Favorite Restaurants: A Step Up for Special Dates

Dining in the $20 to $30 range.

Bamboo Garden If Puget Sound seems to you like an odd place for a Sichuan restaurant boom, then you're not consciously engaged in the intricate dance of yang and yin: The burn and tingle of Sichuan food, say many, is the perfect antidote to our soggy, bone-aching winters. Some damp Tuesday night, warm the belly with fiery cucumber pieces, ma po tofu (better than any botched version you've ever tasted), stir-fried lamb with scallions, and swimming fire fish. I still wish the cooks wouldn't reduce the food's Scoville units to a third of their levels in China—O tender Northwesterner, you'll still find the food plenty spicy—but Bamboo Garden's "Walk on the Wild Side" menu remains Seattle's best source for Chengdu-style cooking. Also, if you're curious about offal but fear the funk, Bamboo Garden is a good place to venture out—the dry-cooked intestines are stir-fried so quickly they retain their mild flavor and smooth snap, and the bite of pickled chiles and bitter greens subdues the organ-ness of pork kidneys in a tangy broth. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner. 202 106th Pl., 425-688-7991. BELLEVUE bamboogardendining.comBistro Turkuaz The neighborhood of Madrona can be just a little too precious. And the irrepressible charm of Bistro Turkuaz, which opened last year, is significantly increasing the hazard. Consider these risk factors: Wonderfully presented, easy-to-like Turkish food, a cuisine rarely found in this city. A delightful family running the place, with Ugur, the mom, greeting guests and running the kitchen while daughter Dila maintains a front-of-the-house personality that's equal parts elegant and eccentric. A cozy room, perfectly sized to feel like a "find," with plenty of buzz on busy nights and a ladies-who-lunch atmosphere when it's quiet. Prices that are modest enough to create a neighborhood feeling, but not so low as to seem like you're taking advantage of immigrant strivers. All of which adds up to a tipping point of adorableness that may push Madrona over the edge, and bring all of us along with it. MARK D. FEFERServes: dinner. 1114 34th Ave., 324-3039. MADRONA bistroturkuaz.comCafé Campagne Café Campagne is devoted to French bistro cooking the way Amy Winehouse is devoted to eyeliner: visibly, avidly, with shades of the ridiculous. The entry door is labeled tirez (pull), and there are Beaux Arts–style posters on the walls. Yet the cafe is more than a studious recreation of a Parisian resto. It's a warm, echt-Seattle restaurant that holds its own in the romance department against nearby Il Bistro and Chez Shea—the Gary Cooper and Cary Grant of Seattle's restaurant scene. The rustic food that Campagne chef Daisley Gordon serves the downstairs clientele sometimes shows off his mastery of classic technique better than the more artful plates upstairs: in the crackle and burnish of the skin on a duck-leg confit, say, or the delicate balance of vinegar, shallot, and bitter chicories in his goat-cheese salad. And Café Campagne's hanger steak, which comes with a garlicky Roquefort butter, silky sautéed escarole, and one of Monet's haystacks recreated in fried potatoes, is still the city's best. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner, weekend brunch. 1600 Post Alley, 728-2233. PIKE PLACE MARKET campagnerestaurant.com/cafe_home.htmlChang Ahn Jung This Federal Way hole-in-the-wall, located in a Korean strip mall, is so unaccustomed to Western visitors that its name is transliterated differently on the sign out front ("Jang An Jung") than on its menu and business cards. The cinderblock-wall-and-dolphin-print decor would give even college students pause. But what's on the table is spectacle enough: a dozen banchan ranging from pickled vermicelli to soy-braised potatoes. A grilled mackerel with crackly, papery skin and buttery flesh. Galbi (grilled short ribs) that dissolve on the tongue. Mandoo (dumpling) soup or cold buckwheat noodles in a limpid beef broth so good it's hard to focus on the bowl's more toothsome contents. And thick sablefish steaks simmered with sweet chile paste, tofu, and brown slabs of caramelized turnip. The cardinal maxim of dining in Korean restaurants holds especially true here—no matter how many things you order, you will always eat too much. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner. 33100 Pacific Hwy. S., Suite 5, 253-838-8555. FEDERAL WAYCrow  As fine-dining menus push toward the convoluted and fetishistic, I can't help feel the pull and value of another trend: sitting down to a hot, steamy plate of food—easily identifiable, hearty, and transportive to a childhood that never was but could have been. Crow's Craig Serbousek and Jesse Thomas make their now–widely craved lasagna several times a week, with an attention to assembly that Mama herself never had time to give. If I said pan-roasted chicken and green beans, you might be excited, but if I mentioned said chicken comes wrapped in prosciutto? Crow makes the be-all-and-end-all version of a comfort dish, albeit without grand displays. Sit at the chef's counter for the most memorable experience. You'll get the full story on some of the menu items, like housemade duck prosciutto, and be targeted by regulars who will gladly share their opinions of your order. The wide-open space, wrapped in muted greens and blood red, transmits both the din of conversation and the seemingly ever-present smell of caramelized onions. MAGGIE SAVARINO DUTTONServes: dinner. 