CRITICS' PICKS BEST VEGETARIAN MENU AT A NONVEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
Lord knows we don't ask for much. Still, for vegetarian foodies, years of eating unimaginative meatless meals at fancy restaurants take their toll. Thank goodness ROVER'S throws us veggies a bone (so to speak). Their exquisite vegetarian tasting menus rival their meat-inclusive counterparts in opulence, creative flair, and depth of flavor. When a culinary legend like Thierry Rautureau creates six-course menus with items like roasted parsnip flan with saut饤 leeks and celeriac-perigord truffle potage, it makes a veggie epicure feel deliciously included for a change.Neal Schindler 2808 E. Madison St., 206-325-7442.
Culinary lavender is irksomely trendy; panna cotta is glorified flan. Yet somehow the Pink Door's LAVENDER PANNA COTTA is quietly spectacular. How can one dessert both stimulate and utterly soothe the senses? The sweet, flowery creaminess of it melts languorously on the tongue. Over this panna cotta, the plain-faced boy you're dating could start to look like marriage materialso eat with caution.N.S. 1919 Post Alley, 206-443-3241.
BEST I-CAN'T-BELIEVE-IT'S-NOT-MEAT SANDWICH
Some vegetarians might be offended by a dish that attempts to mimic a counterpart loved by carnivores, but don't we all have an inalienable right to comfort food regardless of race, creed, or diet? That more than justifies Cafe Flora's hearty VEGETARIAN FRENCH DIP. Intentionally designed to offer the meaty appeal of the roast beef classic, Flora's faux dip consists of a seeded baguette from Essential Baking Co. piled high with seasoned, grilled, and sliced portobello mushrooms cut thin at an angle. This is topped with caramelized onions andfor non-vegansmelted Swiss cheese. The au jus is a tasty broth of garlic, tamari, sea salt, water, and sesame oil. Chef Janine Doran's ample, delicious creation could even convert a few meat eaters. It has become a menu mainstay, and at $11 for lunch and $12 for dinner, the price is rather comforting, too.Knute Berger 2901 E. Madison St., 206-325-9100.
BEST MOVIE CONCESSION STAND
An excruciating tie: What it comes down to is what kind of moviegoer you are. If you fondly remember the days when foreign films played "art houses"or are young enough to think those disheveled film palaces romanticthe choice has to be the GRAND ILLUSION CINEMA, with its designer ginger ales. If you're into all-American full service, you can't beat AMC PACIFIC PLACE CINEMA, which blows away the competition with pizza, nachos, hot dogs, pretzels, beer, for Pete's sake, and iced tea.Roger Downey Grand Illusion: 1403 N.E. 50th St., 206-523-3935. Pacific Place: Pacific Place Shopping Center, Sixth Avenue and Pine Street, 206-652-2404.
BEST BUBBLE TEA PARLOR
A tie between GINKGO TEA and POCHI TEA STATION, both, as befits a fad so desperately trendy, in the U District. Ginkgo offers an astounding variety of teas (hot as well as bubble), and the atmosphere has that perfect bubble-tea-parlor smell, like generic perfume mixed with generic air freshener. Also, the place is as toasty as the Sahara, even in winter. Pochi, on the other hand, fulfills one of the chief duties of bubble tea parlors, which is to show bad, bad American concert videos (Britney, 'N Sync, andeven worseChristian 'N Sync clones), often dubbed, painfully, into Taiwanese. Oh, and Pochi serves much better "tapas" (fries, cr갥s, etc.) and uses more fresh fruit. So we could go either way. You decide.N.S. Gingko: 4343 University Way, 206-632-7298. Pochi: 5014 University Way, 206-551-3144.
BEST FREE SNACKING WHILE WAITING TO BE SERVED
Nobody enjoys having to stand in line to be seated at a restaurant, but SALUMI came up with a solution that keeps them coming back. As you mull your sandwich or main dish order, the folks behind the counter keep dishing up little plates of whatever they're cutting for others: a few rounds of fragrant salami or some crostini dabbed with mozzarella and garlic spread or a curl or two of prosciutto. When the lunch crowd's at its heaviest, you might be kept nibbling so long you may not need to order. So siddown, have a glass of wine, and shut up, already.R.D. 309 Third Ave. S., 206-621-8772.
BEST FISH MARKET
OK, there's no way to cite just one without qualification. But pound for glisteningly fresh pound, the FRESH FISH COMPANY gets my vote. A pair of tiny coolers tucked in the back of a shabby convenience store west of downtown Ballard, this hidden jewel purveys some of the most appetizing seafood you're going to see anywhere, from tiny scallops up to 20-pound whole salmon. Every item's dewy fresh, and the prices are astonishingly modest. What you give up in range of selection, you pick up in perfection of product. Don't go with what you want clearly in mind; let what you see when you get there inspire you.R.D. 2804 N.W. Market St., 206-782-1632.
BEST ALL-AROUND SUPERMARKET
Where you like to shop depends a lot on where you live and what kind of lifestyle you pursue. If you ignore location, location, location, the CENTRAL MARKET AT SHORELINE is where it's definitely at. Name me another supermarket that offers half a dozen tanks of wrigglingly live seafood and a food court and discount groceries and a bakery and a coffee bar, plus all the usual aisles of useful stuffas well as so many Asian specialties, you'd think you were at Uwajimaya. It's enough to make you wish you lived in Shoreline, and that, friends, is saying a lot.R.D. 15505 Westminster Way N. (west of Aurora Avenue North at North 155th Street), 206-363-9226.
