Our 100 Favorites (part 3)

The Herb Farm Hedges Cellars, 195 NE Gilman Blvd, Issaquah, 206-784-2222 Dinner Thursday-Sunday (reservation only) $149 (for nine courses and matched wines, tax and tip extra) When people ask what is my favorite restaurant in Seattle, I tell them the Herb Farm. I know: It's not in Seattle, it requires months of forethought to get in, and it's monstrously expensive. I also know that chef Jerry Traunfeld could wrest edible wonderment from the Siberian tundra. Last year at a nine-course Indian summer dinner he produced an heirloom tomato and fennel soup, followed by pan-fried Mediterranean mussels served on rosemary sprigs with a red pepper-garlic flan and a shimmering sweet corn sauce. Later came an herb-rubbed rack of lamb topped with braised lamb tongue, alongside a mellow ragout of white beans and chanterelles. Was this dinner so perfect because of its whimsical deployment of herbs? The inventive verve of a true culinary mastermind? Its creativity within the limitations of place and season? The thoughtful matching of wines to each course? Sigh. I couldn't begin to tell you. K.R. Hi-Spot Cafe 1410 34th, 325-7905 Breakfast Monday-Friday 8-11ish a.m.; lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; brunch Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Breakfast $5-$8, lunch $8-$10 We've come to assume by now that this popular spot is high on everyone's list for brunch, a latte and scone, or a luxurious weekday lunch (featuring egg dishes from breakfast, as well as soups, sandwiches, and salads). From VISA-commercial fame in the early '90s to an endless flow of hopeful weekend noshers, this place vies with Fremont for Center of the Universe honors. The restaurant-in-a-house pretty much keeps in tune with congenial Madrona, despite how much more expensive it is to live there, but the atmosphere is neighborly, no-nonsense, and quite pleasantly homespun. By all means, put your name at the bottom of the eternal waiting list for brunch, and have a mocha and a giant, buttery homemade cinnamon roll. Because, my friends, you'll be waiting for the better part of an hour before your table is called, and you need sustenance. When you finally get seated, head for the primo Northwest Exposure omelet (three eggs, scallions, Parmesan, garlic, several kinds of mushrooms and sour cream) or their melt-in-your-mouth pancakes. E.B.R. Il Bistro 93A Pike, 682-3049 Dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30- 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-11 p.m. $23-$40 Il Bistro presents a cool, even off-putting front to the public, its dark windows overshadowed by the deck of the Pike Place Market above. But this architectural attitude has contributed to the place's longevity: When you visit Il Bistro, it's a little like dropping into a private club and being welcomed among the habitu鳮 The menu is sternly, classically Italian, with a dozen variations on pasta always available, usually including gnocchi, tortelloni, and lasagne as well as the customary linguine and fettuccine presentations. An equal number of substantial main dishes evenly divided between fish and flesh specialties appear, but the Milanese classic veal scaloppine holds pride of place with four treatments, from plain piccata to showy saltimbocca, on offer. Antipasti and insalate at Il Bistro also include contorni: side dishes to complement any part of a meal, not just its beginning. Bruschetta, crostini, saut饤 greens, the grilled "Tuscan garlic bread," the scampi tossed in herbs and vermouth, the mussels saut饤 in tomato and basil are worth a try. R.D. Il Terrazzo Carmine 411 First S,467-7797 Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner Monday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. $20-$30 Carmine Smeraldo brought his classic Northern Italian fare to Pioneer Square's Merrill Place 17 years ago, and it's still thriving; a feat which owes to its longtime endorsement by Seattle's cognoscenti and utter devotion from a city full of business lunchers. Come evening, lights are dim, waiters discreet, and every table somehow feels tucked into a corner (there may be no better place in town for trysting). In summer, diners sup on the terrace to the strains of the Viaduct. Pastas are the thing here—you'll want to order half as a starter or one as a meal. Recently we sampled two sure-handed triumphs: spaghetti with arugula, pine nuts, and a dollop of goat cheese, and a nicely proportioned four cheese penne. A sea bass special, pan-seared with pancetta and pine nuts, was flawlessly prepared (but served, oddly, with an equally rich potato souffle). Big-ticket meats—sweetbreads, veals, tender fillets—are cloaked in rich, precise sauces and roundly praiseworthy, as are the wines to go with them. K.R. Kabul 