THE INFAMOUS COMET Tavern, home of ragged good cheer and beer-swilling chain-smokers, is worn, impure, and occasionally downright filthy—but in a good way. Just a stone's throw up Pike Street, by contrast, the three-month-old Satellite Lounge practically shimmers. Where the Comet is dark and filled with what seems like 100 people smoking at once, the Satellite features a naturally lit, heavily windowed room and a generally less manic vibe. But the Comet's new sibling (formerly Spag's Tavern) has much more going for it than the new-car smell and brand spanking new interior. Modest prices, generous portions, honest and simple preparations, and the bar's knack for serving a more-than-fair pour make this an appealing night-out alternative. Satellite Lounge
1118 E Pike, 324-4019
Daily 11:30am-2am (late-night menu from 10pm-2am)
MC, V; full bar Where beer once reigned supreme at Spag's, an upscale minimalism now resides in the vibrant colors, wood floors, cushioned seats, and tabletops of a size rarely seen in Seattle these days (large though they are, they're still inviting and adorned with fresh flowers as centerpieces). The brick-red ceiling and a variety of category-defying light fixtures add to the eclectic and postmodern decor. As we entered for the first time, we felt immediately at ease in this friendly, unpretentious space. Basically, everyone finds a way to make themselves at home here. Patrons hang out at the bar, play games at their tables (our nearest neighbors were locked in a spirited battle of liar's dice), and even bring their kids. The modest bar featured a volumeless TV (aren't those the best kind in restaurants?) that allowed Mariner fans a chance to follow the action while permitting the rest of us to care less. There's a jukebox loaded with a familiar mix of Sinatra and Hendrix, which had the place fairly buzzing when the opening strains of "Free Bird" filled the room (something like a sing-along transpired). The overall congeniality of the atmosphere is not unlike a family pancake house—but with good, solid food; nice colors everywhere; and servers not in uniforms. CHEF KUNI YAMAMOTO, formerly of Chez Shea, has built a menu around tried-and-true American tastes. The list features an assortment of traditional starters, sandwiches, pasta, and entr饳 (mainly steak, chicken, and seafood). We started with the Greek salad ($3), interesting in its refreshingly spare use of feta and its increased emphasis on the cucumber, tomato, and red onion. Pitted (thank you!) kalamata olives and artichoke hearts added a meaty texture, resulting in one of the most satisfying and affordable salads around. Calamari ($5) was another winning starter; it packed a wallop when dipped in an unusual mixture of lemon aﯬi and red-pepper jelly. Arranged playfully on the plate, the squid surrounded a small bowl of the pink-hued condiment almost menacingly—the panko batter-fried tentacles nearly appeared to crawl into the bowl of fiery potion. Eating the Satellite Clubhouse sandwich ($6.50) felt like exercise. We bicep-curled this massive classic to our mouths in what could only be compared to a comical weight lifting routine. As we completed our second set of reps, at least half of the hefty sandwich remained. Piled high with thin-sliced turkey, ham, and bacon strips, this triple-stacked beauty came with lightly toasted bread and was blanketed with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Sturdy, skin-on fries sat alongside this behemoth, which would see action on two subsequent days in our home and our places of employment. Equally reliable was the fried oyster and chips special ($7.50), with tender, medium-sized, and conservatively fried oysters served with fries and a light, citrus-kissed coleslaw (you can choose between light or creamy). Like the fries and calamari, the oysters tasted remarkably greaseless—one of the nice things that happens with fried food when it's served hot. The 8-ounce rib steak dinner ($8.50) showed up with a (recently) baked potato and steamed, flavorful vegetables (red peppers, green beans, cauliflower). Low priced and filling, it might just be the most representative item on Yamamoto's working-class-meets-fresh-food menu. Cooked perfectly to order, the cross-hatched grill marks jacketed the thin but flavorful meat, which was adorned simply with salt and pepper. Like every dish we ordered, the vegetables had been attended to carefully. The Satellite Lounge also knows how to pour drinks, serving up what we dubbed "The People's Pour" ($3.50 for well drinks). Spotting a People's Pour is easy—it's a drink that'll do your thirst justice. IN THE CRUCIBLE of a potentially unsatisfied customer, much can be learned about a restaurant's true spirit. When it comes to waitstaff, experience matters; at the Satellite Lounge we found the service to be nothing less than top-notch, efficient, and just plain neighborly. When one of our orders misfired, we were on the receiving end of this professionalism. An eye-catching daily special, thresher shark ($9.50), looked inviting as it was placed before us, accompanied by a big potato pancake and more of those oh-so-fresh vegetables. The pancake was browned and crusty on the outside and soft on the inside—just perfect. However, with the first bite of the tender shark meat, a strong scent of ammonia jolted our nostrils. (Old fish can get this flavor and even fresh shark can suffer the same fate due to a metabolic quirk.) We quietly informed our server of our stinky dilemma, and without hesitation she whisked it away immediately, apologized while maintaining a dignified stance, and returned shortly with a heartbreakingly delicious piece of grilled king salmon. In our minds, that was all that need be done. But that wasn't all: We were informed within moments that our entire dinner would be on the house. Since we know no one at the Satellite and are rarely recognized by anyone off our own block, we felt confident that such a stand-up approach to our funky fish was a generous and classy gesture of concern. Such complete and utter honor restored our hope for all of humanity, or for Capitol Hill's, at least. Although we fully intended to try the desserts on both visits, our lack of restraint with the entr饳 made such a venture inadvisable. Like the rest of the menu, the desserts—pie and ice creams, primarily—are priced strikingly low. "American food" restaurants can ultimately fail due to a lack of heart and sincerity, but places like Satellite Lounge are destined to succeed due to their sheer simplicity of vision. Like the Comet, the Satellite boasts an undeniable air of passion and goodwill—which is about as solid a foundation as can be. The Satellite doesn't have anything to prove; while its menu might not break new ground, the emphasis on value, freshness, and service creates an eating-out experience worth talking about.