Downtown

Downtown dining diverges: There are spots that target the tourist (a category that includes the suburban shopper and the teen in search of urban buzz), while others cater to the true downtowner—the business luncher, the power diner, the serious celebrant of a special occasion. The two breeds often mix and mingle, but uneasily, like predators and prey patronizing the same water hole. The differing values can pose a delicate balancing act for restaurants; tilt too far one way and lose your reputation, too far the other and lose your customer base. All the more credit to those restaurants that maintain their standards without putting off casual customers, that avoid pretension while ensuring quality. Roger Downey Andaluca Hotel restaurants have a tough time getting taken seriously: by hotel management as well as retail, nonresident customers. Andaluca is a notable exception. Year after year, Wayne Johnson's team turns out a very classy brand of Hispano-Levantine cuisine, apparently with the full cooperation and approval of the hotel upstairs. The menu varies with the seasons and the chef's whim, but a recent dinner offered up some typically imaginative items. Appetizers ranged from ground lamb in grape leaves dressed in a fiery lemon cream to Indian-inspired deep-fried duck croquettes with cucumber raita and apricot chutney to a tomato-based Tuscan bread soup. Andaluca is one of those rare restaurants that offer single servings of paella (though the portion's big enough for two birdlike appetites), but the kitchen excels in grilled and braised items as well. The room's dark and intimate, the service deft and unobtrusive. People looking for a discreet romantic getaway could do a lot worse. And if romance flames up into lust, well, the Hotel Vintage Park's only steps away. R.D. 407 Olive Way, 206-382-6999. $$$ www.andaluca.com The Brooklyn Seafood Steak & Oyster House The name's supposed to evoke an old-fashioned, wood-paneled, sawdust-floored "guy" restaurant, and the interior designers have provided a setting that delivers the same message. You could take business lunches here for months without registering that the kitchen, while meeting all the stylistic demands of the establishment, has distinct ideas of its own about how to execute them. It's not fair to call these touches "fusion," but the fact is that a diner who's not constitutionally into meat-and-potatoes can eat very well here. The expected New York cut in a peppercorn, brandy, and cream sauce is here, but so is muscovy duck with grilled romaine and grilled portobello mushroom with basil risotto. You can get a salmon steak pretty much year-round, but you can also get adventurous with tilapia in exotic essences with mussels on the side or ginger-grilled yellowtail tuna served with a wheat-noodle cake. And the oysters, raw and cooked, are among the best around. R.D. 1212 Second Ave., 206-224-7000. $$ www.thebrooklyn.com Elliott's Oyster House Elliott's starts with two strikes against it; it's one of a chain of restaurants, and it's in the heart of Seattle's ticky-tacky, tourist-ridden waterfront district. You'd never know it when eating there. There's the stellar oyster bar, for one thing, where serious slurpers consume hundreds of thousands of the things annually. There's the signature entreé of Dungeness crab, too—25 tons of it a year, killed, cooked, cracked, and sauced to your order. But the best thing about Elliott's is that whatever's fresh and in season is dished up and complemented in the most straightforward and appetizing way. This is the place to bring out-of-towners for their promised fish-feed; they'll love it, and you'll find plenty of specials and standbys to perk up even the most jaded seafoodie's palate. R.D. Elliott's Oyster House, Pier 56, 206-623-4340. $$ www.elliottsoysterhouse.com Isabella Ristorante You want to avoid cheap Italian egg noodles and ketchup, but you don't want to spend $100 per person for a plate of scampi, some dignified pasta, and a nice veal scaloppine. Lucky for you, Isabella makes every course count. The simple insalata della citta shines, thanks to semihidden morsels of fresh mozzarella and a cunning use of capers that accents the plum tomatoes without overwhelming them. This kitchen really knows how to blend diverse ingredients. Linguini cafone sounds dicey on the page (pancetta, red onion, sun-dried tomato, artichoke hearts, spinach, and chèvre—are we there yet?), but somehow everything falls beautifully into place, and the sweet onion—an unusual choice for a hot pasta dish—cuts brilliantly through the quieter flavors. One taste of Isabella's pasta and you'll never buy egg noodles—or ketchup—again. N.S. 1909 Third Ave., 206-441-8281. $$ www.isabellaristorante.com Le Pichet There are those