In a city of ever-changing flavors, we invite you to tuck into our tastiest year yet
By: Jessica Yadegaran, Chelsea Lin and Allison Scheff | April 2016 | FROM THE PRINT EDITION | Courtesy of Seattlemag.com
The Best of Dining Now
With the rapid-fire succession of restaurant openings we’ve experienced of late comes an equally great diversity of cuisine. The days of Pacific Northwest Pan Asian fare are long gone as chefs drill down to the nichiest of foods in a culinary showcase that can only be described as fabulous. Behold, some of the trends that caught our eye, and the restaurants that are doing them brilliantly.
Best Gateway Restaurant to Sichuan Province
Capitol Hill, 618 Broadway Ave. E; 206.922.3326; lionheadseattle.com
Northwest culinary pioneer Jerry Traunfeld’s name is synonymous with Northwest/Indian fusion.
But, long before he opened Poppy, Traunfeld was a scholar of Sichuan cooking, the southwestern Chinese province known for funky bean pastes and fiery chiles. It shows in the purity of his menu at Lionhead, which opened next to Poppy last August. Featured on that menu are cold beef slices covered in chili oil, with dan dan wheat noodles and “hot-numbing” sauce ($7/$13), and five-spice braised duck with chili oil black vinegar sauce ($24).
We love the sleek, red-lacquered bar and Asian art auction finds, but most of all, we love how the food remains authentic while borrowing from the Pacific Northwest in subtle ways, from a soft-boiled egg atop sesame-sauced buckwheat noodles ($13) to inventive farmers market cocktails made with ginseng-infused gin ($12). The bar also stocks an impressive selection of baijiu, distilled from fermented sorghum (see page 142). At a time when Chinese investors and newcomers are making an imprint on Seattle, it’s no surprise that a trailblazer like Traunfeld has taken note and once again made his mark.
What to order: Lionhead meatballs with greens, noodles and clams ($20), because we love the irony of serving pork meatballs from a landlocked region with seafood.
Best for: Groups of 7 to 9, so you can reserve the lazy Susan!
Best Genre-defying Cuisine
Ravenna, 2404 NE 65th St.; 206.556.2192; salarerestaurant.com
At a time when so many talented chefs are trying to set themselves apart with uber-specific food, this one is doing fusion based on, well, his life.
In no uncertain terms, Salare bears the culinary imprint of its owner–executive chef. Edouardo Jordan grew up eating big Sunday suppers in the South, and then went on to perfect nose-to-tail and microseasonal cooking at Per Se in New York, The French Laundry in Napa and Bar Sajor in Pioneer Square before apprenticing for one of Italy’s famous charcuterie families. As a result, you’ll experience fried okra gussied up with burnt lemon ($9); the most toothsome handmade fettuccine you’ve ever had ($19–$21); and desserts so seductive they will make your palate quiver. Add sensational cocktails, impeccable attention to detail and an inspired kids’ menu, and you can see why we’re so smitten with Salare. It is a totally now Seattle dining experience, because it’s original, ever-changing and sophisticated without being snooty.
What to order: Charcuterie plate ($16–$28). Jordan’s cured meats are remarkably fresh and snappy.
Best for: Date nights or birthday dinners.
Dead Ringer for Parisian Wine Bar
Downtown, 1919 Seventh Ave.; 206.728.2657; lecavisteseattle.com
This unassuming wine bar has been open for two years, and for us, it’s like a delightful new escape to Paris every time we visit.
Like the very best wine bars in the City of Lights (ah, Le Baron Rouge), Le Caviste is urbane without being pretentious, and the wine selection is remarkably thorough without intimidating the hell out of you: There are about 25 well-priced ($6–$12) wines by the glass as well as a small retail selection lit from above with fixtures using old-school incandescent bulbs. Owner David Butler worked the wine programs at Le Pichet, Campagne and the shuttered Le Gourmand (as sommelier for six years) before opening Le Caviste, and it shows in his tiny yet equally satisfying food menu, which includes swoon-worthy charcuterie plates and fromages.
Our Le Caviste perfect pairing is a glass of bubbly, such as a $6 blanquette de Limoux (a sparkling wine from Limoux in Languedoc) with roasted mushrooms. Crème de la crémant, indeed.
What to order: Poisson en papillote (fish baked in parchment). Dinner worthy and only $12.
Best for: Après-work sipping.
Biggest Risk That Pays Off
Queen Anne, 2209 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.708.6836; edenhillrestaurant.com
Eden Hill’s dining room was glowing and buzzing, windows steamed from conversation, as we approached the front door on a rainy autumn evening. A slightly dressed-up crowd gathered, leaning in, most opting for the tasting menu (five courses, $65–$75; optional wine pairing, $30), nodding approval as they tasted in unison.
What’s been a tricky space (formerly home to the very short-lived Entre-Amis, just across from How to Cook a Wolf) is now splendid inside, chic and comfortable with its patterned House of Hackney wallpaper and mid-century modern chairs. And so, too, the food. Chef Maximillian Petty, a Bothell native who worked in Austin, Texas, before returning to the Northwest, creates magic with modernist techniques—enrobing black-truffle-infused oil in beet sugar to create magical jewel-like candies that melt in the mouth.
