When you hear the term "chain restaurant," you probably think of someplace like Burger King or Denny's or IHOP. But such nation-spanning enterprises are not

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Side Dish

When you hear the term "chain restaurant," you probably think of someplace like Burger King or Denny's or IHOP. But such nation-spanning enterprises are not the only ones out for the American food dollar. Recently Seattle has seen the opening of a new breed of chain-food operations that are focused on a more sophisticated and affluent, but still price-conscious, consumer. The pioneers in targeting this culinary price point were red-meat chains: steak houses, rib joints, and the like. But recently other, trendier cuisine styles have found their packagers. Suburbs—tough places for a freestanding quality restaurant to make a go of it—have proved fertile soil for such operations. Two local exemplars opened recently cheek by jowl in Bellevue Square's flossy new corner development. Z'Tejas, out of Austin, Texas, offers a Southwest-fusion cuisine best summarized as Tex-Mex Gumbo Ya-Ya, while P.F. Chang's (based in that capital of the Chinese diaspora Scottsdale, Ariz.) now has upwards of 60 establishments nationwide offering a homogenized multiregional "Chinese" menu. In restaurants like these, cuisine is just one element of a "concept." Chang's chinoiserie was "created" by Paul Fleming, who also "created" the steak-house-with-a-wine-bar concept Fleming's for the Tampa-based Outback chain. (He's also got a finger in Z'Tejas's tamale pie.) Soon, the corporate kitchens that brought you Buca di Beppo (now in 30 states and the District of Columbia, including Seattle and the Alderwood Mall) plan to open the Oceanaire Seafood Room in the new 1700 Seventh Avenue development near Nordstrom downtown. Can a Minneapolis-based chain of wood-paneled "old-fashioned steak house-style" fish restaurants teach local diners something about seafood that, say, the Portland-based McCormick's group (34 restaurants in 10 states and D.C.) hasn't already honed to a fine edge? Will corporate consolidation one day kill off independent kitchens altogether? Watch this space. NIBBLES So many Ichiro Suzuki fans are flying across the Pacific to watch their idol play for the Mariners that Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar now has a Japanese-language menu for their convenience. . . . Belltown seafood spot Falling Waters closed its doors just months short of its second birthday. . . . Madison Valley gets yet another upscale eatery: The brainchild of Caterarts's executive chef Peter Neal, Gypsy's is in the 2800 block, across the street from Rover's and next door to Chinoise. . . . Part of a chain gang? E-mail sidedish@seattleweekly.com.

 
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