who insist that Le Pichet is, dollar for dollar, the biggest restaurant bargain in Seattle. It's hard to argue with them. Not everybody considers modest bistro fare the ultimate in dining pleasure, and few—few Americans, at least—would want to eat the Pichet way every day. But, when you're in the mood, boy, does the place deliver. Most recent meal: curly endive salad over a salmon-filled buckwheat crepe topped with a perfectly poached egg; terrine of whitefish and fennel with a pungent saffron sauce; a few rosy slices of grilled leg of pork with a side of sausage over just-tender white beans in a deep, savory sauce. The wine list is a dream, with nearly every one of the 40 or 50 items available by the glass. The service manages to be swift and super attentive without being fussy or fawning. And the whole meal cost about half what a similarly splendid one at most venues elsewhere would run. R.D. 1933 First Avenue, 206-256-1499. $$ Salumi If you strolled unawares into Salumi—not that easy to do, considering its nowhere location and restricted hours of operation—you might well assume that it was just a noisy neighborhood lunch counter. Which it emphatically is, as long as you appreciate that the neighborhood is thick with dot-com survivors, ad execs, city department heads, and the like, all busily schmoozing over Armandino Batali's superb Italian cucina povera. Don't be surprised to find yourself sitting next to chefs on holiday, either, or European tourists tipped off to the place by international travel guides. Salumi is a pilgrimage spot for lovers of hearty artisanal foods, above all everything that can be made from man's best friend, the pig. R.D. 309 Third Ave. S., 206-621-8772. $$ Troiani Troiani owner-manager Richard Troiani and executive chef Walter Pisano are both of Italian ancestry, so it's natural to think this latest enterprise of the Mackay Restaurant Group is "an Italian restaurant." Well, that's a big mistake; there are lots of Italian elements on the menu, but Troiani is less about a kind of cuisine than about a kind of dining that's captured in the very word "downtown": dressy, elegant yet at ease, a place where fine food is just part of the experience. Mackay's El Gaucho re-created a legendary downtown Seattle steak house; in the same way, Troiani recalls, for those with long memories, downtown fixtures like Rosellini's 410 and Rosellini's 610—places the power elite went to deal over lunch and relax over dinner. It's too soon to know if Troiani can evoke that era again; the three-martini lunch and the 24-ounce chateaubriand are gone and not regretted. But from opening cocktail to elegant dessert, Troiani's having a damn good try. R.D. 1101 Third Ave., 206-624-4060. $$$ Typhoon! When Typhoon! moved into Wild Ginger's old digs on Western Avenue several years ago, it was following a hard act. Turned out, Typhoon! has its own dazzling show, one that has won critical acclaim but still isn't as well known among the general public as it should be. Typhoon!'s exquisite dishes are on a different level than the fare at most Thai restaurants. Order something simple—the stir-fried eggplant dish known as Eggplant Lover, say—and you'll get a revelation: a complex blend of distinct flavors that makes the mouth come alive. That complexity of flavor also stands out in an array of showier dishes, like the Three-Flavor Fish, which pairs halibut with a fiery sweet-and-sour sauce. All the standard Thai dishes are here, too, excellently executed. A place of dark woods, slow-moving fans, and towering bamboo poles, Typhoon! has an intimate feel. It feels even better after you've tried its thick, coconut-y version of the piña colada, which will make you rethink the drink's passé status. N.E.S. 1400 Western Ave., 206-262-9797. $$ www.typhoonrestaurants.com Wild Ginger As school-cafeteria and dormitory cooking goes to show, having a captive audience usually results in lousy cooking. Rick Yoder's downtown Asian-fusion eatery has the closest thing to a captive audience imaginable: Benaroya Hall's right across Union Street, and a substantial number of the 2,000-odd people resorting there three, four, five nights a week hit Wild Ginger first, confident not only of a good meal but also one served quickly. How the staff manages it is a mystery, but nine times out of 10, diners in the huge room get exactly what they come for: light, flavorful dishes running the gamut from satays to stir-fries, pretty to look at, properly cooked, and agreeably seasoned. Luncheon's the time to go to Wild Ginger for a leisurely meal; the evening tempo is usually so hectic that it's hard to relax and enjoy your dinner. R.D. 1401 Third Ave., 206-623-4450. $$ food@seattleweekly.com

 
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