Mediterranean restaurant. Palmyra Mediterranean Cuisine (1913 N. 45th St., Seattle; 206-632-1534) took over the space occupied by Clara's Food for the Soul, which succeeded Wally's Scoop. Open since June, Palmyra, named for the ancient Syrian city, is a sweet cafe with 15 tidy tables and a wide counter fronting an open kitchen.

Here Sam presides in the kitchen while his wife waits tables, serving classics like zahra (deep-fried cauliflower), fatoosh (crisp pita salad) and kafta kebab (spiced and skewered ground meat), as well as "Mediterranean pastas," gyro platters, Greek-styled prawns and grilled tahini-topped salmon. Prices hover around $7 at lunch, with dinner entrees ranging from $9.95-$14.95.

Like Truly Mediterranean, this more extensive menu features a goodly number of meatless items. And like the Zeidans, the Nakours have years of restaurant experience to their credit. They formerly owned Prime Steak & Gyro in Tacoma Mall and the Greek Corner in Puyallup. Palmyra is open from 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.

Jamaican menu changes

The closure of Belltown's Coco Tree Cafe, whose menu touted "the finest in Jamaican cuisine," paved the way for the August opening of Ximaica (2224 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-448-5114), offering "genuine Jamaican cuisine" in that spiffed-up setting.

New owner Elizabeth Sieg is still waiting on a liquor license, but in the meantime she'll be happy to pull you a latte made with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee or set you up with a lime cooler spiked with fresh ginger.

Her Jamaican crew is keeping busy dancing to a reggae beat back in the kitchen, scenting this slender room with island favorites like jerk chicken ($10.95), oxtail ($13.95) and brown stew fish: whole pan-fried fish made with red snapper ($18.95) or tilapia ($14.95). Ximaica is open from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Once the liquor license comes through, says Sieg, hours will be extended.

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

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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