Our 100 Favorites (part 4)

Mona's 6421 Latona NE, 526-1188 Dinner Sunday-Wednesday 5-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 5-11 p.m. $15-$25 "It's a beautiful night in the neighborhood, would you be mine? Could you be mine?" Ah, romance is in the air, and no place more so than at Mona's, a gem of a neighborhood joint in the 65th/Ravenna corridor. It's not easy to find, but once there, you'll never want to leave. Crimson curtains set the scene for staring across a candlelit table to your special someone; sultry music plays, as if to cajole you into playing footsie. But the food, my friends, is ultimately worth arriving solo for. With a slight Mediterranean twist, the menu hits on just the right timbre between hearty and light. Soups, salads, baked Brie, and a delicious jamon Serrano plate begin the feast, which could likely continue with nuzzling, hand-holding, or feeding each other luscious forkfuls of roasted butternut squash ravioli, lamb loin (rubbed with cumin and served with purple potatoes), or the sea scallops in a lemon butter. A usually crowded bar on its own side of the space features live jazz weekly and plenty of noshes from the menu. E.B.R. Monsoon 615 19th E, 325-2111 Lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Tuesday-Sunday 5:30-10 p.m. $10-$18 The losers on the menu of this upmarket Vietnamese spot are delicious in a merely ordinary way, a fact that seems to have escaped nobody in the two years since Monsoon took Capitol Hill by storm. The winners we've tasted—steamed halibut festooned with lily buds, green onions, and shiitake and tree ear mushrooms; a decadently oily hunk of Chilean sea bass seared to crusty and topped with chiles, coriander, shallots, and some of the finer mysteries of the universe—rank up there with the best seafood ever seen in this town. It's a spare storefront on 19th sketched in tones of beech wood and graphite, yet nothing about the place feels cold. This owes in part to the open kitchen, over which Saigon-born siblings Sophie and Eric Banh preside, and to the crowds, which seem to mount later and later into the evening. They're here for the la lot beef, the tamarind soup, the delicate curries, the terrific spring rolls, and that extraordinary fish, served with efficiency and friendliness in one of the best destinations in town. K.R. Nell's Restaurant 6804 E Green Lake Way N, 524-4044 Dinner daily 5:30-10 p.m. $17-$30 When Saleh Joudeh decided that after 17 years it was time to hang up the toque, he sold his sleek, multilevel lakeview room to Philip Mihalski (Marco's Supperclub, Dahlia Lounge), who renamed Saleh al Lago after his wife, Nell. Mihalski tweaked the elegant dining room, broadened the menu from Italian to contemporary American, and went to work in the kitchen. And fine work it is, most of the time. Mihalski's menu aims high, featuring a starter list of unusual sophistication (you might encounter truffles, foie gras, caviar) and a five-course, prix fixe option. There may be missteps—our meals featured problems both of execution and conception—but triumphs are the rule. A winter dinner revealed Mihalski's skill with roots—delectable pan-roasted duck leg over velvety celery root puree was killer—and pasta. A plate of butternut squash ravioli in brown butter with pine nuts tasted like homage to Saleh, and that is a compliment indeed. Standout service. K.R. Nishino 3130 E Madison, 322-5800 Monday-Saturday 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sunday 5:30-9:30 p.m. sushi $9-$12 , $50-$65 omakase menu The poor little rich residents of Madison Park used to have to go downtown for perfect sushi. Pity them no more, for Nishino has brought it to them, and in so doing become a destination for those from all over town who like their sushi extraordinarily fresh in a tranquil, spotless room that quietly screams good feng shui. The fish at Nishino is seldom short of exquisite; the maguro and hamachi here are incredibly tender, buttery, and flavorful (and their price is accordingly dear). All the other finned and bivalved usuals are here too, and of equally high quality; for those who eschew the raw fishes, there's a full menu of items like tempura, teriyaki, udon, and soba, plus ࠬa carte dishes like baked Dungeness crab with creamy spicy sauce. A special omakase menu promises the best the chef has to offer that day, which is always a good way to go with sushi. Look also for touches of fusion here, like a "new style" sashimi with arugula. Service is flawless, and between that and the "innovative good taste and visual elegance" (as the menu tastefully brags) of Nishino, you've got a splendid, spendy sushi experience that's more swanky than most. B.J.C. Palace Kitchen 2030 Fifth, 448-2001 Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner daily 5 p.m.