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Originally published Friday, March 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant review

Frank's Oyster House is a swell tribute to a slice of Americana

Restaurant review: Frank's Oyster House & Champagne Parlor, run in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood by Felix and Sarah Penn, the talented pair behind Pair, dishes up respectful riffs on American classics in a romantic homage to East Coast oyster houses of yore.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Beef tartare $11
Chard & ricotta pansotti $13
Oysters Rockefeller $17
Mustard fennel pork chop $17
Mini Maine lobster rolls $18

Frank's Oyster House & Champagne Parlor 3 stars

American

2616 N.E. 55th St., Seattle

206-525-0220

www.franksoysterhouse.com

Reservations: Accepted.

Hours: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 5-10 p.m. in the dining room, 5-11 p.m. in the parlor.

Prices: $$$ (Snacks and small plates $2-$18; entrees $13-$26.)

Drinks: Full bar; short wine list includes several Champagnes and sparklers.

Parking: On street.

Sound: Moderate.

Who should go: Romantics on a budget — or not.

Credit cards: All major cards accepted.

Access: No obstacles.

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Restraint may be the mood of the moment, but occasionally in these recessionary times a little low-key luxury is in order. At Frank's Oyster House & Champagne Parlor in Ravenna, the cost for cutting loose can be surprisingly affordable.

Order up lobster and Champagne, steak and a sturdy Cotes du Rhones, and at plenty of places you might spend a C-note or more. At Sara and Felix Penn's homage to the East Coast oyster houses of yore, the tab could total as little as $70, including tax.

It helps to arrive before happy hour ends. Until 6:30, small plates like mini Maine lobster rolls, oysters Rockefeller and beef tartare are $2 off; cocktails like the gin-based, Chartreuse-tinged Dover-Calais are discounted a dollar, and a glass of pinot grigio or Côtes du Rhônes is just $5.

It also helps to share. Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé Brut may seem a splurge at $18, but two can split the 187-milliliter bottle (about 8 ounces). My guy and I even split the New York steak (one of three cuts offered with three different sauces). At 7 ounces it's half the size of what a high-end steakhouse typically serves, but at $22, it's also half the price. It was expertly cooked and probably as much red meat as anyone needs in one meal, anyway, especially when it's draped with horseradish and parsley butter.

The steak comes with an arugula and radish salad, so you can forgo a side, though you might want to try creamed kale, which subs for the customary creamed spinach; or a deliciously disheveled heap of onion rings, cut into slender circlets instead of chunky cuffs.

Felix Penn's short menu is full of such respectful riffs on American classics. He updates deviled eggs with goat cheese, a splash of smoky paprika oil and a curly crown of crisp fried leek. His spinach-flecked oysters Rockefeller are tucked under an appropriately rich blanket of pernod-spiked mayo and buttered breadcrumbs. His natural beef tartare rises in a neat cylinder capped with finely chopped arugula, giving a peppery finish to the rosy raw beef, tangy and sharp with capers, onion and mustard.

The lobster rolls — buttered and griddled house-made buns filled with chunky lobster meat, mayo and chive — far outclass the ones I ate on the Maine coast last fall. A deconstructed "Crab Louie" — lump Dungeness with lettuce wraps and sauce on the side — rightly puts the spotlight on the seafood.

That sriracha-spiked Louie sauce is slathered on a fat, juicy cheeseburger too, a sandwich so good it almost eclipses excellent fries that have the salty snap of chips but the soft heart of a baked spud.

Another success is house-made pansotti, crescent-shaped pasta stuffed with chard and ricotta. Beurre fondue, melted butter and Parmesan whisked into a silken negligee of a sauce lay over the dumplings, the lushness punctuated with bittersweet toasted pecan halves.

Fumbles are rare. One night's special, pan-roasted scallops with fingerling potatoes and artichoke hearts, sounded appealing but everything about it was anodyne; even the caper sauce spoke in a dull monotone. And razor-clam fritters were doughy and bland, despite an abundance of linguiça sausage in the batter.

The Penns are old hands at running an ambitious neighborhood restaurant. They own the nearly 5-year-old Pair three blocks away. Where Pair exudes country French charm, Frank's projects an American brazenness.

Acres of unfinished plywood paneling accent the interiors of both the "oyster house" (the dining room) and the adjacent "parlor" (the lounge). The dining room has a masculine air with commodious wooden booths and oriental carpets on the hardwood floor. The parlor is more feminine. There you'll lounge in boudoir-ish armchairs or lean into throw pillows on double-wide wing chairs hugging small round tables. The bar has six comfy seats that flaunt more chrome and curves than a1955 Chevy Impala.

The high-caliber serving crew works under the watchful eye of Sarah Penn.

Frank's is named for her grandfather, a Boston pressman who died in 1972. Judging from the framed press clippings and photos displayed on the back wall, I'm guessing he'd favor the booths over the bar, and I bet he'd love the Manhattan — and the restaurant — that bears his name.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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