Side Dish

Comfort zone

Well before Sept. 11 or even the dot-com crash, the breeze of change was blowing through Seattle's high-end dining community. After years of apparently unstoppable proliferation, trendy spots are closing about as often as they open, and those that open are trimming their sails to a new quarter. "Comfort food" has been around for quite a while in the form of faux or vrai down-home items on menus otherwise aspiring to recherch頤istinction: mashed potatoes, fries/frites, wedge-of-iceberg-lettuce salad, meat loaf, apple crisp. Now, though, we're seeing whole menus couched in comfort mode put together by former pioneers of pomp. This very week sees the opening of Chez Gus, a "neighborhood cafe" from the neighbors who, less than five years ago, brought us that steak house in excelsis, El Gaucho. For symbolic weight, though, you can't beat last week's developments at ing, the popular bar and eatery on lower Capitol Hill. In a move variously described as "a housecleaning" and "a bloodbath," the new leaseholder of the space beneath the General Petroleum Museum brought in outside managers who proceeded to dismiss everybody on staff but the janitor. Such sweeps happen routinely in the restaurant game; the same week, a similar shake-up took place at the nearby Capitol Club. The surprise at ing was who did the sweeping: Now in the kitchen rustling up simple, moderately priced all-American grub there is Tamara Murphy, co-owner with Brian Hill of Brasa, one of Belltown's bastions of posh and pricey dining. Rumors flew all summer that Brasa might close, but such rumors are endemic in the trade, and Murphy says that ing is just a change of pace—even a holiday—not a prepared fallback position should the restaurant economy continue to shrivel. Chez Gus, though, is a different matter. It's not, like the just-opened Diner in Pioneer Square, trendy-retro in the jukebox-and-soda-jerk sense. The menu style's more spiffed-up sports bar: pork chops ("Huskies love this after a big win!") with polenta and apple chutney, wild mushroom and goat-cheese pizza, a tuna sandwich with Moroccan spices. A big-screen TV is promised, as well as a fireplace nook and Starbucks lattes. Kids' plates are "Puppy Meals." Call the approach casual, comforting, or crass, Chez Gus, like all of Paul Mackay's enterprises, is the outcome of careful planning and research. If Mackay thinks Seattle's clamoring for a seven-day-a-week breakfast-lunch-and-dinner midprice waterfront cafe, I for one am not prepared to bet against him. Hot news? Dish it:

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