Critics' Picks

FOOD & DRINK

Best New Restaurant

Restaurants come in all sizes, styles, and flavors, so even in our Best of Seattle issue, you won't usually see any establishment awarded with the B-word. But even sound rules have their exceptions, and since our last BOS issue in October 2003, a new culinary star has risen to which attention must be paid, the more so that it shines on a patch of downtown where haute cuisine, until now, was dubiously represented by Wolfgang Puck's late cafe. UNION is the creation of chef Ethan Stowell and a team pulled together from former colleagues at the Painted Table, Nell's, and elsewhere. It serves fancy food without fuss, made from superbly fresh, seasonal ingredients (on average, half the dishes on the menu change daily). You can order the tasting menu (allow a good two hours to do it justice) or à la carte; either way, unless you go wild on the wine, you'll be dining for about half what you'd pay at the handful of established restaurants that can compare with Union in flair, substance, and service.—Roger Downey 1400 First Ave., 206-838-8000.

Best beer-only tavern

Rodney Dangerfield says he went into a bar once and asked for a double, and they brought out a guy who looked just like him. Surely he'd get more respect at a tavern, what's left of them anyway. Beer-only watering holes are few these days, around here anyway; pubs were once the lifeblood of Pike Place Market, for example, but they've all been 86'd there, replaced by the shameless tinkling of ice on glass. Fortunately, Seattle's tavern survivors include three of the oldest businesses in the city: the Comet (started in 1954), the Northlake (1948), and the granddaddy of swill, THE BLUE MOON TAVERN (1934). The Moon's oft-recounted past comprises a chunk of Seattle's own history as the hangout of beats, artists, and Pulitzer-winning writers. But it's also just a cozy, timeless blue-collar joint to get a beer and, per your desire, to engage in discourse about why you're going to throw away your vote again on Ralph Nader, to read a book from the Moon's lending library, or to be left alone to ponder your beliefs. "A man's got to believe in something," explained newspaper cartoonist Ray Collins, a onetime Moon regular. "I believe I'll have another beer."—Rick Anderson 712 N.E. 45th St., 206-545-9775.

Best Place to Get an Ice-Cream Cone

Safe to say that anyone who's been in business for over 70 years is doing something right, but just to be sure, you should make a day trip to West Seattle and try one—or all—of the 40 flavors of ice cream at HUSKY DELI. Mom-and-pop owned since 1932, Husky Deli makes their ice cream on the premises, and they also have a damn fine sandwich counter, tons of chocolates and candies, and a large selection of grocery items ranging from squeezable ketchup to imported German sauerkraut. But by all means, don't feel like you have to mix business with pleasure. You can get your sundries any old time, just don't let summer go by without indulging in a triple cone of double chocolate fudge.—Laura Cassidy 4721 California Ave. S.W., 206-937-2810.

Best Party-style Cooking Classes

Just in time to avoid being mobbed by torch-wielding Madison Parkies enraged by the loss of their on-street parking spaces, Virginia and Mike Duppenthaler have found a new home for their BLUE RIBBON COOKING SCHOOL. Even without the angry mobs, it was time for a move; the Duppenthalers have a lovely home with an even lovelier kitchen and deck, but when you're in the rapidly growing field of producing cooking classes as private parties, wedding rehearsals, and corporate team-building exercises, the fanciest home kitchen just doesn't offer enough scope. The Duppenthalers' new facility down near Houseboat Row on Lake Union— previously home to at least half a dozen failed restaurant operations, most recently Cafe Ambrosia—has three separate classrooms set up for demos and a dedicated barbecue unit conveniently located just off the spacious deck with its view of Gasworks Park across the water. And, as if teaching adult and kids' cooking classes and mounting events for Adobe, Amgen, and AT&T employees weren't enough to keep them busy, the Duppenthalers are considering setting up a cappuccino stand catering to passing kayakers.—Roger Downey 2501 Fairview Ave. E., 206-328-2442.

Best Exotic Beer Selection

It's a tough call, this one. Some brew cognoscenti like the selection at Duck Island Ale House on Aurora, and the atmosphere there, all quirky angles and cozy corners, lends itself to meditation over a pot of fine brew (available not just in pints but halves, imperials, and pitchers). Unfortunately, the atmosphere also provides more than a whiff of the noxious weed of doom (tobacco, that is). Another downside: Food, such as it is, comes from Beth's Cafe next door, an establishment that wears its greasy-spoon cred with pride. They take food more seriously at Ballard's Old Town Alehouse, and they consider the customers' lungs as well with a smoke-free policy. If management only considered the customers' convenience, too, it would be a great spot to tip one; unfortunately the staff has a way of shutting down the kitchen when they feel like it, and you can't even count on finding the place open during its stated business hours. Shucks.—Roger Downey Duck Island Ale House: 7317 Aurora Ave. N. 206-783-3360. Old Town Alehouse: 5233 Ballard Ave. N.W. 206-782-8323.

