Restaurant critic touts best bites of 2009
Seattle Times restaurant critic Providence Cicero highlights some of the best dishes that she tried in Seattle-area restaurants in 2009.
Special to The Seattle Times
Consumer belt-tightening and budget-tinkering took its toll on the restaurant industry this year. Oceanaire Seafood Room, Yarrow Bay Grill, Union Square Grill, Veil, Opal, Cremant, Ama Ama and Austin Cantina are just a few that didn't survive.
Yet despite all the closings, there was no dearth of restaurant debuts. Much as remarriage is said to be a triumph of hope over experience, so chefs and restaurateurs seem ever ready to take the plunge. After all, at the end of the day, we still have to eat. Perhaps even more so in tough times, people feel an imperative to gather 'round the table.
I reviewed more than three dozen new restaurants this year — from modest mom-and-pops to glam venues with brand-name chefs. By and large I ate well. In the spirit of Auld Lang Syne, I've compiled a Christmas wish list of dishes I would happily have second helpings of.
Crudo (raw fish) is one of the joys at Ethan Stowell's seafood- focused Capitol Hill spot, Anchovies & Olives, where hamachi with sweetened diced rhubarb, fava beans and lemony avocado cream was a harbinger of spring. Barrio (Capitol Hill and Bellevue) serves stunning ceviches including my favorite: sliced sea scallop marinated with mango, cilantro and a hint of hot chili pepper.
At Bellevue's Monsoon East, kona kampachi was sliced into coral-edged leaves, brushed with hazelnut oil and lime juice, and sprinkled with pungent Vietnamese coriander. At Canlis, new chef Jason Franey brilliantly teamed raw yellow fin tuna with Satsuma, roasted fennel and lush taggiasca olives.
The term "fruit salad" took on new meaning this year. Orange, cauliflower and grilled Treviso glistened in a light citrus-anchovy dressing at Anchovies & Olives. Citrus also punctuated a wintry ensemble of apple, red onion, fennel and endive at Columbia City's La Medusa.
Wallingford's Cantinetta layered pink grapefruit with soft avocado, punching it up with cured black olives and specks of pickled chili. Pink grapefruit and avocado turned up on a plate at Poppy, too, where Jerry Traunfeld added spot prawns, red onion and cilantro.
Tart pomelo met sweet, cognac-glazed scallops at Long Provincial downtown, a pairing enhanced by a profusion of Vietnamese herbs, fried shallots and tangy tamarind-spiked fish sauce.
More than a few vegetarian dishes wowed me this year. I love Colin Patterson's vegan variations at Sutra, particularly sautéed morels crowning a hearty tomato-based stew of smoked garbanzos, cara cara beans and diced Jerusalem artichoke.
Delancey gets justifiable raves for its pizza, but I won't forget a simple late summer salad of tomato, basil and fresh-off-the-cob corn kernels.
The chefs at Urbane at Olive 8 raided the garden to make vegetable soup thick with greens, turnips, fennel and more. A handful of nutty farro grains, a spoonful of walnut pesto and a splash of good olive oil raised this meal-in-a-bowl to sublime heights.
At Hudson Public House, I was flabbergasted to find myself eagerly devouring a beet burger — yes, beet, laced with kale, topped with pickles and peppery greens, and tucked into a soft Kaiser bun spread with sage aioli.
And at quirky Elemental Next Door, the Tabasco and Worcestershire-spiked beet tartare does such a fine imitation of steak tartare — right down to the raw egg on top — you'd almost think you were eating meat.
Assuaging the carnivore in me were Brian Cartenuto's maltagliati pasta with duck confit, red cabbage and raisins at Cantinetta; smoked rack of lamb at Bothell's Wild Vine Bistro; and brined salt-and-pepper pork chops at Huiyona served with Thai chili-sparked applesauce.
I could live on the sweet, acorn-fed Iberico ham at Belltown's Taberna del Alabardero. Salty nuggets of it along with a broken fried egg top Taberna's French fries for a bar snack that would also make a great hangover remedy.
Over at Frank's Oyster House & Champagne Parlor in Ravenna, the bar bites include marvelous deviled eggs given a stylish update by Felix Penn with goat cheese, paprika oil and crispy leek.
Eggs are put to good use in the lofty, luxurious Dutch Babies at Tilikum Place Café, which offers both a sweet and savory version at lunch. Their sardine-stuffed baguette sandwich is pretty wonderful, too.
At Fall City Roadhouse, Cameon Orel makes a destination-worthy Reuben sandwich using corned beef as well-marbled as the rye bread. The don't-miss dessert there is Hot Chocolate Cake. Baked in an Illy Café mug, it's topped with mini marshmallows and comes with whipped cream, warm chocolate sauce and a cookie. It's just what you imagine awaits Santa when he kicks off his boots and puts up his feet today.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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