Pacific Northwest | November 16, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineNovember 16, 2003seattletimes.com home
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PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY NANCY LESON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BARRY WONG
 Dining Out 2003

Time to eat: Feeding old hungers, new passions and everything in between
 
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The Mariana Cocktail at Place Pigalle is romance in a glass — a memorable mix of vodka, lime juice, Campari and orange liqueur.
The Evening Song

C'mon, Get Happy

What, no mozzarella sticks? No, but there's fried calamari at the fancy-pants happy hour at Cascadia, an evening break that makes me really, really happy. After work, before the show or "just because," I can show up from 5 to 7 p.m. to partake of a $1 mini-burger or three (the most astounding deal in town) knocked back with a well-concocted martini served at dive-bar prices. What's more, I might snack on that lightly fried calamari elegantly served in a paper-lined silver cone while sipping one of the sommelier's selections: a choice of fine wines sold at very happy prices. (2328 First Ave., Seattle; 206-448-8884)

You can take a Manhattan. My cocktail cure comes in the form of more adventurous alchemy. At the small, candlelit bar at Gitano, Latin flavors spark such colorful concoctions as a brandy-stoked and sugar-rimmed Maricuca's Sidecar, bright with passion fruit, lime and orange. Here, a refreshing Caipirinha blends lime juice, tangerine and sugar-cane liquor while the Gitano offers a deep-purple haze made with blood orange, lemon, tequila and crème de cassis. (2805 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-709-8324)

Sexy, sophisticated, elegant and alluring, the bar at Place Pigalle provides my perfect poison: the Mariana Cocktail, a memorable mix of vodka, lime juice, Campari and orange liqueur. (81 Pike St., Seattle; 206-624-1756)

When I'm on an airport run and looking to kill time, the bar at nearby Bahama Breeze offers a kitschy, kick-in-the-pants "island vacation" (hold the Coppertone tan) and a drinks list of biblical proportion. I happily shun the best-selling frozen Bahamarita, opting instead for a "Week at the Beach," among the many Technicolor-tasties mixed and matched by bartenders who've watched Tom Cruise in "Cocktail" one time too many. (15700 Southcenter Parkway, Tukwila; 206-241-4448)

Aware that there are occasions when a cocktail must be a mocktail, I find myself in teetotaler's heaven at Restaurant Zoë, whose specialty-cocktail list includes such booze-less gems as the Clear Conscience — a savory seduction composed of fresh tangerine, lime juice and soda perfumed with lemon verbena and garnished with cucumber. (2137 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-256-2060)

Hors D'oeuvres, Anyone?

Oysters are the perfect way to start a meal. And I'm always searching for the perfect oyster: shimmering, quivering, iced-down and carefully shucked. And while I'm happy to eat mine standing up, over the sink, courtesy of my local fishmonger and my own practiced shucking hand, when I need to sit down to the art of the oyster, that seat is waiting at Elliott's Oyster House. Here, fronting Elliott Bay — and a selection of crassostrea gigas, ostrea lurida, crassostrea sikamea and ostrea edulis (translation: Pacific oysters, Olympia oysters, Kumamoto oysters and European flats) — I'm living large. That's the good news. The bad news is that after a trip to the oyster bar, so is my credit card. But then, what price glory? Glory being a half-dozen gorgeous Westcott Bay Flats from San Juan Island, or a sampler starring Pacific pearls from throughout the region. (Pier 56, Alaskan Way, Seattle; 206-623-4340)

Grab a Crab

Call me a crab, then say I'm full of it. You won't be wrong on either count, given my fondness for Dungeness crab. Crab in salad is a natural combination. When offered at Nell's it's an artistic masterpiece — a tongue-tantalizing composition that tempts with freshest crabmeat sparked with red radish and tart with Braeburn apples. (6804 E. Green Lake Way N., Seattle; 206-524-4044)
 
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Chef/owner Sam Hassan, above, inspects a skewer of grilled beef at the Rio Brazilian Grill, Seattle's first and only churrascaria rodizio. He runs the place with the help of his wife and children. Daniel Hassan, below, one of his twin sons, serves salt-encrusted tri-tip steak at this University District newcomer.
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When it comes to crabcakes, I like mine plump, sweet, buttery and pan-fried — and please hold the filler! And that's exactly what I get from the folks at Anthony's Restaurants (perched on waterfronts throughout Puget Sound, see www.anthonys.com for particulars).

