The race to become Seattle's favorite dining destination grew tighter in 2012, as dozens of new bars and restaurants joined the competitive field. Although the pack's speed slowed in late spring and early fall, the year ended with a thrilling sprint occasioned by the entries of restaurants including Shanik and Mamnoon. Here, a look back at the most high-profile starts of 2012, sorted by how well they went and listed in reverse chronological order.
The Whale Wins (November):The continental sensibilities of Boat Street Cafe and the shellfish reverence of The Walrus and the Carpenter come together in The Whale Wins' estimable wood oven. Renee Erickson's latest project, occupying one half of the stylish new Fremont Collective, is already winning raves for its sardines on toast and whole roasted trout.
Joule (November): The other half of the Fremont Collective, Joule got glitzy when it relocated from its original Wallingford home. The menu at Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi's restaurant is largely indebted to Revel's summertime whole-animal barbecues, which showed the busy husband-and-wife team how much eaters like red meat.
The Wandering Goose (October): The city's interest in Southern cooking may have reached its apex with the arrival of a restaurant helmed by a real live Southerner, North Carolinian Heather Earnhardt, late of Volunteer Park Cafe. Earnhardt offers fried chicken and gumbo at her 30-seat cafe, but the organizing principle is the biscuit, served sweet and savory.
Vessel (August): After a hiatus that stretched on long after local drinkers were ready for the vaunted cocktail enclave to return, Vessel finally re-opened with a lab stocked with high-end drink-making equipment menus designed by a rotating crew of 30 bartenders. The food, by Cameo McRoberts, is seriously good too.
Seattle Center Armory (July-ish): In celebration of Seattle Center's 50th anniversary, the venue significantly updated its food offerings this year, inviting local tastemakers including Skillet, Eltana, La Spiga and Plum to adapt their menus for concession stands. The results are brilliant, and - of particular interest to visiting families - exceptionally nutritious.
Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery (May): Autumn Martin, former head chocolatier at Theo and pastry chef at Canlis, in 2008 filled Mason jars with ready-to-bake chocolate cakes. The one-off treat blossomed into a business, with Martin now attending to Ballard's sweet needs with miniature cakes, grilled chocolate sandwiches and boozy milkshakes.
Crumble & Flake (May):
Crumble & Flake (May):Presumably baker Neil Robertson has finally connected every opening week customer with a pastry or two, but prospects were initially discouraging as the former Canlis and Mistral Kitchen baker fell into the habit of posting a "sold-out" sign within an hour or two of opening. Smoked paprika croissants and coffee "cheweos" explain why.
Bitterroot (January): Owners Grant and Hannah Carter distinguished their handsome barbecue joint by learning how to use their smoker and discerning what the neighborhood wanted (read: whiskey cocktails.) The barbecue's strong, but it's the buffalo chicken livers, sloppy build-your-own nachos and casual brunches which have permanently endeared the restaurant to Ballardites.
Kickin' Boot Whiskey Kitchen (August): The barbecue at this monstrous new project from the team behind Matador is wobbly, but the steaks are generally reliable and the raucous crowd seems to like the booze selection.
Essex (August): Delancey's first foray into cocktailing is a lovely anteroom to one of the city's best pizza experiences, giving waiting patrons a warmly-lit setting in which to savor glasses of wine and housemade pickles.
Elliott's Seafood Cafe (July): Right around the time the Great Wheel started turning, Elliott's pushed its brand toward Alaskan Way, remaking a Steamer's location as a streetside al fresco raw bar and casual cafe.
Collections Cafe (May): Top Chef mostly bypassed it when filming at Chihuly Garden & Glass, but the swanky restaurant's a fine addition to Seattle Center, providing a smart wine-and-food refuge from the madding crowds.
Chan (April): While a few early diners were miffed by the tiny portion sizes and lack of complimentary banchan at Chan, the modern Korean restaurant has emerged as a great Pike Place spot for small plates and cocktails.
Marche (March): Giving Seattle diners another reason to board the ferry, Greg Atkinson this year finally opened his own restaurant, specializing in meticulous, French-influenced preparations of local meat, fish and vegetables.
Restaurant Zoe (February): Scott Staples' beloved restaurant moved up to Capitol Hill from Belltown, resettling in self-consciously sophisticated digs. Zoe's apparently found its stride, thrilling fans with gnudi and pork belly.
The Wurst Place (January): The room's not fancy, and there's not much to eat beyond sausages and beer, but the Belgian fries come with plenty of mayo, and the barkeeps' beer knowledge here is awfully impressive.
Rione XIII (August): A recent review from the Seattle Times' Providence Cicero suggests Ethan Stowell's newest restaurant is sorting out its opening kinks, but the restaurant's hobbled by a concept that no longer feels fresh.
Hunger (May): Moving from a tiny Fremont dining room to a enormous venue down the hill nearly overwhelmed Hunger. "At Hunger, we have built our reputation on...providing amazing food and drinks in a welcoming atmosphere," chef-owner Brian Brooks wrote in response to my review. "Unfortunately, we have not met these expectations." Online reviews suggest the situation's improving.
Restaurant Bea (March): Tom Black and Kate Perry took on the challenging task of creating a nice place to eat in a family-oriented neighborhood, and ended up with a restaurant which left critics lukewarm. Black left the restaurant a few months later; In August, Chow Foods' vet Jim McCarthy was appointed head chef.
STILL IN THE STARTING GATE
Agrocdolce (Dec. 21): Maria Hines' new restaurant represents a Southern Italian turn for the award-winning chef.
Shanik (Dec. 5): Perhaps the biggest opening of the year, Shanik's a cousin to the adored Vij's in Vancouver.
Mamnoon (Nov. 20): The latest addition to the hopping Melrose corridor, Mamnoon's serving up Lebanese fare.
Skelly & The Bean (Feb. 23-Dec. 20):
Skelly & The Bean (Feb. 23-Dec. 20):Everyone was rooting for Zephyr Paquette's community-driven restaurant to succeed, including the poor critics forced to point out its flaws, but the chef this month announced she'd have to find another location for her culinary incubator. Nothing's been announced yet.
RoRo's, Ballard (Mar. 5- October): Online chatter pinned RoRo's problems on its teenaged counter staff and menu, but the mini-chain trucked in its barbecue from a central smoking location and steamed it to order. End of story.