Eat Early, Ogle Later

Apartment shifts gears as the evening goes on.

At 6 p.m. toward the end of the week at Apartment Bistro, all the action in the room is concentrated in the squiggling and swimming inside the half dozen or so barely-bigger-than-water-glass "fish bowls" that serve as table decor. The lack of human activity is certainly no problem for my friend and me—except that she's the type who has PETA's hotline number on speed dial and really, fish have no place in a bar/restaurant (more on that later) that will later be pulsing with electro-beats as men in less-than-buttoned-up button-up shirts attempt to get phone numbers from women clad in approximately the same. As it turns out, the best time to check out this relatively newish, and relatively small, Belltown spot is early in the evening when the happy-hour prices are in full effect but the pickup lines and tinny bass beats aren't. Like all the new kids on all the blocks, Apartment offers a handful of infused vodkas; as martinis, they're $4 during happy hour (5 to 7 p.m. daily), and the cucumber version is lovely if you're looking for something a little special but not so special—or sweet—that you can't sip it while you enjoy your perfectly thin, crisp pomme frites. (Those are $4 during happy hour, too, and the roasted pepper aïoli listed on the menu is not red roasted pepper as you might imagine, but green, and the resulting zing in your mayo is a garden-fresh flavored snap that you might mistake for basil.) With your second martini (you might go for the canteloupe-infused vodka if you're not weary of taking just another half step toward sweet), consider the sautéed mushrooms (if you're playing along and it's before 7 p.m., they're $5). It seems a little improbable that a plate of mushrooms swimming in balsamicy gravy would be worth a recommendation, but it's true. The chefs obviously have a foraging habit—even if it's only up to the Market; both times I've had this appetizer, the selection of 'shrooms has been fantastic, including black trumpet, hedgehog, and yellow foot. No boring button mushrooms around here, and the little toasts spread with goat cheese are wonderful, if not altogether inventive, carriers. So it's about 7 p.m. by now, time to move on to the regular menu. You're semi-sated, but not full, and you've managed to save a few bucks and garner a friendly buzz to boot. All of this is good because the entrées at Apartment feel a little pricey and overambitious, and meanwhile, the space is filling up with dudes with their elevator eyes on. On a recent visit, I tried the special, a just barely seasonal halibut filet that had been steamed and poached in a white wine and lemon cream sauce and accented with capers, grape tomatoes, and shaved fennel. For $21, I wanted the dish to be more spectacular, and it might have been if the mashed potatoes and asparagus that came with it hadn't been so ho-hum. My friend's double-cut pork chop ($21), dressed in a barbecuey mustard sauce and also served with those unspecial mashed potatoes and veggies, sported a great kicky tang, was cooked perfectly, and trimmed just right. But still, didn't $21 feel a little excessive? Yes, unfortunately, it did. (And with service being nice enough but not thorough enough to reclaim the appetizer and bread plates even as we started in on our entrées, you might even say the prices were especially excessive.) So just what does Apartment want to be? Well, its tagline is "Bistro, martini, tree." Huh? Yeah, exactly. So I guess I'll say that what it is is as good a place as any in Belltown to get your swerve on if that's your thing, and if you're just looking for a few appetizers and some well-made drinks, go ahead and go; just go early. Apartment Bistro, 2226 First Ave., 206-956-8288. 5 p.m.–2 a.m. (dinner served until 10 p.m.) Mon.–Sat.

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