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Originally published September 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 15, 2008 at 3:02 PM

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Restaurant review

Posh food, wine and diners at Sip - and you'll fit right in

A clubby aura prevails at Sip, in the Issaquah Highlands, but you feel like a member from the minute you walk in the door.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Tempura Misto $10
Curried clams and pork belly $12
Jidori chicken $24
Lamb T-bone $26
Kobe shoulder tenderloin $26

Sip

3 stars

Eclectic/wine bar

1084 N.E. Park Drive, Issaquah

425-369-1181

www.siprestaurant.com

Reservations: Accepted for parties of nine or more.

Hours: Dinner Monday-Friday 4:30-11 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 4-11 p.m.; Happy Hour daily 4:30-6:30 p.m. and 9-11 p.m.

Prices: $$$$ (small plates $7-$14; entrees $20-$33).

Drinks: Extensive international wine list; 250-plus bottles, 90 available by the glass, half-glass or flights.

Parking: Free in lot or on street.

Sound: Moderately noisy.

Who should go: Eastside oenophiles — but leave the kids at home; this grape-juice place is for grown-ups.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

The Issaquah Highlands are aptly named. Up you climb from I-90 on a swath of new roadway, eventually gaining a plateau overlooking the green Cascade foothills. Stately townhomes appear miragelike in the distance adjacent to a nascent commercial cluster of pale stone buildings. Anchoring a corner spot in this affluent urban village is 2-year-old Sip, a posh wine bar and restaurant.

Inside a young hostess greets you with a smile. Everyone does. Waiters, busers and bartenders light up as you go by, making you feel like a movie star or a mogul or, at the very least, like a moneyed regular.

"Nice to see you again," says our waiter. "It's been awhile. My name is Eric, in case you forgot." Clearly we are in the hands of a smooth operator because none of us has ever set foot in Sip before.

All around us, however, are people who probably do come here often. It's Tuesday, when members of Sip's VIP Club earn double points for dining. Just $25 to join, perks include a chance to reserve the semi-secluded "Owner's Booth," which seats eight and has a drop-down flat-screen TV and surround sound.

But no matter where you sit at Sip, you are in the lap of luxury. The restaurant is grandly proportioned and handsomely embellished with art, stone, tile and metal-work. Tables are grouped for intimacy around a meandering, amoeba-shaped wine bar that seats 38. A fire warms one end of the room; another cozy nook is lined with wine bottles racked horizontally to the ceiling. Double doors lead to the spalike "WC," where washing-up is done at a stunning communal sink and LCD screens hidden behind the mirror reflect images from cameras aimed at the bar.

Sip offers more than 250 wines gathered from around the world and listed helpfully by style ("soft and silky" reds or "full and toasty" whites, for example). Roughly 90 are poured by the glass and by the half-glass. Given the eclectic nature of Chef Cody Reaves' menu, those options — along with drolly named flights like "It's Getting Chile" and "Call Me a Cab" — offer diners a great deal of flexibility matching wine and food.

Elegant decanters turn up on several tables, a sure sign someone has sprung for a pricey red. There are plenty of those, but you can find something pleasantly drinkable for around $30 too, like the Boomtown Syrah from Washington's Dusted Valley Vintners. That versatile red worked as well with the Vietnamese caramel beef as it did with curried clams and pork belly, and it complemented both the prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast and the harissa-marinated lamb chops.

Those fist-sized, T-bone chops moistened with veal jus enhanced with sour cherries and syrah are a treat not to be missed. I also liked the Kobe shoulder tenderloin sampled on another visit. That muscular cut had enough flavor to survive being smothered in dueling sauces — herbaceous, jalapeño-spiked chimichurri and garlicky tomato salsa criolla.

Jidori chicken was far more subtle. A whiff of truffle added a lovely grace note to an exquisite prosciutto-wrapped, parmesan-stuffed breast glistening with garlic butter.

Sesame, soy and ginger glazed teriyaki-like caramel beef. Tender cubes of flatiron steak alternated with chewier ones on a pair of skewers alongside a lively cilantro, pea vine and bean-sprout salad. It's one of several substantial "small plates."

Clams served with a hefty slab of Kurobuta pork belly present another sizable portion. Grilled bread helps capture the last zesty drop of coconut curry sauce green with cilantro, mint and Thai basil. And if you pair the wickedly good chopped sirloin sliders, oozing spicy mayo and jack cheese from their sweet, soft Hawaiian rolls, with a heaping cone of fries, you've got dinner.

Consider sharing the copious tempura misto. The napkin-lined metal basket overflows with tiny artichoke hearts, rock shrimp, fennel strips and orange slices, each item's integrity preserved beneath a crispy cloud of fried batter. The orange round is particularly wonderful, rind and all, dipped into lush tartar sauce studded with capers, bell pepper and corn.

Daily specials include soup and the "ravioli of the moment." I didn't care for a tepid, viscous bowl of sunchoke and parsnip purée with tiny mussels; it needed salt, and the avocado garnish was one element too many. But I loved the ravioli stuffed with sweet roasted fennel and goat cheese, sauced with porcini cream. Adding a peppery, house-made sausage link is an option well worth the few dollars more.

Sip can feel mellow, as it did on a Saturday night, when some families dined with older children, but this is not a place for the high-chair set. Tuesday's crowd was strictly adult, the mood electric. Many were dressed as if they'd come from the office. They seem to unwind with the same intensity as they work. Couples ate deep in conversation. One guy scrolled vacation pix on a laptop for his friends. A group of women celebrated a birthday with balloons, gifts and many bottles of wine. After a burst of laughter, one of them quipped: "Sometimes it takes a country club to raise a child."

A clubby aura prevails at this Highlands retreat, but you feel like a member from the minute you walk in the door.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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