RestaurantSign2.jpg
"This Sheehan?"

"Yeah."

"The restaurant guy?"

"Yup."

"I need some help."

"What can I do?"

I get these calls a lot. I've been getting them

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Ask the Critic: Where to Eat When It All Falls Apart

RestaurantSign2.jpg
"This Sheehan?"

"Yeah."

"The restaurant guy?"

"Yup."

"I need some help."

"What can I do?"

I get these calls a lot. I've been getting them for years.

"I need a place where I can still get reservations for Valentine's Day."

"You realize it's February 14th today, right?"

"Do you know of any restaurants where cats are allowed in the dining room?"

"No, but let me see what I can find."

"I need a restaurant that makes vegetarian chicken-fried steak."

"Uh...okay. You know that's impossible, right?"

"Chicken-fried tofu?"

"Man, that is so wrong..."

I've helped people find restaurants for visiting in-laws with all manner of bizarre dietary restrictions, for men wanting to pop the question and women looking to propose divorce (twice!). I've found restaurants for couples on first dates, for couples celebrating their 50th anniversary, for missionary groups looking to sample the cuisine of Ethiopia and for business meetings that sounded like the set-up for a bad joke: A priest, two rabbis who'll only eat kosher, one vegetarian and a woman allergic to dairy.

Sometimes my suggestions have worked wonderfully (I once found an 11th-hour meeting place for over a hundred conventioneers stranded with no place to have dinner), sometimes they have not (having a first date in a barbecue restaurant is apparently not anyone else's idea of a good time), but I've always managed to come through with something.

Until now.

I got the call early this afternoon--my red phone ringing off the hook.

"Is this Jason Sheehan?"

"Yeah."

"The restaurant guy?"

"Yup."

The problem was highly specific--involving flights into Sea Tac, a four-hour layover, five o'clock business meeting and a flight home to catch by 8pm. There was family involved (a sister calling me, trying to arrange lunch with her brother who she hadn't seen in two years), additional complications (he would have luggage, and his boss in tow), more additional complications (the sister had a six-year-old who would be coming to lunch), and all the sister wanted to know was where to eat lunch with her brother (and his boss, and her six-year-old), walking distance from 3rd and University (which was where the brother's 5 o'clock meeting was), that wouldn't be too pricey, wouldn't be too cheap (or at least, not so cheap that her brother would be embarrassed in front of his boss), would be okay for the kid, and wouldn't be so far away that the whole bunch of them couldn't walk back to 3rd and University by 5pm.

Oh, and also? Where would be a good place to go for the meeting itself? Because her brother and his boss didn't really have a place in mind yet...

I didn't bother trying to explain that I'd only been in town for about two months. I didn't bother trying to explain Seattle's Byzantine tavern laws regarding children in restaurants. And while I really, really wanted to, I didn't just tell her that she was fucked and should just eat at the Rock Bottom Brewery on 5th because she sounded desperate and, honestly, if she was calling a complete stranger at a newspaper for advice, I figured I was probably her last hope.

We discussed things. I suggested Capital Grille at 4th and University (good for her brother, good for his boss, but pricey and maybe not so great for her and the kid), Wild Ginger at 1401 3rd Avenue (no good: she'd heard not-so-great things), BOKA (too fancy), Sweet Iron Waffles (not fancy enough) and Ferry Noodle House at 1st and Marion (too small, too far away and too...Asian-y?). Matt's in the Market was closed when she needed it to be open (she would be meeting him after 2pm--between the lunch and dinner service at Matt's). Earth & Ocean (at the W Hotel) got vetoed for reasons I never quite understood. And what we finally settled on was Steelhead Diner for the lunch with her brother, his boss and her kid, then the bar at Boka as a place to at least start the meeting that was to follow, with the Metropolitan Grill held out as a fall-back location in case anyone was badly in need of some $60 steaks (which, at this point, I certainly was). This probably wasn't the best advice I could've given but, in the moment and under duress, it was all I had to offer.

All this back-and-forth got me thinking about the way we use restaurants today as everything from bivouacs and meeting-places to homes-away-from-home. More than ever, it is vital for a person to have four or five or six restaurants tucked away in their brains that can stand in as living rooms and parlors, temporary campsites and staging areas. So the question I put to you is simple: What are yours? Where do you always take the in-laws when they come to visit? What restaurant (or bar) do you use when there's business that needs doing? When time is tight, when children are involved, when the company is more important than the cuisine, what restaurants do you have saved out? Where do you go to celebrate and where do you go to mourn?

Answers below. And just for future reference, if you have any suggestions that would've worked out better for panicked sister above, let me hear 'em. Downtown is always a hot-spot for these kinds of last-minute bar and restaurant questions, so I'd love to have a few more dependable spots where I can send people in their moments of need.

 
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