2301 N 45th, 545-9000 Dinner Monday-Friday 5-9:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 5-10 p.m. $9-$17 Its location amid the modern clutter of busy 45th Street belies the soothing atmosphere and ancient traditions of this beloved Wallingford institution, whose name conjures centuries-old trading routes leading to the Silk Road. Pale orange curtains and sage green walls hint at the flavors ahead: dried mint swirled with salt, accenting the tangy yogurt drink dogh; bolani, crisp fried triangles of potato, cilantro, and scallions served with a yogurt-garlic dipping sauce livened by paprika; and ashak, fresh scallion- and leek-filled pasta striped with yogurt and tomato sauces in a perfect balance of piquancy and sweetness. The best is yet to come—literally. The bara kebab, succulent lamb marinated in garlic, onions, coriander, saffron, and lemon juice, with just a hint of charred smokiness, is the most delicious this reviewer's ever tasted; served with tender eggplant and ribbons of paper-thin Afghan bread, it's a kebab fit for a king. Save room for not one, but two desserts: firni, a custard flavored with rosewater and cardamom, and homemade lighter-than-air baklava. Marco Polo never had it so good. Diane Sepanski Kaspar's 19 W Harrison, 298-0123 Dinner Tuesday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m. $14-$24 For some reason, restaurants have a hard time staying open near Seattle Center; maybe it's the difficulty of tickling the palates of diners who are already thinking of a visit to the opera or a Sonics game when they sit down at the table. Whatever the reason, Kaspar's has triumphantly survived the challenge. There's a touch of showbiz in the very layout of the restaurant, with its "sunken" dining area and sunset view. There's theater, too, in the presentation of the dishes, particularly the signature "tower" of hors d'oeuvres stacked absurdly but appetizingly in a wrought-iron frame. But pizzazz wilts if the show isn't substantial, and chef Kaspar Donier serves up some of the tastiest food to be had in the Northwest. Donier is relentless in his pursuit of rare seasonal specialties, be they wild mushrooms or live king crab, to astonish his loyal clientele with. Markus Donier presides over the bar with such flair that some habitu鳠regularly choose to eat there. R.D. Kingfish Cafe 602 19th E, 320-8757 Lunch Monday, Wednesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 6-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 6-10 p.m.; brunch Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. $8-$15 This cozy and elegant Capitol Hill corner is an extra-special favorite. The unfortunate thing is that we're not alone in this opinion: Drive by any night before the 6 p.m. opening gong and you'll see a line snaking down the block. But unlike many so-called hotspots, Kingfish is worth the wait—down-home Southern cooking doesn't come any better than this. And don't even think about watching your fat intake. From the savory fried tomatoes, lightly dredged in cornmeal and served with a generous dollop of chipotle mayonnaise, to the so-moist-it-drips cornmeal-fried chicken, to the tender catfish, you won't go wrong with anything that comes out of the deep-fryer. Other equally delicious choices include flaky, meaty crab cakes and a mountain of macaroni and cheese, kicked up a notch with spice. It's a challenge, but try to save room for dessert: The three-layer cakes are to die for. A.V.B. La Medusa 4857 Rainier S, 723-2192 Dinner Tuesday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. $11-$20 Like vintage wine, the charming enterprise that fixed Columbia City on culinary Seattle's radar screen is going from great to better. A recent makeover in hues of garnet and gilt imparts a more evening-worthy feel, but the really newsworthy improvements emanate from the kitchen. Owners Sherri Serino and Lisa Becklund call it "Sicilian soul food," but you can just call it satisfying, original, and consistently well executed, from the sassy pastas (the sardine, fennel, raisin, and pine nut spaghetti spanked us most enjoyably) to the delectable, featherweight pizzas. Sicilian food borrows from Moorish and Seracen influences, so you'll occasionally encounter a whisper of anchovy or mint; brava to Serino and Becklund for interpreting this exotic cuisine so authentically. And brava again for recently broadening their menu to include more meat choices, a gesture which renders this a truly something-for-everyone menu. As for service, Serino's and Becklund's engaging personalities trickle down to make for truly neighborly hospitality, even for toddlers—the truest test: Each gets her own little hunk of raw pizza dough upon arrival. K.R. Lampreia 2400 First, 443-3301 Tuesday-Saturday 5 p.m. until closings $20-$35 Do not go to this elegant Belltown eatery with your aunt from Peoria who thinks the Olive Garden is upscale. Lampreia is a place for serious foodies, where they and the food are treated very seriously. It's little surprise that a place that comes up with such whimsical concoctions as green olive corzetti pasta with crab sections, raisins, and pine nuts knows how to play with food. A perfect lemon tart arrives surrounded by a glistening red "target" of strawberry sauce. The warm white asparagus with orange mousseline are so neatly arranged they look sewn in place. It's entirely possible that you may taste some of the best food you've ever eaten here, especially if you try the simply heavenly ricotta dumplings with sage butter. An oven-roasted veal chop with Fonduta cheese sauce carefully navigated the chasm between overly heavy and deliciously rich. The saut饤 Diver scallop with black olive puree (part of one night's tasting menu, focused on fish) flawlessly matched sweet and salt. On second thought, if your aunt's paying for dinner, don't hesitate. A.V.B. Le Gourmand 425 NW Market, 784-3463 Dinner Wednesday-Saturday 5:30-10 p.m. seasonal prix fixe menu $28-$45 (wine and dessert extra) Le Gourmand is a curious-looking place from the outside, with windows you can't see through and what appears to be a small forest in the backyard. Some might even find the brown facade building at the foot of Phinney Ridge a tad intimidating. But veteran Seattle (by way of San Francisco) chef and owner Bruce Naftaly's cozy culinary temple is strikingly warm on the inside, where he finesses fresh Northwest ingredients into phenomenal French sauces and specialties. The spring menu offers such hearty openers as blintzes filled with sheep's milk cheese and a terrine packed with rabbit liver p⴩, the latter of which yields a buttery sweetness. For a fairly authentic French restaurant, Le Gourmand's entr饠choices are surprisingly accessible; amid the rabbit and duck variations you'll find boeuf ࠬa ficelle, organic tenderloin in a delicious, thick cabernet pressing sauce, the steak flanked by marrow and Naftaly's homemade stone-ground mustard. In another nod to the Northwest, there's a supple King salmon fillet adorned in a mix of champagne halibut stock and cr譥 frae. A salad and desserts crafted by Naftaly's wife, expert pastry chef Sara Lavenstein, cap a relaxed, perfectly timed three-hour meal that leaves little wonder that this out-of-the-way restaurant continues to thrive after 16 years. R.A.M. Le Pichet 1933 First, 256-1499 Daily coffee and pastries 8-11:30 a.m.; lunch Thursday-Monday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Thursday-Monday 5:30-10 p.m. $8-$30 This Frenchman's French cafe seemed to have regulars from the moment it opened, and in spite of its skinny quarters and wacky workweek—closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays—it inspires something close to awe among the devoted. Daytimes you'll see them nursing excellent bowls of cafe au lait and nibbling croissants (from Le Fournil) or simple ham tartines or plates of house-smoked salmon or cups of sweet, light French onion soup. Evenings, you'll see them lined up along the long bar smoking Gauloises—smokaphobes, beware—and enjoying former Campagne chef James Drohman's simple, essential Parisian plats: moules frites in a potent pool of beer with leeks and bacon, poulet forestier—which requires an hour to prepare, for two—roasted to a buttery-golden succulence. There are missteps from time to time, but nobody much cares; the place is so winning and so thoroughly transporting, you really feel you've been out. K.R. Lush Life 2331 Second, 441-9842 Daily 5-10 p.m. $15-$27 Talk about your hideaways; just finding your way into this Belltown eatery is a challenge. Once you're in though, you can see why Best of Seattle voters nominate the place a prime spot for illicit assignations and romance in general; the decor has the tatty elegance of a little 200-year-old trattoria on some Milan backstreet just off the Galleria. Lush Life's menu is Italian inspired but wholly individual, thanks to two chefs with deft hands and lively imaginations. Pizza plays a principal role at Lush Life, but you won't find any routine toppings here, where baby vegetables and pureed garlic are more likely to appear than pepperoni or pineapple. Pastas are lovingly and lavishly dressed—don't plan on dessert if you order a whole portion for yourself. Main dishes tend toward the meaty and filling as well, with cream and cheese shamelessly in evidence. How's a couple hiding from the eyes of the world to find room for something like chocolate-sambuca cake? Oh go on, try. R.D. Machiavelli 1215 Pine, 621-7941 Dinner Monday-Saturday 5-11 p.m. $7-$18 You don't want to seem like a