BEST BOOKSTORE PASTRIES
No contestand you know why? Because THIRD PLACE BOOKS has an actual honest-to-goodness bakery on the premises; not just any bakery, either, but the much-loved Honey Bear Bakery, which Wallingfordians still get misty-eyed over more than three years after it closed there. But Wallingford's loss is Lake City's (and Ravenna's) gain.R.D. 17171 Bothell Way N.E., 206-366-3333; 6504 20th Ave. N.E., 206-523-0210.
BEST UNDISCOVERED SUSHI PLACE
American sushi fanatics obsess over the minutiae of wasabi and argue about whose fish is the freshest (I'll give you a hint: Pretty much everyone buys from Mutual Fish on Rainier, and it's pretty much all equally fresh), topics that would glaze the eyes of the Japanese ex-pats who flock to TSUKUSHINBO in the ID. It's a cozy, unpretentious neighborhood eatery of the type Japan is full of, where you can smoke (yes, smoke) and knock back bottles of beer and sake while enjoying a wide-ranging menu that includes not only the standard sushi, tempura, and udon, but also down-home favorites like mozuku-su (vinegared seaweed), natto (fermented soybeans), and okra (yes, okra). The food doesn't call attention to itself like the fussy, delicate fare at those pan-Asian places but imparts the warm, satisfied feeling of all authentic country cooking (even if it's a country you've never been to). Masa "Mike" Hirakawa has run Tsukushinbo since 1994 with his wife, Sayakothe restaurant's name, meaning horsetail plant, was taken from a restaurant his mother used to run in his native Yokohama. Don't miss the autographs on the wall of the many Japanese baseball players and starlets who have passed through its doors.David Stoesz 515 S. Main St., 206-467-4004.
BEST CAR-SERVICE DRIVE-IN IN SEATTLE
OK, only car-service drive-in. And they don't take your order on roller skates anymore. But BURGERMASTER does serve food carside on window trays. And if you think it doesn't get any better than that, here's a pleasant surprise: The food's pretty good, too. The Burgermaster's like a bigger, slightly more expensive version of a Dick's Deluxe. The fries aren't as dreamy as the ones at Dick's, but Burgermaster makes up for any fry-quality deficit with variety: chicken strips, onion rings, fish and chips, grilled crab and Swiss sammies, delicious house-made apple pie (ask for the cinnamon sauce), and some of the best shakes and sundaes in town.Katie Millbauer 9820 Aurora Ave. N., 206-522-2044; other locations in Bothell and Bellevue.
BEST ETHNIC RESTAURANT EVEN IF YOU'RE GRANNY ISN'T LATINA
Three things make a great ethnic restaurant: authenticity, atmosphere, and quality. On all counts, the CHILE PEPPER RESTAURANT scores right off the chart. The opposite of the homogenized Tex-Mex fare that dominates even good Latino restaurants in these parts, Chile Pepper carries the kind of conviction that only complete indifference to the commercial norm delivers. Taste these chiles rellenos, and be converted.R.D. 1425 N. 45th St., 206-545-1790.
BEST PLACE TO GET HIGH ON PIE
Let's just say I've got a little problem with Hostess Fruit Piesas in, I crave them like crack. Good thing, then, that in this down economy, they and other Hostess products can be had for cheap at the WONDER/HOSTESS BAKERY OUTLET, which has three Seattle locations. The main depot is in Rainier Valley, just north of I-90, where you can stock up on Ding Dongs, Twinkies, and soft, soft bread (so rich with childhood associations, like Proust's madeleine, only infinitely more malleable). But for connoisseurs (junkies?), it's all about the pies: apple, blackberry, and cherry. Look for me in line, just waiting for the man.Brian Miller 1805 S. Main St., 206-322-4242.
And just about only tapas, too, if by tapas you don't mean miscellaneous little plates of overpriced food. Tapas at THE HARVEST VINE are a Spanish-saturated cultural ritual, especially if you're seated at the counter watching Joseba Jim鮥z de Jim鮥z and his crew expertly assemble dishlets that would pass muster in Spain's Basque country. If you don't accompany your snacks with sherry, you're only half experiencing tapas; if you don't sit for hours conversing about everything and nothing (while furious standees wait for your seat), you're not doing your part.R.D. 2701 E. Madison St., 206-320-9771.
BEST TEQUILA LINEUP
A lot of folks are trying to catch up to the tequila trend, and some are doing well at it. But at FANDANGO you get something the other guys so far lack: expertise. The bartenders at Fandango were way ahead of The New York Times in anointing midpriced Chinaco blanco as the best buy on the block, and if you ask for some pricey anejo in your margarita, the staff will gently try to dissuade you from wasting your money. When you add in the kitchen's fabulous Latin snack foods, there's no nicer place in town to get swacked.R.D. 2313 First Ave., 206-441-1188.
French pastry is like classical ballet there are rules, thank you very much, and you need to know them. Nicholas Pare at LE FOURNIL certainly knows the rules (the classics, especially anything with a crust, are exquisitely done), but this casual bakery wears its authenticity lightly. The lunch special (sandwich, pastry, and drink) is the smart deal.Sandra Kurtz 3230 Eastlake Ave. E., 206-328-6523.
BEST WINE-BY-THE-GLASS PROGRAM
You'd never know it from encountering the average sommelier, but the position came into being to assist diners to order wine, not to intimidate them into buying a more expensive bottle. SEASTAR RESTAURANT & RAW BAR is crawling with sommeliers, but, maybe because chef John Howie is very much in charge of the whole operation, they work very hardfirst to find food-friendly wines, including inexpensive ones, and then to find just the right one to go with what you're eating. It's not unusual to find yourself drinking three or four different wines with your supper for no more than you would have spent on a single bottleand learning a lot while you're enjoying them.R.D. 205 108th St. N.E., Bellevue, 425-456-0010.