-1 a.m. $11-$26 Don't stick to the old soup or salad, main course, dessert regimen at this celebrated spot. It's commonplace to find different distinctions on menus these days: small plates, large plates, closers, beginnings, finales. Though they do serve "entr饳," few places in Seattle lend themselves as well to such grazing as the Palace Kitchen. Order a raft of appetizers—though the main dishes can be nicely shared as well (they'll even cut the burger in half for you in the kitchen and serve each with its own tangle of fries). The olive poppers sound like something invented by the sort of person who buys cooking products on late night infomercials, but the stuffed and deep-fried robin's egg-sized balls are genius. The goat cheese fondue with bread and apples is fun for a crowd. There are trays of oysters, bowls of roasted clams, and platters of finger-licking baby back ribs. There's a full range of tempting entr饳 as well, but this is a place that demonstrates why the words "bar" and "food" go so well together. A.V.B. Paseo Caribbean Food 4225 Fremont N, 545-7440 Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. $6-$11 Being geniuses, we went to the very recommended Paseo at noon on a Saturday and found it packed beyond capacity (which is about 10 people). Service was justifiably slow, but we were rewarded by beautiful, sloppy Cuban sandwiches on demi-baguettes, each with corn on the cob. The prawn sandwich was piled with lovely saut饤 prawns, the pork and chicken versions featured a nice Caribbean-spiced slab, and each was as much of a caramelized onion sandwich as anything else. Salads were acceptable, heaped with shredded beets, and the cook flattered us by assuming we'd know to dump the soupy, cumin-spiced beans over the rice. Dinner at Paseo is more culturally Cuban than lunch is, presenting real live entr饳 that come with way too many sides. The jerked chicken breast was kinda chintzy in portion but tasted fabulous, and so did the sweet saut饤 scallops in fiery red pepper sauce. This is casual dining for sure, evidenced by low counters and bamboo decor, but authentic dishes made from quality ingredients assure that it's far from shabby. M.V.H. The Pink Door 1919 Post Alley, 443-3241 Lunch Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tuesday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-11:30 p.m.; bar Tuesday-Thursday until midnight, Friday-Saturday until 1 a.m.; Sunday hours starting May 6: lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m. Lunch $9.50-$15, dinner $14-$20 The Pink Door could cruise by on atmosphere alone. Not only does it feature a discreet entrance off of Post Alley and a breathtakingly romantic terrace (call ahead for reservations), but a lively bar and cabaret area with a modest stage, and a high-ceilinged, low-volume dining room as well. Fortunately, owner Jacqueline Roberts steadfastly avoids turning the place into a spectacle or mere tourist destination, insisting on top-shelf service and homestyle, sometimes ambitious cooking. Starters include favorites like the tasty torrent of chopped olives masquerading as tapenade, the roasted garlic and cheese spread, and the sensational, old-school antipasto with prosciutto, mozzarella, and Tuscan bean salad. Dinners exploit the region's—and presumably nearby Pike Place Market's—bounty of seafood, as well as fresh pastas and vegetables. Steamed clams or mussels make a fine entr饬 and the Lasagna Pink Door has sent many parties away satisfied over the restaurant's nearly 20 years (an anniversary party is planned for Dec. 1). R.A.M. Place Pigalle 81 Pike, 624-1756 Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., Friday 6-11 p.m., Saturday 6-10:30 p.m. $11-$24 It doesn't seem quite fair that the food should be so good in a place which offers such romantic watery vistas. One reason it is so good is that at Place Pigalle, innovation isn't worshiped for its own sake. The menu changes little from year to year but constantly season to season, to take advantage of the seafood bounty of the nearby Pike Place Market. There will always be oysters (in the "R" months, of course) and just-cooked crab when available, cracked and served with mayonnaise, red sauce, tools, and abundant napery. There will be glorious oyster stew, a classic bistro onion soup, and a daily seafood special accenting freshness, seasonality, and simplicity of presentation. On the nonseafood side, the Place Pigalle style moves inland, toward hearty country-inn presentations of fowl and game. Rabbit and duck play significant roles here, with lamb and pork close runners-up. Desserts are home-made and tend to be hefty, but are too good to skip; split one. R.D. Ponti Seafood Grill 3014 Third N, 284-3000 Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner Monday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m. $22-$49 A