823 Fifth Ave. N., 283-8800. LOWER QUEEN ANNE www.eatatcrow.comLe Pichet Did you hate the film Amélie? Ummm... OK, if so, you may want to go grab a beer or check your e-mail or something while the rest of us talk about how adorable Le Pichet is. It's just a long slender room, with brown wood, brown leather, pink tulips, and slate tabletops on which they scrawl "Reserved" in chalk if you've phoned ahead for a table. Complementing this bistro's self-effacing charm is its similarly low-key pricing. Nothing's over $20 but the roasted chicken for two. Typically marvelous is the quail, served in a bowl on a bed of beans and sausage: hearty and superb, and artlessly plain but for a lifting infusion of lemon. The intensely cocoa-y hot chocolate, just on the cusp between liquid and pudding, is served with a generous pillow of whipped cream for blending in. There's a fine selection of small plates, too, if you just want a cocktail and a nosh. Come to think of it, with its entrancing unpretentiousness, this might be the place to bring out-of-town guests, rather than a destination restaurant like Rover's or Canlis, if you really want to impress them—as if to say nonchalantly why, yes, of course, in Seattle we eat this well all the time. GAVIN BORCHERTServes: lunch, dinner. 1933 First Ave., 256-1499. DOWNTOWN lepichetseattle.comManeki For a 100-year-old restaurant, Maneki's looking pretty good: Relatively new carpet, decent lighting, walls covered in decades' worth of framed newspaper articles and prints. It's staffed almost entirely by women, who range from young beauties with spiral perms and glittery fake eyelashes to tiny 70-somethings with stooped shoulders and steely backbones. The best places to eat in the restaurant are the paper-walled tatami rooms, which require a reservation, or at the bar if you're willing to drink with your meal and leave when instructed. You can find decent sushi on every corner in Seattle, so skip it here—the most distinctive dishes at Maneki are the small plates and cooked dishes, which range from sunomono (pickled cucumbers with octopus) to nabemono (hot pots). If you're used to some of Maneki's younger competitors, be wary of the portions, too: A $6 dish of squid marinated in soy and ginger nets you two giant cephalopods, sliced into precise rings, and a $8.75 cured, grilled mackerel is bigger than the platter it's served on. Clearly, the grande dame of Japanese cuisine in Seattle knows how to keep her customers happy. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: dinner. 304 Sixth Ave. S., 622-2631. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT manekirestaurant.comMay Thai  Intimate and pricier than a majority of its peers, May Thai's two-story teak house is elaborately decorated in bronze and mahogany. Inside the dimly lit dining area, servers go about their duties almost wordlessly and patrons converse quietly with their heads close together. Even the most casual noodle fare is served artistically. The pad thai is tucked inside a banana leaf and mixed at your table according to your spice and herb preferences. The curries are fiery and full of tender meat (try the duck), basil, and bamboo. The deep-fried sweet corn with tamarind sauce is intended to be an appetizer, but could just as easily pass for a dessert. You don't want to grab a quick lunch at May Thai. You want to luxuriate there for a few hours in the evening. It's ideal for a date—so much so that my sources tell me that the man who recently accompanied me there brought another girl there just a week later. I commend his choice of location, even if he is a bastard. ERIKA HOBARTServes: lunch, dinner. 1612 N. 45th St., 675-0037. WALLINGFORDQuinn's Pub Quinn's is Seattle's finest exemplar of the nationwide gastropub outbreak that has diners wallowing in recherché cuts of pork and ever-rarer microbrews. It's a gorgeous space, a mix of woodsy and refined; upstairs, you feel like you're in a century-old tavern, and downstairs, in an episode of Entourage. Over time, Scott Staples' fare has been tending more toward pub than gastro—the portions are growing and the flavors are becoming more straightforward. It's still the only place in town where you can get a pig's tail, but now there are buffalo-fried frog's legs served with a whipped blue-cheese spread, and the cult dish is the wild-boar sloppy joe, which, true to its name, spills over its bun, the spicy braised meat topped with fried onions and sage leaves. Quinn's is also one of the few higher-end restaurants in town where your waiter can provide tasting notes on any of the beers on tap; check the handles for Bear Republic's Hot Rod Rye and the Flemish red Duchesse de Bourgogne. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner. 1001 E. Pike St., 325-7711. CAPITOL HILL quinnspubseattle.comSTEP-UPS WE ALSO LOVE: Cafe Flora, Dinette, Ka Won Korean BBQ, La Medusa, Panos Kleftiko, Serious Pie.

 
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