In his Crispy Pig Head Candybar ($16), an intensely porky head cheese terrine is sliced, fried and served over a cooling Champagne-pear soup, a few chile slivers and lightly pickled cabbage. It is incredible. Petty is choosy about the best-quality local ingredients and tweaks his menu seasonally, resulting in an ambitious, modern and beautifully plated meal.
The presence of Modernist Cuisine’s Cooking Lab and ChefSteps in our city—boundary-breaking food companies both—has somehow not translated to restaurants that embrace the same bold, risky spirit, and some of us have been waiting a long time for a restaurant like this. Sharp, witty, grounded, but with tricks up its sleeve, Eden Hill does not disappoint.
What to order: It’ll be Eden Hill’s first spring menu, so details are scant. But diners can expect bright, fresh, first-of-the-season produce to star alongside greatest hits like the Pig Head Candybar.
Best for: Date night, food geeks
Best 3.0 Restaurant
Capitol Hill, 1802 Bellevue Ave.; 206.556.2560; kedaimakansea.com
We loved it at the farmers market. We loved it as a Capitol Hill walk-up window. And now that Kedai Makan, the Malaysian hot spot, has become an actual sit-down restaurant with an expanded menu and liquor license, we love this affordable cult favorite even more. It’s stimulating, transporting food: assorted rotis, curries, nasi gorengs (Malaysian fried rice) and hand-cut noodles carry you like bicycle rickshaws through the narrow back alleys of Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur.
And talk about enraptured: You can take shots of whiskey infused with Chinese medicinal herbs to help with all sorts of things, from strength and stamina to libido and longevity. Too daring for you? Try one of the craft cocktails, like #Cocolife ($10), a dreamy Malaysian take on the piña colada made with rum, coconut cream, Kedai curry powder, lime and pineapple juice.
Going brick-and-mortar is always a risk—more overhead, less food-truck type of hype—but Kedai Makan has not only delivered, but improved in every way. Simply fantastic.
What to order: Roti Jala ($6.50), a Malaysian net bread made with wheat flour, turmeric and egg served with dhal or lamb curry. Incredible flavors.
Best for: Casual dinner with friends. Or solo at the bar—a shorter wait time.
Best New Take on Noodles
Dong Thap Noodles
Chinatown/International District, 303 12th Ave. S; 206.325.1122; Facebook: “Dong Thap Noodles”
It looks just like dozens of other Asian food joints in the Little Saigon area of the ID. But behind the plants, wall decals and vaguely contemporary decor, Dong Thap has been doing something special since last fall: creating rice noodles in house from a family recipe four generations in the making. Available in a half dozen different shapes, the noodles star in every dish: thick, cylindrical udon noodles in a clean, clear broth; wider, flat pho noodles in savory beef soup; thin, chewy vermicelli topped with grilled pork and heavy with fresh and pickled veggies in bowls of bun. If you’re feeling inspired, the daily-made noodles are available by the pound to take home; infinitely better than any dehydrated instant noodle and easily as cheap at about $1.50/pound.
What to order: Skip the pho in favor of the more interesting house special spicy beef noodle soup, or bun bo Hue ($10.50–$11.50).
Best for: Quick, tasty lunches.
Freshest Takes on Sushi
Sushi Kashiba and Wataru Sushi
It is the best of times for Seattle’s sushi purists, thanks to two late-2015 openings. Perched above Pike Place Market’s neon sign in the space that formerly housed Campagne and Marché, Sushi Kashiba (Pike Place Market, 86 Pine St.; 206.441.8844; sushikashiba.com) is the eponymous magnum opus from local legend Shiro Kashiba, a modern space punctuated with red accents.
Although the views are breathtaking, the best seats face the opposite direction, away from the water and toward the sushi bar, where the hardworking septuagenarian with a killer smile holds court. Go all in with the omakase—a pricey, though absolutely worth it, chef-recommended experience that tops $100—and he’ll fold rich uni into hand rolls; plunk slightly cured mackerel, or saba, atop perfectly portioned rice; and brush fatty otoro, or tuna belly, with the thinnest layer of soy sauce.
Across town, diners at Wataru Sushi (Ravenna, 2400 NE 65th St.; 206.525.2073;wataruseattle.com) wait in shorter lines, but are met with a meal equally as impressive. As at Kashiba, a mix of local and internationally sourced fish is used, and there’s a chef’s choice menu starting at just $45—enjoy it at a table or while chatting with chef Kotaro Kumita, a former apprentice of Kashiba, at the bar.
The decidedly more traditional Japanese-looking Wataru has an approachability that makes it a neighborhood joint worthy of weekly visits; Kashiba’s perfection makes it the sort of fine dining sushi spot Seattle has been craving.
Editor’s note: Menus at restaurants around town are constantly changing as chefs work to incorporate local, seasonal ingredients. All of the menu items included on these pages may not be available when you visit one of these restaurants, but you can bet that what is on the menu will be worthy of your dining dollar.