high-ceilinged room filled with soft north light reflected from the waters of the Ship Canal; deferential, knowledgeable waitstaff; a kitchen devoted to seeking out and serving the finest and freshest fish to be had; an intimate bar; a terrace for summer: For some Seattleites, Ponti is the ultimate oasis of civility in a world gone mad. The accessories on the Ponti menu are nothing to sneeze at; the dinner salads are modest but always composed of impeccably dressed fresh greens and succulent nuggets from the nut and cheese departments. Soups also shine. But it's the seafood, the seafood, stupid: Where does the chef Joel Fahland find Gulf shrimp and Chilean sea bass that taste as if just scooped from the sea? Every seafood restaurant of any pretension in Seattle has its featured dishes of black cod and salmon and halibut, but not such glories as these, which knock you out with their freshness of flavor and perfect just-caught texture. And Fahland has the sense to play to their strength, never gilding the lily with an overassertive sauce or an ingredient too many. R.D. Ray's Boathouse 6049 Seaview NW, 789-3770 Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10:30 p.m. $16-$45 With its emphasis on seafood and its storied Shilshole Bay view, the venerable Ray's has become such a clich頯f Seattle delights it seems almost impossible to believe it could also be good. Believe it. It's one of those glorious places, like Pike Place Market, that enchants natives and tourists alike. I keep waiting for another place to unseat it as my "If you have only one dinner in Seattle" recommendation, but for years, no place has. Why? The fish: Chef Charles Ramseyer is gifted with seafood, employing only the freshest, then serving it in inventive, often Asian-inspired, preparations. Smoked Alaskan coho salmon in a sweet apple cider glaze, pan-seared sea scallops in green curry with mango-papaya salsa, grilled black cod in sake kasu with ocean salad—all have been expertly conceived and executed. Add to this an impressive wine list and some of the city's best waitstaff, and you begin to get the idea. Upstairs is the ever-jumping Ray's Cafe, the casual little sister, where the view's a little better but the food isn't. K.R. Red Mill Burgers 312 N 67th, 783-6362 1613 W Dravus, 284-6363 Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday noon-8 p.m. $3-$6 With two locations to serve the devoted, Red Mill has become something of a mecca for burger followers. Everyone from families to funksters makes up its quarter-pounder congregation. Both locations are no-nonsense practitioners of this particular religion: You won't find any experimental taste challenges (none of those outlandish toppings that some places try to pull on you), and there hasn't been a misguided attempt to dress the place up as something other than what it is. You'll find either spot to be bustling and efficient, so pull up a picnic bench and indulge. You can, if you're so inclined, order one of a variety of chicken or garden burgers, but anything with beef—and, preferably, bacon—is highly recommended. The meat is flame-grilled to keep just the right amount of juice without getting too close to the rare side of things. Be sure to get a shake or malt (so good you'll wish they were bigger), and try the onion rings, which are coated in thick, tasty breading that will please deep-fried fans. S.W. Rosita's 9747 Fourth NW, 784-4132 Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sunday 1-9 p.m. $9-$14 A lot of restaurants strive to be "a dining experience." Rosita's succeeds because it doesn't even try. From the bright-tiled entryway with its hacienda fountain and glowering old lady handing out complimentary handmade tortillas to the stucco dining area and the menus decorated with cartoon burros and cacti, Rosita's is a classic kid-friendly venue for norte�longing for a little subtropical atmosphere on a rainy Northern night. And what a taste it is! Poised between authenticity and accommodation, Scott Sellars' menu offers comfort and adventure, both at bargain prices. The tortilla chips are homemade and fabulous; the traditional Cal-Mex combination platters are generously proportioned but not cloying; and the house specialties (green-chile pork stew, chicken breast en mole, above all the light-as-air chiles rellenos) are home-cooking good. Seafood specialities are more adventurous: flaky cod rolled up in a tortilla with yogurt and cilantro, enchiladas and chiles stuffed with crabmeat. Most adventurous of all: a tequila menu that will tempt you to sample more margarita flavors than might be good for you. R.D. Rover's 2808 E Madison, 325-7442 Dinner Tuesdays-Saturday 5:30 p.m. till whenever $115 (Prix fixe, eight-course grand menu; $70 five-course vegetarian menu; $80 five-course meat-and-fish menu) Thierry Rautureau, this