Best Dive Bar Deck

Vertigo and disorientation are integral elements of any respectable, chunk-spewing pub crawl. How appropriate, then, that one must conquer OZZIE'S RESTAURANT & LOUNGE's formidable obstacle course of multiple billiards tables and mini-bars, a swarm of notoriously hard-core 24-7 karaoke cultists, the tunnel to the friggin' ladies' room, and a tenuous concealed staircase before reaping the benefits of the half-year-old second-story deck. Beset with umbrella-pockmarked, garage sale–caliber lawn furniture that makes Mike Brady look like Andy Warhol, there's no better launch pad to drunkenly gorge cholester-cool tavern grub and get socked around by wicked waterfront gusts. If it weren't for that damn Super Safeway next door, you'd probably not only have a fair view of the Needle, but be able to comfortably hurl a stein at the late-night merrymakers on Queen Anne Avenue. Then again, um, perhaps Super Safeway is a good thing.—Andrew Bonazelli 105 W. Mercer St., 206-284-4618.

Best Fruit Stand

Sweet, juicy mangoes at 50 cents apiece are hard to pass up. Ravenna's RISING SUN FARMS—the shack with the mural of dancing strawberries on the side— offers tropical fruit and other temptations at unreal prices, playing Davey to the grocery Goliath down the road: Whole Foods Market. If browsing the expensive, pornographically shiny stuff at Whole Foods is like shopping at Barney's, perusing the modest little stand in the heart of Ravenna resembles a thrift-store spree. Shelling out big bucks for guaranteed top-notch quality makes sense sometimes—like when you're hosting the in-laws or a prominent head of state. When you're broke and cooking for one, however, serendipitous bargains are key, and that's where Rising Sun shines.—Neal Schindler 6505 15th Ave. N.E., 206-524-9741.

Best Place to Eat with Your Hands

The obvious answer? One of the dozen or so Ethiopian and Eritrean spots in the Central District. But while restaurants like Meskel and Mesob offer guests a highly tactile dining experience, only one place in town provides enough textural variety and ceremonial flourish to make eating sans silverware truly unforgettable. At Moroccan mecca MARRAKESH, everything from couscous to b'steeya (a chicken-filled pastry dusted with cinnamon) is consumed avec les mains: Just make the fingers of your right hand into a spoon, and dig in. And if you're a neat freak, don't fret. Terrycloth hand towels abound, and between courses your server will work the small, tentlike dining room with a large silver pitcher, from which he'll pour cool, clear water over your outstretched hands (and into a bowl, not somebody else's lap). If for­going forks and knives seems somehow déclassé, the elegance of ritual hand washing should restore your faith. You'll be surprised how inessential utensils turn out to be.—Neal Schindler 2334 Second Ave., 206-956-0500.

Best Crepes

You have to know how you want them: made right before your eyes, then served on a paper plate in a bustling market? Or concocted out of sight, as if by magic, then delivered on elegant china in a low-lit loftlike space? CREPE DE FRANCE and 611 SUPREME are as different as Pike Place Market and punk-posh East Pine Street, their respective locations, yet a powerful principle unites them: the idea that nothing beats a paper-thin pancake wrapped around Nutella, brie cheese, wild mushrooms, or just a handful of fresh-cut veggies. At Crepe de France, it's wonderful to watch someone pour dough on a hot black griddle, then lift the pancake off the heat just as small brown bubbles start to form. Crepes actually flutter as they cook; that's how delicate they are. At 611, you get the sit-down treatment and the kind of graceful atmosphere that almost requires couples to hand-hold and singles to gaze wistfully at the couples. Fast and fun, or hushed, luscious, and mellow? You can't go wrong.—Neal Schindler Crepe de France: 93 Pike St., 206-624-2196. 611 Supreme: 611 E. Pine St., 206-328-0292.

Best Mojitos

It's this summer's hot cocktail, so everybody's serving it, which means a lot of halfheartedly muddled, sugary, flavorless versions are out there. But there are strong, perky, refreshing mojitos to be had. When it came to picking the very best, it was a close race, with strong staff support for the versions muddled up at Buenos Aires Grill downtown and at Tango and 611 Supreme, both in Pike-Pine. But the MOJITO CAFE (the one on Western near the P-I building) wins it by a nose for its determination to serve up the real, labor-intensive thing: mint leaves severely bruised (not shredded or pureed, which releases bitterness) so that the tang suffuses every sip. Don't expect instant service; good things take a little time, and anyway, you don't come to a Caribbean restaurant looking for speed, do you? Choose from two locations: To our way of thinking, the one on lower Queen Anne is superior in every way to the noisy, dumpy Lake City location.—Roger Downey 181 Western Ave. W., 206-217-1180.