At my neighborhood crab-trap, T&T Seafood Restaurant, whole crab is plucked from a live tank before kicking its way into the kitchen. Cooked to my specification in a variety of sauces (sometimes steamed with ginger and green onion, perhaps fried with garlic and chilies), it's disjointed, rearranged and presented with the proper tools for making haste with no waste. (18320 Aurora Ave. N., Shoreline; 206-542-3438)

Late summer, when the fish are jumpin' and a plastic chair awaits at a dockside table, is the perfect (though far from the only) time to appreciate a gooey, cheesy, open-faced crab sandwich at the Baithouse Café. Served with a stellar view of Shilshole Bay and a side of snappy Caesar salad, this crab melt is capable of putting me into a trance: until the bill arrives. (I've been shocked out of my reverie by the tally for a "market-priced" sandwich. Last visit, $16.95!) (5517 Seaview Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-297-9109)

Salmon-Chanted Evening

I love living in the Pacific Northwest, where every night is salmon night, somewhere. I like my salmon raw, smoked, salt-cured, curried, simply grilled, steamed in parchment and tossed with pasta, among other popular preparations, but my dream dish is dished out at Etta's Seafood: a spice-rubbed and pit-roasted king salmon paired with cornbread pudding and garnished with shiitake relish. (2020 Western Ave., Seattle; 206-443-6000)

Toro, Toro, Toro

I'm a sucker for toro — tuna in its palest, fattiest form, a prized cut (and an expensive one) enjoyed by sushi aficionados the world over. Sorry, Charlie, but I seek perfection as often as possible, and I always find it at Saito's Japanese Café & Bar, where I live for blue fin tuna offered as toro in raw, buttery form, or briefly broiled and sprinkled with coarse salt. (2122 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-728-1333)

The coziness factor does factor in at tiny Taka Sushi, where toro tempts from a well-stocked seafood case and leaner tuna impresses in a well-built "sashimi tower." (Center 3 shopping mall, 18904 Highway 99, Lynnwood; 425-778-1689)

Bellevue's aptly named Tuna House toys with tuna in forms traditional and not-so, offering toro sushi, toro katsu, seared tuna salad, tuna "tartar" (tuna sashimi with tartar sauce), tuna carpaccio and the house specialty: a California roll gussied up with tuna and albacore. (15015 Main St., Suite 101, actually148th and Main, Bellevue ; 425-746-0123)

Heads, You Win; Tails, Too

Sure, it's billed as a platter "meant to be shared" but the whole fish at Flying Fish is a signature sensation I'd gladly attack alone. That finny fish fantasy — perhaps a rockfish, often enough a snapper — is sold by the pound, fried to a finger-lickin' crisp and presented (with a nod to Vietnam) with rice-paper pancakes. Those chewy translucent wraps are used to enfold the crackling skin that clings to meaty morsels picked from the bone and garnished, to taste, with an array of fragrant herbs, fresh lime and crunchy bean sprouts. (2234 First Ave., Seattle; 206-728-8595)

Steak Your Claim

OK, so the fish is fine, but where's the beef? Glad you asked. It's at the Buenos Aires Grill, where I can sink my teeth into an extraordinary (and surprisingly affordable) center-cut filet — a towering hunk of burning love that cuts like butter and could easily feed two. (220 Virginia St., Seattle; 206-441-7076)

Meanwhile, Canlis sets the standard with its retro recipe for steak tartare, made with raw Wagyu beef. (2576 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle; 206-283-3313)
 
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On Friday mornings, Isolina "Aunt Izzy" Armstrong makes gnocchi in the window at Salumi, where house-cured meats make this Pioneer Square cubbyhole a sandwich lovers' mecca.
At Two Bells Tavern even the "Basic Burger" is far from basic, reigning among the city's best when charbroiled, piled onto a sourdough roll and sold with a choice of swell sides. (2313 Fourth Ave., Seattle; 206-441-3050)

And who can resist tri-tip steak encrusted with coarse salt, impaled and roasted on long skewers, offered by handsome Brazilian men who heft those meat-bearing swords (among other delectables), serving them tableside at Rio Brazilian Grill. Not me! (5259 University Way N.E., Seattle; 206-526-7123)

And Pass The Pasta

The Americanization of Italian food has given rise to such famous foodstuffs as uh-oh Spaghetti-Os, Michael Angelo's frozen lasagna, Tombstone Pizza and the Olive Garden, but when a real taste of Italy is on the agenda, it's comforting to know it's close at hand.