city's most heralded French chef, may pop out of his kitchen to prowl the dining room in his bowler hat and have a giggle with his guests. That's the pretension level at this longtime, critically acclaimed, multiply-awarded, prix fixe French house restaurant in the Madison Valley. And though your fawning waiter will arrive bearing a crumbscoop and an eight-course menu, you likely won't experience any disagreeable "food 'tude" within these lovely walls. Instead, you'll experience a meal for the ages. You can opt for the five-course spread, but then you might miss the warm razor clams atop the ocean salad, fragrant with soy and sesame. Or the lusciously oily hunk of sea bass napped in super-rich lobster-Perigord truffle sauce, pocked with baby leeks. Or the tender lobster swimming in an intense lime infusion. A multicourse vegetarian meal (always available) especially showcases Rautureau's culinary talent and verve. He is also master saucier and a playful artiste on the plate: Presentations are so colorful and vivid you'll want to take them home and frame them. K.R. Saigon Bistro 1032 S Jackson, Ste 202, 329-4939 Daily Sunday-Thursday 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m. $4-$7 Like Vietnamese food? Well, Saigon Bistro's the place for both your introduction to this wonderful cuisine and a sure contender for all return trips. Tucked away at the top of a minimall in Seattle's bustling Little Saigon, this is where you get your pho (fragrant beef or chicken soup with rice noodles and a host of condiments); your bun (rice vermicelli with meat and veggies); your clay hot pot with stewed pork ribs, snails, or catfish; your tumeric-bean sprout cr갥s; and your spring rolls with shrimp. Yes, it's all here, all reasonably priced and laid out on the very accessible menu in many options (most dishes can be served as appetizers). Always fast, always fresh, and never overcooked or underdone, the Bistro knows its job and sticks to it. While Vietnamese food is a fusion of French influences from colonial times with the complex marriage of traditional flavors and spices, there is little complicated by too many taste sensations. The food here is clean, straightforward, and just a little more sure of itself than most. E.B.R. Salumi 309 Third S, 621-8772 Lunch Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-4 p.m., dinner Saturday for parties of 10 (reservation only) Lunch $4.50-$6.50, dinner $65 a head Every harried dot-commer, Old World 魩gr鬠and gourmet housewife in town is likely to be ahead of you in line round about lunchtime at this underdecorated hole-in-the-wall on the Third Avenue fringe of Pioneer Square. They're here for Armandino Batali's home-cured fennel sausage or coppa or salami or prosciutto, which he'll slice into a crusty baguette slathered with anchovy-rich pesto sauce and serve with a side of something green and garlicky. You cannot go wrong; ask the ever-frank Batali what's best that day and he'll steer you into something sumptuous. Batali's whole family legacy has been the culinary arts, from his grandfather Angelo Merlino, who opened Seattle's first Italian import store just around the corner in 1903, to his son Mario Batali, whose acclaimed restaurants Babbo, Lupa, and Esca have made him a household name in Manhattan. Local foodies rave about Salumi's private dinners, arranged for parties of 10; they're a blast, as Batali and his wife Marilyn involve guests in rolling the pasta and kneading the mozzarella, and the wine—though hardly free—flows freely. K.R. Sanmi Sushi 2601 W Marina Pl, Ste S, 283-9978 Lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.; dinner Tuesday-Thursday 5:30-9:30, Friday-Saturday 5:30-10 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m. sushi $3.50-$8, dinner $10-22 The first thing about Sanmi Sushi is location—next door to the esteemed Palisade and perched over Elliott Bay Marina in Magnolia's foothills, its patrons reeking of Nautica. (Once my buddy and I were seated, his first words were, "Write that we're the only people here who don't own a yacht.") We were glad, however, to find that the food's presentation was as polished as the clientele's. Sanmi dishes up a bad-ass yakisoba, sumptuous and sizzling, and our sushi plates were laid out like pretty little Zen gardens, the sea eel and tuna belly gleaming at us. The seafood is painstakingly fresh, and they have eight million different kinds of sushi, from your traditional salmon or squid to freaky specials like monkfish liver and geoduck. If you're not a fish person (what are you doing at a sushi place?), there are "other" dishes available: variations on noodles, all the usual teriyaki. Prices are definitely tipped toward the locale, but you can't blame the guys. If you wanted low-grade sushi without scenery, you'd go to the Ave. M.V.H. Sapphire 1625 