Three Perfect Things

An exceptional neighborhood restaurant, a smoldering recipe, and a query requiring your response.

The perfect restaurant for a warmly lit date, a gathering of good friends, or a catch-up session of girl talk and armchair psychoanalyzing: Dinette on Capitol Hill. Back in September, we were all eager to see what was going in where Local Cafe was (and the Green Cat before that), and I poked around until I found out that Melissa Nyffeler had left the kitchen at the Century Ballroom to replicate the mood and menus of her own personal kitchen and dining room in this space on Olive Way. I finally had the chance to visit when a good friend of mine, who counts the impeccably groomed bistro as her neighborhood favorite, took me there for the first time last week. I found it absolutely absolute. We started with drinks. I had an elegant little Lillet, and she had Dinette's Earl Grey martini, made with organic loose-leaf Earl Grey–infused Smirnoff, which is muddled with orange, mixed with a little simple syrup, and strained. Why don't I get to start every dinner with an aperitif? Moving right along, my friend said we had to try the toasts, which she described as both fantastic and a little ugly. Dinette's menu has a whole section devoted to toasts—in fact, they used to devote Tuesday's dinners to toast entirely, but no more. The bread comes from the new and highly lauded Columbia City Bakery; toppings change weekly or so but usually include some sort of spreadable creamy cheese, cured meats or fish, and seasonal vegetables or herbs. Ours had anchovies, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers, and they were sort of ugly—in a charming way—as well as perfectly rustic, inventive, and delicious. Under the guidance of a gentleman named Talon, who is without a doubt the best waiter I've encountered in Seattle (he also works some shifts at Flying Fish), we had a few glasses of something Spanish and white (forgive me, I was having too nice a time to write it down), and passed over tempting dishes like lamb pot pie and scallops with pancetta in favor of two vegetarian pasta dishes. One had gnocchi, leeks, parmesan, and diagonally splintered chunks of asparagus in a lightly buttery veggie stock sauce; the other was made with black lentils, red peppers, and trofie, a fun and wheaty pasta that gets twisted and curled like the hairdo of a sprightly seventh-grader. These wonderfully austere, homey, and light main dishes made the acquisition of dessert a no-brainer. We chose a decadent, almondy pithivier (homemade puff pastry, essentially), a caramel-sauced bread pudding, and Victrola's Deco decaf (easily the finest, most robust decaf ever) as candlelight bounced off the arrangement of gold-leafed, vintage Florentine trays adorning the wall and Casey McGill and the Blue Four Trio played '30s and '40s swing and jump blues. The acoustics in the room are fantastic—who knew?—and the band's set was like a live version of KUOW's Swing Years and Beyond. When I interviewed her last fall, Nyffeler told me she eventually intended to host multicourse family-style meals, and she's recently begun. On Sunday nights, Dinette doesn't serve a traditional menu. Instead, Nyffeler creates a themed meal (recently, Mexico), pushes the tables into two long rows, and invites the lucky folks on her e-mail list. (She can accommodate 28 each week.) How to become one of those lucky ones? Go have some ugly, tasty toast at Dinette. You'll inevitably want to thank the chef, and while you're there you can give her your e-mail address. The perfect thing to do with greens: Use Cafe Flora's smoky collard greens recipe from the recent Cafe Flora Cookbook. After guest columnist Lacey Swain wrote about the trials and triumphs of cooking her way through a box of organic produce a few weeks ago, we got a lot of reader mail from home cooks who thought they knew exactly what she ought to do with her kale. A friend of Swain's saw the article and e-mailed her directly with Flora's recipe. Swain reports that the recipe yields greens that rival every preparation she had growing up in Texas, and I can vouch for the book in general. Catherine Geier and Carol Brown love smoky, complex sauces and rich serums. Holy red pepper coulis. The perfect question to ask me so I can, in turn, ask you: "What happened to the Bamboo Terrace on Interlake Avenue North?" Reader C.K. recalls the owners telling him they wanted to move to a bigger space in Bellevue, and now he can't find them. He's bummed. Who can help?

 
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