flashy, gourmet-only snob, nor a penny-pinching, fast food-munching slob. So where do you take your date? Machiavelli! If you're a savvy seducer you'll arrive early and nab a table by the window. Tucked away on that last strip of Pine that connects Capitol Hill to downtown, this moderately priced Italian joint provides a perch from which voyeurs can view passing Seattleites, ranging from the hip to the sophisticated. Similar adjectives apply to Machiavelli's clientele. Upon entering the warm and cozy triangular dining room, you'll find a casual crowd that's slipped out of those work duds and under the restaurant's various wine racks to share their day's adventures. Machiavelli provides plenty of fuel for passionate conversation: The bread baskets come big, with a few of the slices offering pearl-like olives. Nor is this place chintzy with the cheese. Expect plenty of Parmesan on your Caesar salad and enough mozzarella to add oomph to that mushroom pizza. After one hearty meal—whether it consists of one of the many pastas or the chicken Parmesan—your date's heart will be pounding for you. D.M. Macrina 2408 First, 448-4032 Breakfast Monday-Saturday 7-9 a.m., Sunday 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; brunch Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Monday-Saturday 5-9 p.m. $6-$11 This Belltown spot serves as the ideal neighborhood eatery. Clean, bright, and congenial, the cafe hosts the kind of slightly upscale lunch that will completely win over your most particular friend or, better, your mother. There is a constant stream of takers for its walk-out fare (lattes and baguettes flow freely in and out), but the way to really enjoy it is to take a seat. The menu changes slightly each day, yet always features a reliable mix of special soups, sandwiches, and panini. Of particular interest is the daily cafe salad, usually some refreshing variation of greens and tantalizing extras such as caramelized red onions. Brunch here is consistently packed and worth the wait. Among the other stellar fresh pastries and egg dishes, be sure to try the brioche French toast, which manages to make the pairing of vanilla poached pears with pork apple links seem a natural, or the unbeatable Vollkorn breakfast stack, a delicious invention that finds two fried eggs atop fresh Vollkorn bread and a pile of smoked provolone, saut饤 spinach, and, best of all, butternut squash. S.W. Madison Park Cafe 1807 42nd E, 324-2626 Dinner Tuesday-Saturday 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; brunch Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner $13-$23, brunch $10-$12 Many know this cozy neighborhood house cafe primarily as a spot for lazy weekend brunches, to enjoy as morning sunlight slants in the windows to spotlight your cheese blintz or wedge of strata or scone and cup of coffee or—heh, heh—Bloody Mary. Yes, the Madison Park Cafe, particularly its gracious courtyard, has long been a particularly fine place to enjoy the delights of morning. Evenings it transforms into a provincial French bistro; an especially winning transformation in winter when fire dances in the hearth. You'll encounter classic country French cooking like cassoulet and coq au vin, and many dishes that qualify more accurately as Continental. Things can be hit and miss—we loved our marinated rack of lamb but could have lived without our overcooked salmon; we loved our blueberry coffeecake but found the sour cream version dry and dull. The place is so enchanting, however, you find yourself in a mood to forgive. K.R. Malay Satay Hut 212 12th S, 324-4091 11 a.m.-11 p.m. everyday $6-$35 No, it's not a hut (though it is in a strip mall), but if it weren't for the nondescript facade, you'd never get a seat in this formica-topped flavor haven. One step into this cheerfully noisy family joint explains its popularity: Your nostrils fill with smells you want to taste. While you wait, you're practically standing over the appetizers you want: as-good-as-it-gets baby-tender satay served with a peanut sauce you know didn't emerge from a jar, and roti, grilled flatbread served with a potato-chicken curry sauce. Then reinvent the stir-fry with Buddha's Yam Pot—chicken, shrimp, and vegetables in a deep-fried basket of grated sweet potato and taro root. Paint the town red with Ikan Merah, crisp snapper fillets in a stunning, garnet-hued spicy-sweet sauce. Or go a little wild with curried fish head soup (yummier than it sounds) or Kang Kung Belchan, Chinese watercress with shrimp paste. But beware dessert . . . unless you love neon gelatin squares. Come with a crowd: The menu's vast, the specials many, and you'll want to try it all. D.S. Marco's Supperclub 2510 First, 441-7801 Dinner Sunday-Thursday 5:30-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-midnight $13-$20 There are plenty of restaurants in Belltown more than willing to take your money; Marco's remains one of the few to truly deserve it. Delectable dishes, good wine, and discreet, romantically lit corners make every day Valentine's Day at the Supperclub, but Mom or sophisticated out-of-town guests may enjoy it just as much as your sweetie. Start simple: The fried sage leaves remain a classic, while the crisp, piquant Caesar smartly acknowledges its dressing's anchovy roots, and mouth-melting flash-fried calamari handily avoid the Goodyear-textured fate of many an overcooked squid. Some may feel seasick traversing the menu's whirlwind tour of world cultures, but chefs Matthew Burian and Joe Serquinia handle them all with grace, from the firm, creamy gnocchi nestled in a classic pesto sauce to the tuna seared in coconut milk curry with black sticky rice, a Thai delight gone couture. Too full for dessert? Order something to go; you'll be glad later. L.G. Matt's in the Market 94 Pike, #32, 467-7909 Lunch Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. $14-$20 Given only five tables and about a half-dozen seats at the bar, reservations are advised for Matt's at dinner (reservations are taken only in the first 15 minutes after opening); you'll definitely wait in line for lunch. But this is a restaurant diminutive only in size, not excellence. With its single arched window overlooking Elliott Bay, local art on the walls, and friendly, expert help working the tables and open kitchen, there's nothing precious about the tiny place. It's effortlessly hip without the trendiness or attitude (even if most patrons appear to work in design professions and wear identical wire-frame glasses). The warm, custardlike Cabrales flan makes a terrific starter and is delicious on bread that's always instantly replenished. On the small set menu, the fine pan-fried catfish avoids the usual palate-scorching clich鳮 Among recent specials, pan-fried halibut imparted that much-abused fish with perfect texture. Afterward, New York cheesecake arrives at an honest size without froufrou pretensions. Eclectic house music doesn't try to ingratiate, veering from Stevie Ray Vaughan (acoustic) to Galactic. The next time your buddy David Byrne comes to town, take him to this swell joint. B.R.M. Metropolitan Grill 820 Second, 624-3287 Lunch daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner Monday-Friday 4:30-11 p.m., Saturday 4-11 p.m., Sunday 4:30-10 p.m. $18-$42 Steak houses deserve their reputation as meeting places for the rich and gluttonous cigar-chomping businessman. An establishment like Metropolitan Grill even thrives off such status, as the high prices and loyal customers keep the bottom line blacker than the coffee. Beyond the Met's austere exterior, dining room mahogany, and hotel-lobby lighting lies one of the most pleasant dining experiences—not to mention the best steaks, as the menu boldly proclaims—in town. The service amazes, with attentive but never overbearing staff. Appetizers (chilled oysters, onion rings, beer-battered artichoke hearts) merely suffice; salmon and chicken may be great too, but it's hard to avoid ordering steak here. And why would you? The cuts, on raw display at the entry, look more remarkable cooked (in high heat over mesquite charcoal), especially accompanied by prescription-strength mashed potatoes. Chef John Broulette ensures that with the filet mignon, prime New York peppercorn, sirloin, and strip, he expands the boundaries of the very meaning of steak. R.A.M. Mistral 113 Blanchard, 770-7799 Dinner Wednesday-Saturday 5:30 till whenever $100 (prix fixe for nine courses, $75 for seven, $50 for four) People either love this Belltown temple of haute cuisine for its attention to food or loathe it for its pretension. Count me firmly among the former—but let the record show that portions are small and prices dear. The innovative classics of earnest William Belickis (Fuller's, Bouley in New York) are best enjoyed as a nine-course splurge, so save up, order a good wine, and prepare to be wowed. On entering the unpretentious, elegant room a warm but formal mae d' of the old school hands each diner a list of ingredients in lieu of a menu. Off of this list Belickis will craft your table d'h� perhaps beginning with an amuse-bouche of goat cheese-Maine lobster quiche, proceeding through a striped bass decorated with bits of a young garden, slices of butter-tender lamb over pureed fingerling potatoes, greens in Beaujolais dressing, a plate of mild cheeses with fruit, and a vanilla bean cr譥 brl饮 If you are like me, you will leave satisfied, inspired, and awestruck. (And considerably poorer.) K.R. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

 
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