Queen Anne N, 281-1931 Dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., Friday-Sunday 5:30-11 p.m.; brunch Sunday 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $10-$28 A sultry Moorish mood infects this Queen Anne storefront with the kind of retro glam that might attract, say, Bogey and Bergman for a nightcap. Surprise—the Spanish/North African food of Leonard Ruiz Rede is even better than the atmo. The baba ghanouj is uncommonly deep and smoky, the salads sparkle with originality, the specials brim with intelligence and flavor. Rede might top Spanish flatbread with raclette, mushrooms, and elegant spears of green onion for a crunchy, creamy starter. Or he might steam a few handfuls of Penn Cove mussels with sherry and vegetables, then drape them in a nutty Romesco sauce. On one visit we marveled over a heady lamb stew, fragrant with cinnamon and oregano and topped with a lemony gremolata. We devoured a paupiette of chicken, the free-range bird rolled around hazelnut stuffing, sliced and smothered in tarragon mustard sauce, and served with mashed potatoes and lightly steamed beans. Yeah—they all sound that good, and taste even better; each plate full of complementary flavors, at once comforting and exhilarating. K.R. Sea Garden 509 Seventh S, 623-2100 Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m.- 1 a.m. $8-$37 This is no food-court chow mein palace. Sea Garden is the real deal, from its clickety-clacking tank of crabs that greets diners at the entrance to its nearly exhaustive menu of exotic dishes. Even connoisseurs will be pleased by the way Sea Garden handles the basics; the won ton noodle soup offers up plump delectable dumplings in an aromatic broth, while the Chinese mushroom and chicken congee takes a rather Cream of Rice-y dish and elevates it to a scrumptious, savory level. Sea Garden special noodle goes the kitchen sink route, tossing all manner of surf and turf in amongst thin crispy noodles. As their prominence at the front may suggest, crustaceans take top honors here; the market-priced crab with black bean sauce is near-legendary. As long as diners can resist the shark fin and crab meat soup ($36.95), Sea Garden is, if a little pricier than most, still quite a bargain, and certainly offers one of the most superlative dining experiences in this culture-rich neighborhood. L.G. Seattle Catch 460 N 36th, 632-6110 Dinner Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.; bar Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-1 a.m. $11-$20 Here's what you want: You want a nice grilled fish in a relaxed neighborhood setting, preferably within walking distance of a large concrete troll. Well, you've got it. Seattle Catch in Fremont is just the kind of reliable, relaxed refuge we need more of in this town, perfect for when you're seeking something nice-ish, but don't need the hassle of "happening" restaurants downtown. From the hulking antique bar and salvaged lighting fixtures to the deep wooden booths and window seats, the Catch is built for comfort, and service is at a pace that encourages you to linger. Foodwise, it's all about execution, not innovation. The Catch knows its way around a fish, and they can make a simple snapper sing. Other favorites include the prawns piccata and artichoke hearts in angel hair. Shredded carrot and zucchini serve as the usual side. Appetizer and dessert offerings are similarly predictable and predictably good: a fine portobello, a delightful tiramisu. Seattle Catch will probably never snare the "in" crowd . . . so much the better for everyone else. M.D.F. 74th St. Ale House 7401 Greenwood N, 784-2955 Daily 11:30 a.m.-midnight $5-$10 The 74th St. Ale House does the simple things well and that makes all the difference. They understand that a good sandwich begins with good bread, a good salad begins with good lettuce, and that good beer is, well, better. The 74th St. is a pub, first and foremost, and the menu consists of seemingly typical bar fare: burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups, etc. The 74th St. always keeps your best interests in mind (it's also non-smoking), though, so there's no deep-fat frying happening here; the burgers and sandwiches are delicious enough that you won't miss the side of fries. While the regular menu nails the essentials, the weekly specials allow for bolder fare. The soups, in particular, reveal keen imagination and can rival the city's finest. A zesty lamb curry soup was the highlight of a recent visit and the kitchen has consistently proven its flair for seafood-based soups. Note to beer enthusiasts:The 74th St. features three taps of cask-conditioned brews (including Guinness) to compliment its already magnificent lineup of taps. P.F. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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