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Originally published December 30, 2011 at 8:03 AM | Page modified January 2, 2012 at 7:44 PM

Restaurant review

The year's most praiseworthy plates: a tasting menu

Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, puts together a list of some of the best food she has sampled at area restaurants in 2011.

Special to The Seattle Times

WHERE TO FIND THEM

Altura: 617 Broadway E., Seattle

206-402-6749

www.alturarestaurant.com

Artusi: 1535 14th Ave., Seattle

206-251-7673

www.Artusibar.com

Brave Horse Tavern: 310 Terry Ave. N., Seattle

206-971-0717

www.bravehorsetavern.comCoterie Room: 2137 Second Ave., Seattle

206-956-8000

www.thecoterieroom.comCuoco: 310 Terry Ave., Seattle

206-971-0710

www.cuoco-seattle.comGolden Beetle: 1744 N.W. Market St., Seattle

206-706-2977

www.golden-beetle.com

Hitchcock: 133 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island

206-201-3789

www.hitchcockrestaurant.com

Little Water Cantina: 2865 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle

206-397-4940

www.littlewatercantina.com

Madison Park Conservatory: 1927 43rd Ave. E., Seattle

206-324-9701

www.madisonparkconservatory.com

Marché: 86 Pine St., Seattle

206-728-2800

www.marcheseattle.com

Poquitos: 1000 E. Pike St., Seattle

206-453-4216

www.vivapoquitos.com

Revel: 403 N. 36th St., Seattle

206-547-2040

www.revelseattle.com

RN74: 1433 Fourth Ave.; Seattle

206-456-7474

www.rn74.com

Skillet Diner: 1400 E. Union St., Seattle

206-420-7297

www.skilletdiner.com

Stopsky's Deli: 3016 78th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island

206-236-4564

www.stopskysdelicatessen.com

The Walrus and the Carpenter: 4743 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle

206-395-9227

www.thewalrusbar.com

quotes With today's economy and what I can afford the Burrito from the machine at work isn't... Read more
quotes Geez, where's the good old fashion hole in the wall places? Read more
quotes I don't get Casual Observer's about food with pretentious names. The plates listed... Read more

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Chefs do it. Why can't I? In the spirit of auld lang syne, I've composed a virtual tasting menu culled from my favorite dishes of the year. Granted, as a single meal it's better suited to a Roman orgy, but portions will be small. If you're hungry afterward, just set your GPS for any of the locations listed in the sidebar. Here's to more good eating in 2012!

So many menus open with nibbles these days. These three knocked me off my bar stool: The Coterie Room's truffle fonduta with "cracklins" (faux pork rinds that taste like porky, deep-fried air); RN74's impossibly light maitake mushroom tempura with silky green onion mousseline; and a hot-from-the-oven pretzel from Brave Horse Tavern with bacon-laced peanut butter for dipping.

Charcuterie seems to be everywhere, too. Hitchcock's lonza (olive oil-slicked petals of salty, dry-aged pork loin sprinkled with olive oil and served with tangy grape granita) and Le Grand Bistro Americain's chicken liver pâté would sing together like a Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett duet.

Up next: a couple of small plates. Golden Beetle's steamed clams rock with preserved orange and pickled Serrano peppers. Little Water Cantina's spectacular tuna ceviche is a party on a plate, with St. Jude's albacore as the guest of honor, and cucumber, jicama, mandarinquat and habanero to help shake things up.

For the soup course I would pair Marché's Quenelles en Nage, delicate chicken dumplings in an intense chicken and celeriac potage, with Artusi's tripe, a brooding, long-simmered, marrow-rich stew. Catherine, meet Heathcliff.

Time for pasta and risotto. Cuoco's cheese-filled cappelletti and Altura's rabbit-stuffed agnolotti are each so dainty each might have been fashioned by a flower fairy. And surely some sea goddess was involved in the making of Madison Park Conservatory's luxurious smoked clam and sea urchin risotto.

Next up: two fish dishes. Madison Park Conservatory's pan-fried trout glistens with brown butter as it arches across the plate, chased by a posse of pine nuts, capers and sultanas. Altura's roasted sturgeon, moistened with pan-juices, is caught in an intricate net of prosciutto and pumpkin seeds crushed with Korean sweet chili.

For the meat course, I offer two multipart plates. In both cases, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. RN74's coq au vin is a dynamic duo: the dark meat is braised, the breast poached in duck fat and seared. Altura's diverting Anderson Ranch Lamb trio includes saucy braised shoulder meat, rare roasted loin sliced over bitter sautéed greens, and a single well-seasoned rib perched on a rectangle of polenta.

As for side dishes, Poquitos' smoky grilled corn in crema laced with lime and chili piquin offers the best argument yet for cutting the kernels off the cob. The Walrus and the Carpenter's fried Brussels sprouts, nut-brown and crisp, are utterly bewitching.

Salads follow. Revel's toss of corned lamb, pickled sunchoke and arugula gets your attention with a dressing of nuoc cham, a potent Vietnamese sauce of chili, garlic, vinegar and fish sauce. Skillet Diner's dynamic Caesar does it with kale.

No tasting menu would be complete without cheese. Altura's cheese plate offers a thoughtful composition of contrasting tastes: mild Casatica di buffala with pepper honey and hazelnuts; earthy Twig Farm Goat Tomme with pine nuts and celery gelée; plus sharp Rogue River Blue with candied dates.

Finally, sweets. Stopsky's dreamy blintzes ooze sweet ricotta cream. RN74's ice cream sandwich packs salted pecan ice cream between brownielike chocolate cake. Marché's chocolate cognac mousse is dessert and after-dinner-drink in one.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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