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There's a certain arbitrariness about top 10 lists, and our list of top 10 new restaurants is no exception. Every restaurant listed here has opened since last November -- except for the restaurants which opened in October 2011. And since it's way to early too evaluate restaurants such as Joule and The Whale Wins, the latest additions to the city's food scene were disqualified from consideration.
*See Also Seattle's Top 10 Teriyaki Counters
So this isn't a list for sticklers. But when you're hungry for a great meal, does it really matter whether you find it at a restaurant which opened in October or March? All of these very young restaurants deserve your attention. As always, Erin Thompson compiled our contributors' comments, and the finalists are (fittingly) in random order.
10. The New Mexicans
The New Mexicans isn't a souped-up, Pacific Northwest interpretation of Land of Enchantment cookery: It's a real-deal restaurant that might as well be on the outskirts of Albuquerque. Helmed by a native New Mexican whose grandfather policed Hatch County and whose grandmother taught her how to make dumplings, the casual restaurant is an enchilada powerhouse. The creamy enchiladas, baked in a casserole until the peaks burnish, are as comforting and undemanding as an old friend's hug. Each serving's a tumble of sweet chiles, green onions, and coarse tortillas, topped with a mellow Jack cheese.
It may look like meat and taste like meat, but servers at this Renton restaurant are quick to assure patrons that everything on the menu is animal flesh-free. Working in a Buddhist cuisine idiom that's underexposed in the U.S., chef and nun Hue Phan creates gorgeous sesame beef and roast pork from vegetables, soy and seitan. The properly spicy bun bo hue is at least the equal of any meat-based soup. Like all the dishes at Blossom, the bun is visually indistinguishable from its meat-based counterpart. In addition to a knot of noodles, perky basil, grated carrots, jalapeños, and a heap of cilantro and mint, the broth's accompanied by a triangle of fried tofu and salty "beef" that could hold its own in a suspect lineup.
Vashon Island's May Kitchen offers just 10 entrées, a puny figure by American-Thai standards. Yet with so many terrific dishes already on the menu, it's silly to grump about what's not available. The gai haw bai thoey is a gleefully tactile starter of three tender chicken bits, each bandaged in an untrimmed emerald-green pandan leaf, its forearm-long ends jutting skyward like especially perky onion tops. The marinated chicken bundles are seated in a slick of sesame oil, ginger, and syrupy pineapple chunks, so they're sweetly sticky both inside and out. Green papaya salad, tossed with a bracing amount of lime juice and a squirt of palm sugar, is a graduate thesis on the primal importance of crunch, its shredded starring fruit joined by crisp roasted peanuts and green beans which aren't shy about snapping.
Former Canlis executive chef and James Beard award-winning food writer Greg Atkinson gets his first chance to run the show at Marche, which he opened with the backing of fellow Bainbridge Islanders. The casually classy bistro melds French techniques and Northwest ingredients, often to stunning effect. The very best plates feature plants, perhaps a vestige of the year Atkinson spent planning to open a high-end vegetarian restaurant which never materialized.
Spring Hill is no longer--it's been renamed Ma'ono Fried Chicken & Whisky and has traded its linens and braised short ribs for paper napkins, kimchi, and expanded bar seating. In addition to the items already familiar to fans of Spring Hill's wildly popular Fried Chicken Mondays, the new standard menu includes poke, short ribs, barbecue pork buns, whipped pan drippings, and mochi cake for dessert. Side dishes worth ordering include a pool of Anson Mills grits, rich with Beecher's Flagship cheese, and an elegant macaroni salad, dashed with slivered carrots and sliced green onions, that probably wouldn't answer to "mac."
David Sanford designed Belle Clementine "in the philosophy that the shared meal is one of the best ways to bring people together," he said soon after the restaurant opened. Unlike many restaurants which clump their communal dishes on big platters, forcing guests to privately calculate how much they can take without denying their neighbors a fair share, Belle Clementine is never stingy with its servings. A plate of a dozen appetizer toasts smeared with a sweet chicken-liver mousse and grazed with pickled sunchokes might be refilled three times before diners catch on to the kitchen's generosity. Sanford usually prefaces the meal with a snack, such as taut potato chips or warmed green olives with curlicues of lemon zest, and the $40 flat rate for dinner (a tremendously good deal) includes a glass of beer or wine served in a stubby jelly glass.
Brian Durbin owned a Caribbean resort before taking the chef's job at the Innkeeper, a restaurant that celebrates a seamier vision of seafaring than most tropical getaways promote. The dusky room evokes a pirate's haven, and Durbin's best small plates taste very much like buccaneer comfort food. If wayward pirates found an old island wench willing to feed them, she might very well have produced a bowl of something like Durbin's terrific, insides-warming chicken thighs, roasted and tossed with starchy plantains, slow-cooked rice, pigeon peas, and a full head of roasted garlic.
The city's most blessed culinary address may be 2238 Eastlake Avenue, the strip-mall storefront which housed Sitka & Spruce and Nettletown before Charles Walpole painted the room's walls red and christened it Blind Pig Bistro. Walpole, formerly of Anchovies & Olives, is relishing the freedom of self-employment: He serves what he wants when he wants, which means that even flawless dishes tend to fall off the ever-changing menu when he tires of making them. Fortunately for diners, Walpole's culinary choices are impeccable. His dishes are so instinctively pleasing that it's easy to forget how much skill is required to make mackerel, turnips, chorizo, and red onions work together.
2. Terra Plata
In 2011, Tamara Murphy, who helped define contemporary Seattle dining at Brasa, reminded eaters that she intends to continue shaping the local food scene. Years in the making--thanks to unanticipated landlord tangles and renovation delays--Terra Plata acquired must-visit status the moment it opened, serving food that reinvigorates the farm-to-table idiom. The high-spirited restaurant doesn't shy away from ambitious preparations involving fresh shellfish and charcuterie, but is equally capable of astonishing with the most pedestrian-sounding dishes. Here are citrus-glanced beets and maple-glazed Brussels sprouts to woo veggie skeptics, and tightly knitted potato chips throbbing with 'tater flavor. The years spent waiting for to win a legal go-ahead did nothing to dim Murphy's remarkable culinary skill.
Situated on a stretch of Queen Anne Avenue that's notoriously tough on fine-dining restaurants, LloydMartin struggled in its first few months to keep its dining room packed. Vets invariably wondered why, since Sam Crannell and his talented crew have created the restaurant that Seattle eaters say they want: The focus at this clubby haunt is squarely on the food, although there are well-made cocktails and an approachable wine list. The menu fluxes with the seasons and Crannell's whims, but nearly every dish is a boldfaced celebration of superlative ingredients.