Best Brew Food

If all you're looking for in the way of food is something fried or spicy to sop up the beer, there's no reason for you to seek out THE BARKING DOG ALEHOUSE on its out-of-the-way side street north of metropolitan Ballard. But if you're one of the growing number of people who take their food just as seriously as their beer, the Dog is a place to treasure. Though the Dog has been open less than a year, its kitchen is more than wise in the ways to make beer and food resonate together; its menu is based on that of Fred's Riverfront Alehouse in Snohomish, one of the best restaurants in the county. The beer lineup ranges from local artisanal microbrews to casks of extraordinary beers from Belgium, each served in its traditional glass and each an education in the food-friendly flavor spectrum of true old-fashioned beer.—Roger Downey 705 N.W. 70th St., 206-782-2974.

Best Gelato

BOTTEGA ITALIANA delivers everything I remember so fondly about the gelato I ate while wandering a pigeon-filled Venetian piazza, admiring the statue of Dante in Florence, and hoofing it to Juliet's house in fair Verona. Strolling around Pike Place Market may not rival the romance and scenic pizzazz of the Old Country, but on a warm day you can close your eyes and imagine Italy, nudged along by Bottega's amazing pear gelato, their equally unbelievable berry, and a watermelon that will positively curl your toes. Owner Luca Guerrieri gave up a cushy corporate job in Italy to move here and open his primo gelato shop, and the place is authentic right down to the coffee, the thick-as-sauce Italian-style hot cocoa, and the beautiful biscotti. These extras sell better in the winter months, though; in summer, the colorful gelato case is irresistible. You may never eat unfrozen fruit again.—Neal Schindler 1425 First Ave., 206-344-2830.

Best Place to Eat and Wi-Fi

There are currently over 15,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in the United States. Seattle alone boasts 293, and CHACO CANYON CAFE—an earth-toned grotto tucked beneath Cedars in the U District—is one of the latest test models for the burgeoning trend. Eschewing the clutter and expense of standard computer cafes, Chaco Canyon allows patrons to surf the Web for free on their own machines; owner Chris Maykut calls it "BYOC" (bring your own computer). The restaurant offsets the high-tech of wireless Internet with old-fashioned comfort food—as old-fashioned as vegan cuisine can be, anyway. A raw juice bar, a coffee shop, and a health-food diner rolled into one (with vegetable curry and lasagna among the more popular entrées), the cafe adds a social element to the too-often solitary lives of Internet addicts, letting them dine nutritiously, together, by the light of their laptops.—Neal Schindler 4759 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., 206-522-6966.

Best Mini-Grocery

In olden times, the general store was where Americans shopped for everything from yard goods to salted peanuts. The big-box stores of today carry far more sheer stuff, but they've lost the everything-crammed-together-into-a-tiny-space quality that was one of the general store's principal charms. In a completely up-to-date way, THE ICEBOX re-creates that charm: It's a deli; it's a mini-mart; it's an organic-produce emporium; and it's all scaled to serve the tiny neighborhood that centers on it, on the sagging northwest lip of Queen Anne Hill, where the No. 1 bus drops commuters off for their short walk down to the apartment blocks along Gilman Drive. Supplemented by Hollys coffee shop next door, the Ice Box supplies most of the needs of casual modern living.—Roger Downey 1903 10th Ave. W., 206-286-1333

Best Sandwich

The sandwich is a deceptively simple dish, the easiest of all staple meals to bastardize. Too much bread and the flavor of the filling is masked. Too little moisture and the bread becomes an evil saliva- absorbing sponge that sticks to the roof of your mouth and won't let go. But CHEZ DOMINIQUE'S T.A.B.S. SANDWICH—turkey, avocado, bacon, and Swiss—performs the balancing act like a Zen master. Order it with lightly toasted rye and you may never want to eat another sandwich again. The brilliance of this sandwich is the marriage of flavors and combination of textures: The crunchy bacon and buttery avocado make for a toothsome bite without being a challenge to your teeth or too soft to conjure thoughts of mushy peas. And the bouquet of Swiss combined with savory turkey contributes a hefty backbone to finish off each bite. Accompanying each sandwich is a dill-pickle spear and bag of potato chips. At $6.10, a steal meal.—Samantha Storey 77 Spring St., 206-623-2219.

SEATTLE WEEKLY'S BEST OF SEATTLE 2004 INDEX

 
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