Moving is rife with decision-making. In the past few days, I've decided where to live; which gym to join; and whether I did the right


Following a Course Plotted by Servers Across Seattle

Moving is rife with decision-making. In the past few days, I've decided where to live; which gym to join; and whether I did the right thing by hauling my spin bike halfway across the country. So yesterday I took a break from calling the shots, and asked my servers to tell me where to eat next. I spent the day pinballing from one Seattle restaurant to another, following a path that I happily didn't have to devise.

At the advice of my editor, Mike Seely, I started out at The Shanty Cafe, a 97-year old roadside institution that--judging from the framed stories hung on the walls--seems to tickle local reporters' feature-writing bones every few years. For lone diners who don't feel like reading, The Shanty also keeps a television on and country music playing on the radio. But I was the only person eating solo yesterday morning, while the majority of tables were taken by men and women who looked as though they had long workdays ahead of them.

Most everything on The Shanty's menu seems designed to steel eaters for a day repairing nets or laying brick. I had the Farmer's Benedict, a winningly warming platter of English muffins topped with discs of sausage and eggs, then smothered in peppery cream gravy. The bread didn't have an English muffin's distinctive grooves, and the accompanying hash browns were disappointingly generic. But The Shanty got the toughest elements right: The gravy was thick and rich, and the eggs' yolks bulged like dragonfly eyes.

When I told my server I was new in town and looking for another great place to eat (I never let on I was eating in a professional capacity), she was briefly stumped, saying I'd have trouble finding another place as good as The Shanty. She conceded that Blue Ginger and Ipanema served decent dinners before finally steering me to the 5 Spot.

Situated at the tippy-top of Queen Anne, the 5 Spot is a classic example of the diner-influenced hipster brunch spot (albeit with a tornado theme that seemed considerably less cute in light of North Carolina's recent fatal storms). Just like The Shanty, the restaurant serves plenty of eggs and gravy, although in slightly smaller portions. I tried and liked the Red Flannel Hash, a pretty plate of potatoes, peppers, and corned beef made magenta by beets. The dish tasted like texturized borscht, and probably didn't need the eggs, which weren't cooked with Shanty-level skill.

My server at the 5 Spot first suggested I eat at Boat Street Café, the only suggestion I nixed all day. My legs--weakened by a year in Dallas, where a sidewalk curb counts as an elevation gain--had just pedaled my bike up Queen Anne for the first time, and I had no intention of immediately heading back down it. She countered with the Gainsbourg Café, and offered to advise me on dog parks if I ever got a dog.

The 5 Spot server was especially excited about the Gainsbourg's wine specials, which weren't relevant mid-afternoon. But I did alight on the Greenwood bistro's happy hour, which meant I spent $5 on escargot submerged in garlic oil and a heaping plate of frites. Gainsbourg has a certain Gallic charm, and the garret lighting scheme to match (which explains why my fries look so moody in the picture). But the kitchen clearly isn't aiming for Michelin recognition: My fries were badly overcooked and the housemade ketchup--closer to tomato chutney--was too sharp and chunky. I'm always suspicious of kitchens which have an extensive collection of reference and cookbooks--and position them so the spines face the dining room.

Gainsbourg's server suggested I make my next stop at Red Mill Burgers, an idea that made me shudder. I've received numerous personal e-mails from readers exhorting me to never, ever write about Red Mill Burgers. But the rules of the game required me to follow my servers' orders, so I did.

Turns out Red Mill's closed on Monday. So I asked a girl sitting outside the Starbucks next door for an alternate suggestion: She sent me to La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard, rattling off the name with an accent she didn't learn from Rosetta Stone.

I arrived at La Carta de Oaxaca just as it was opening. I settled into a window seat at the vibrant restaurant and ordered the "house specialty" mole. I had no qualms about the sweet, citrus-scented mole, but wish the pork upon which it was slathered wasn't so painfully dry. Still, I had no trouble cleaning my plate.

My server at La Carta de Oaxaca directed me to Le Fournil for pastries, but the bakery was closed on Monday. (In retrospect, I couldn't have picked a worse day to restaurant-hop.) And with a Passover Seder just an hour or so away, it seemed wise to end my culinary exploration for the day. But I think it's a game worth reviving: I look forward to seeing where the next set of servers sends me.

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