Side Dish

Belltown on a budget

Over the last year or so, a new style of dining out has emerged in Seattle—and not a moment too soon, as it turns out. Free-spending dot-commers and their customary grazing grounds are both feeling the financial pinch these days. To keep them coming, many restaurants have elaborated on their "happy hour" menus to such an extent that the after-work ritual of getting sloshed on the cheap has become a serious dining alternative for many who never bothered to learn to boil water in more prosperous days. Even in Belltown, the nearest thing Seattle offers to a restaurant "Gold Coast," it's now possible to dine well without breaking into a sweat when the bill arrives—so well, in fact, that our standard notion of "dining out" may be changing for good. Europeans and Asians have always recognized a happy medium between fast food and grande bouffe. Call it tapas or dim sum, the idea's the same: Let the diner tailor the meal to the appetite (and pocketbook). Sophisticated "bar menus" are coming to play a similar role here at home. At some restaurants, the bill of fare is just a selection from the standard menu, sharply discounted. At Ohana, for example, you can down your Blue Hawaiian to the accompaniment of tempura vegetables, octopus nigiri, pupus, and other nibble foods at $2.50 a plate—half to a third of the tab on the regular appetizer menu. Toi, similarly, knocks a few bucks off its succulent spring rolls and street vendor-style pork, beef, and chicken satays. At Christine Keff's Fandango, the "caf頭enu" offers appetizer items—hearts-of-palm salad, beef tamales, green chile quesadillas—at appetizer prices but in portions hearty enough to dull a substantial appetite, not to mention one-dollar tacos, salbutes, and oyster shooters with gazpacho and fennel "salad." Kerry Sear's Cascadia offers under-$10 full-scale meals: stir-fried tenderloin and potato salad, grilled organic chicken cutlet, and rigatoni-and-Gouda casserole with a side of garlic bread. Drawing her culinary inspiration mainly from the Iberian peninsula, Brasa's Tamara Murphy fields a cafe menu very much in tapas-style but with some characteristic twists: Super-hot piripiri chicken and grilled chorizos nuzzle up to herbed focaccia with hummus dip and a Moroccan steak sandwich—and you can follow Portuguese spare ribs with an ice cream sundae. With items ranging from $4 (frites) to $14 (clams-and-mussels proven硬), you can contrive a meal exactly to your appetite. And easy on the pocket plastic. Brasa, 2107 Third, 728-4220; Cascadia, 2328 First, 448-8884; Fandango, 2313 First, 441-1188; Ohana, 2207 First, 956-9329; TOI, 1904 Fourth, 267-1017. E-mail us your happy hour pick:

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