Life is indeed beautiful at La Vita è Bella Café where, come early morning, I might sit at the bar sipping an expertly pulled caffe latte. In summer, a sidewalk seat is the perfect perch when lunching on pasta with pesto. Dinner brings superior salads (and the opening of the café's adjoining pizzeria) as well as pasta and seafood specials that augment the brief, modestly priced menu. Any time is right for an exceptional panini, and what better way to unwind than with a glass of sweet dessert wine and a housemade cannoli? (2411 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-441-5322)

On special occasions I set my sights on Café Juanita, whose oft-changing Northern Italian menu presents such riches as risotto mantecato, ravioli with fonduta, herb-roasted rabbit with Ligurian chickpea cake and whole-roasted branzino. (9702 N.E. 120th Pl., Kirkland; 425-823-1505)

If it's Friday, it's time to see Aunt Izzy at Salumi, where abbreviated hours are this sandwich-shop and salumeria's only shortcoming. Friday's the day that Aunt Izzy's magic fingers can be seen working in the window, where she rolls and pinches gnocchi dough, soon to be boiled, sautéed in butter and scented with sage by her brother, proprietor Armandino Batali. Not one to leave Salumi empty-handed, I make it a point to procure some house-cured meats, and wouldn't think of leaving without a pound of Armandino's unparalleled finnochiona. (309 Third Ave. S., Seattle; 206-621-8772)

A glass of rosso, a cup of zuppa, thin-sliced prosciutto with housemade piadina (flatbread, straight off the grill) or a simple plate of delicate handmade pasta: that's what brings me to the rustic recesses of Osteria La Spiga. La Spiga, unaffected and inexpensive, impresses at both lunch and dinner. (1401 Broadway, Seattle; 206-323-8881)
 
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Behind the scenes at The Harvest Vine, Ryan Weed carefully crafts a crab cocktail.
Whether dressed in summer finery (vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil), alla Napoletana (with anchovies) or fancified with fontina, radicchio and pancetta, the pizzas at La Medusa, coupled with great service and an all-Italian wine list, make this Columbia City neighborhood favorite destination-worthy. (4857 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-723-2192)

So, Go It Alone

Dining alone is one of my guiltiest pleasures. Whatever the hour, you may find me enjoying my own company at Le Pichet, where perfection says "bon jour" via a silky slice of gateau au foie de volaille: chicken liver terrine offered with crusty baguette. (1933 First Ave., Seattle; 206-256-1499)

I'm never really alone while dining alone at the tapas bar at The Harvest Vine. Here, rubbing elbows with like-minded pleasure-seekers, strangers become friends, sharing tales of meals past and tastes of meals present. And it's here that I sit, satisfying my every desire on those special evenings when I treat myself to tapas: tush-tender pulpo de feira (Galician-style octopus and potatoes); grilled fresh sardines showered with lemon and sea salt; wild-boar bacon garnished with trout roe; and piquillo peppers stuffed with potatoes and salt cod. (2701 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-320-9771)

When in need of a homey hangout, a light supper and some spirited camaraderie, there's always the bar at Saltoro. With a glass of wine in one hand and a fork in the other, I can eat my sweetbreads without having to face the grimaces of companions who've yet to learn to appreciate these delicate lobes, dusted with flour, swiftly fried and served in a moat of fruity olive oil with a crown of capers, parsley, lemon zest and garlic. (14051 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle; 206-365-6025)

When All Is Said And Done

What with bars and bistros everywhere, Belltown is a must-stop when in search of late-night bites. My abbreviated list of hot-spots includes Marjorie , where Miss Marjorie's Steel Drum Plantain Chips vie for nosh-of-choice with the pouffy Bombay-style onion pakoras — finger food whose dippity-do's include housemade curried ketchup and coriander chutney. (2331 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-441-9842)

From Moroccan steak sandwiches to steak frites with Cabrales butter, cataplana fish stew to Spanish fried squid, they've got quality covered in the bar at Brasa. (Noshers note: Stop in to imbibe at the bar or in the lounge from 5 to 7 p.m. nightly and the intriguing list of bar eats is half-price with a drink.) (2107 Third Ave., Seattle; 206-728-4220)

At Axis, it's all about the action, but I come for the fried pickles and the Jamaican-jerked chicken wings — blackened beauties whose heat quotient is high and whose flavor profile is mighty. (2214 First Ave., Seattle; 206-441-9600)

I was hooked on the fried sage leaves at Marco's Supperclub from the day the doors opened. (2510 First Ave., Seattle; 206-441-7801)

But if the idea of fried herbs does nothing for you, consider a trip to Shorty's Coney Island. Here you and a pal can each play pinball single-handed while carefully clutching a Chili Cheese Bigtop (I'll stick with the Chicago-style hot dog). (2222 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-441-5449)

Now, if that's not enough to satisfy us, well, there's always tomorrow.

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