Overtly Designed Spaces For five years, a bare-bones industrial look has dominated the restaurant scene. While unique at first, the aesthetic had evolved into a sort of uniform that allowed for little personality. I’m glad to see those tables being upturned at many new spots in town. The Oriental rugs and bold art at Eve Fremont; the cozy plaids and macramé at Scout (complete with a massive plaid teddy bear); the varied textiles and library chic at Thackeray; the fashionable homage to the ’60s at The Carlile Room; the cool, outer-space feel to MBar—each speaks to singular styles that make for a special dining experience.
Wood-Fired Ovens I suppose the trend started with pizzas, but somewhere along the way many chefs in town decided that all sorts of food tasted better when cooked over a flame—or at least it made for a good hook. While I’m a little burnt-out (pun intended) on the trend, it certainly has its merits, and can give even a humble vegetable (like cauliflower) a new life. Plus, there’s something cozy and primal about watching a big piece of meat turned over the wood. Early adopters of wood-fired food include Stoneburner, The Whale Wins, and Bar Sajor. Other places that cook on open fires that I love: Seven Beef and Copal.
Feasting and Sharing I like this concept, particularly because it means you get to taste a lot of things at one meal. But what drives me batty about it is the poor execution too frequently associated with it. Unfortunately, when you order a slew of items meant to be shared, the waitstaff generally puts the whole order in at once and lets dishes arrive rapid-fire style to your table. The result is a balancing act in which they try to fit everything and still make room for your water glass. It also can derail into cold plates of food, lest you eat as though it’s your last meal. A good server will ask you the order in which you’d like dishes brought out. But if they don’t, and you aren’t keen on a veritable buffet at your table, be sure to tell them the pacing you prefer.
Beer Cocktails If you’ve grown tired, as I have, of yet another iteration on a classic cocktail like the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned, beer cocktails present a new way to have a fancy drink without the usual ingredients. Plus, there’s something about the way a yeasty beer combines with certain liquors that gives it an almost effervescent quality that I enjoy. Here in Seattle, where beer is as essential to some as water, it makes sense that the trend would take off—and one must give kudos to Cody Morris (formerly of Epic Ales and now at Mollusk) for really turning us onto it. Many drink menus now include at least one beer cocktail, and newly opened beer bar and bistro No Anchor is all about them. One of my favorite beer cocktails is at L’Oursin in the Central District. Their Kir Normand is a play on a Kir Royale that swaps out a Brut Cider for sparkling wine.
Better Bread Yes, it’s true, hallelujah. Restaurants are increasingly sourcing their bread from the best bakeries in town, and, while Macrina has been the staple quality go-to for years, smaller, local shops are now getting in on the action. Thanks to new places like Sea Wolf Bakers in Wallingford and Tall Grass in Ballard, bread is better than ever, and sharp restaurateurs are serving their crusty creations. From the gorgeous hallah rolls at Copine to the flavorful toasted rye at Mean Sandwich, places both upscale and lowbrow are making bread more than just an afterthought.