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Small plates are big. As devotees of the appetizer-entree-dessert template know, it


Seattle's Top 10 Small Plate Restaurants

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Small plates are big. As devotees of the appetizer-entree-dessert template know, it can sometimes feel tough to find a restaurant that doesn't force its customers to flavor surf and treat every tiny tidbit as communal property. Plenty of diners would be thrilled to never see another bacon-wrapped date, stuffed shisito pepper or saucer of edamame puree.

But ubiquity hasn't spoiled the fun and intimacy of the small plate format done right. Here, our picks for the Seattle restaurants which do the best job of creating downsized dishes for sharing.

As always, the restaurants are listed in no particular order (except for the winner, which resides in the number one slot) and Erin Thompson compiled our contributors' comments.

10. Dinette

Dinette's menu has a whole section devoted to toast. Theirs is made on Columbia City Bakery's bread; though toppings change weekly or so with the rest of the menu, they usually include a spreadable cheese, a smoked or cured fish or meat, and some sort of seasonal herb or vegetable. The rest of the menu is similarly rustic, comfortably at home between homey and haute, and missteps are rare. Service and atmosphere are both top-notch, making this a can't-miss spot for Hillsters and visiting foodies. (Get on the mailing list and you can vie for a seat at the restaurant's bimonthly Sunday Suppers.)

9. Purple Cafe and Wine Bar

Wine lovers can go elsewhere to pontificate about sulfites and vintages: The infectiously noisy Purple Cafe is designed for classy good-timing. There are entrees on the menu, but the young money crowd which congregates here after work or before symphony concerts knows to stick to the small plate list, which offers smart accompaniments to the restaurant's thematic flights and ample by-the-glass selection.

8. Black Bottle

The simple lines of Black Bottle's Belltown digs belie the sensation of its food. The menu is divided into spare sections: meat, seafood, veggies, flatbread, "also" (uncategorized sides such as fried tofu with peanut sauce and prosciutto and potato wheels), and sweets. But perhaps the most talked-about dish at Black Bottle is the broccoli blasted: a liberal mound of broccoli dressed in oil and spices and baked until tender yet crispy in a blast oven. Other dishes are similarly creative, such as the seven-spice shrimp and the house-smoked wild boar ribs. While it's not family-style by any means, these dishes easily feed more than one, and Black Bottle's prices will leave you with plenty of cash to sample a drink from the well-stocked bar.

7. Pair

There are still a few of us who, when confronted with the term "small plates," want to run down the street for a mondo burrito. But don't! Instead, bring your appetite to Pair, where the food is so skillful, focused, and satisfying, small-plate dining--with just-right wines--will seem like the only way to go. Pair isn't reinventing cuisine, except insofar as it renews your appreciation for things like grape leaves, beef brisket, and potato-leek gratin. It's too elegant and subtle to be simple comfort food, too restrained and soulful to be haute. And the service exactly matches the food, with the same precise and genial execution. Whether or not you live in the enlightened University Village neighborhood to which the restaurant is perfectly keyed, Pair is worth seeking out.

Kent Wang

6. Art of the Table

Everything about Art of the Table is refreshingly unpremeditated. Chef Dustin Ronspies originally set up shop as a caterer in 2007 and started serving food a few days a week to lure potential clients. Passionate word-of-mouth turned his unlikely location-practically an underground restaurant-into a cult favorite. Ronspies does his own shopping, churns his own ice cream, grows his own herbs, and, yes, washes his own dishes. Check the Web site (artofthetable.net) to see what he's serving at his small-plate Happy Mondays and prix-fixe multicourse dinners, offered Thursday through Saturday. Whether seared spring mushrooms with gnocchi and parsnip puree or pork and bacon albondigas, it's made by hand from market ingredients. There's no dining without a reservation, since he only has twelve seats.

5. Lark

Lark's artistic spirit is reflected in everything about the restaurant, from the First Thursday regulars who make up its clientele to the poetry on its menu. One is tempted to scan the meter of lines like "Skagit River Ranch beef tongue with horseradish and wild watercress," "Spanish mackerel with fennel, olives, and preserved-lemon tapenade," and "naturally raised veal sweetbreads with spinach, bacon, and grain mustard." James Beard Award-winning chef John Sundstrom's food, served up as a swarm of small, composed plates, inspires customers to twirl each bite around the plate to catch the right amount of sauce, breathing in while they graze to catch all the aromatic nuances of the food. That level of attention, from both cooks and diners, is what makes the atmosphere seem so much like a gallery.

4. Harvest Vine

Bar seating, allowing you to see everything that emerges from the kitchen, is de rigueur at The Harvest Vine, for anticipation is nine parts of pleasure. Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez's small, Spanish-inspired plates guarantee you don't get sated too soon--plus, many of them are meant to be consumed hand-to-mouth. The Harvest Vine possesses a genuine European atmosphere; you will feel very well taken care of without any of the pretension you might encounter at similarly high-end restaurants. The mood is intimate and unrushed, despite the many small sauté pans on the fire. Menu items like Mejillones, mussels in tomato saffron broth, and the grilled venado (venison) with licorice root and oyster mushrooms are complemented by an extensive, five-page long wine list and a hand-picked selection of cheeses to pair.


3. Pintxo

Pintxo is Basque for "small snacks," bite-size morsels traditionally eaten in northern regions of the country between meals or late in the afternoon. But tapas, as they are also called, are not to be confused with appetizers. They are accompanied by drinks and thus are not so much a type of food, as a way of eating--with conversation, friends and a night out on the town. This tapas bar definitely embodies that attitude. The sheer attention to detail of Pintxo makes the steep bill worth it. Everything from the wall hangings to the arrangement of the food on the plate has been thoroughly thought through. Space and service is so intimate that guests actually feel like they're at a catered dinner party.

2. Ocho

In Spain, the main meal of the day is a late lunch typically served around 2 or 3 p.m. and followed by a siesta. Clearly, it's a country that has its priorities straight. With that in mind, Americans would be wise to treat tapas as they do in España. Order a dozen different dishes and gorge yourself on a smorgasbord-style meal if you must, but Spaniards appreciate the value of having just a snack with a glass of wine as a way to bridge those interminable hours between lunch and a light dinner, or between dinner and a long night of drinking. Ocho understands. The tapas at this tiny Ballard restaurant are mostly just a few bites each, meant to sate the bellies of drinkers lounging in their intimate bar or, in the summer, on their sun-soaked patio. The food is both traditional (gambas al ajillo, prawns in a divine garlic sauce) and inventive (pancetta-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed dates with balsamic reduction), and the bartenders pour some of the finest cocktails in town. Stick to the Spanish rule of thumb--one tapa per drink--and both your wallet and waistline will thank you later.

1. Blind Pig Bistro

Charles Walpole's Blind Pig Bistro, the latest creative project to inhabit the blessed Eastlake storefront that originated Sitka & Spruce, doesn't specialize in Spanish tapas or Lebanese mezes. Guests here can large-plate their way through dinner if they so choose, lining up an appetizer and entrée, since whatever Walpole's team has scrawled on the daily menu board is available in big and little sizes. But, yawn. The best way to experience Blind Pig's brilliance is to stick to the small portions and order everything on the menu. (And if that everything includes mackerel, make it a double.)

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