Art Gallery

Where every night is First Thursday

Joule When it comes to titles, artists can have an uncanny knack for understatement. (See Cai Guo-Qiang's Inopportune: Stage One at SAM.) Naming their restaurant Joule after the scientific unit of energy, chef-owners Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi have actually undersold the way their dynamic dishes light up their little 40-seat gallery on 45th Street. Their menu, a mixed-media work marrying French technique with Korean cuisine, assigns a creative collection of shareable plates to categories whose simple labels also belie the food's success. From the "simmered" section, you'll have to actually order the spicy beef stew to feel how what Yang calls "Korea's comfort food" revitalizes. Under "sparked," you'll find a grilled bison hanger steak slathered with an electrifying garlic-chive chimichurri. The "sweetened" category deserves a more descriptive moniker, too; I'd pick "inspired," if Joule's tapioca pudding, a light, artful concoction made with kaffir lime–infused coconut milk, opal basil, and grapefruit, is any indication. JESS THOMSONServes: dinner. 1913 N. 45th St., 632-1913. WALLINGFORD $$ Lark Lark's artistic spirit—and we're talking high art here, not manga or craftpunk—is reflected in everything about the restaurant, from the First-Thursday regulars who make up its clientele to the poetry on its menu. One is tempted to scan the meter of lines like "Skagit River Ranch beef tongue with horseradish and wild watercress"; "Spanish mackerel with fennel, olives, and preserved-lemon tapenade"; and "naturally raised veal sweetbreads with spinach, bacon, and grain mustard." Chef John Sundstrom's food, served up as a myriad of small, composed plates, discourages the kind of gorging that leads to heartburn and recrimination: Watch the customers around you and you'll notice that they're eating thoughtfully, twirling each bite around the plate to catch the right amount of sauce, breathing in while they graze to catch all the aromatic nuances of the food. That level of attention, from both the cooks and the diners, is what makes the atmosphere seem so much like a gallery. All that's lacking from the scene is a critic to harrumph self-importantly about each plate. I volunteer my services, any time. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: dinner. 926 12th Ave., 323-5275. CAPITOL HILL $$$ May Restaurant & Lounge The philosophy on eating Thai in Seattle is to walk out your front door and into the place next door; if it doesn't suit you, walk two blocks to the next one. This is another way of saying the market is saturated. If you want to succeed as a Thai restaurateur, you better be unique. On aesthetics and detail, May has much of the competition beat. What was once a simple A-frame has been transformed into the kind of mini-palace Liberace might have erected had he converted to Buddhism. The filigreed exterior is cobalt blue with a banister of rusty steel scrolls. The downstairs cocktail lounge is dimly lit, and its booths are in the shape of crescent moons, high-backed and intimate. Upstairs, the dining area is walled in wood paneling, with stylish picnic containers in one corner and gilding here and there. Same with the food. Even a simple phad Thai is served on earthenware and cradled by banana leaves. Just look at it—a tamarind-paste coating and a little wok burn darkens the noodles to a hue that looks like it was derived from the same color palette as the teak on the walls. On looks alone, you'd think May Thai was just being pretentious. But take one bite of the phad Thai, and you realize that it's not flamboyant. Rather, the decor is just a complement to the food itself, which the owners of May obviously regard as their true work of art. BRIAN J. BARRServes: lunch, dinner. 1612 N. 45th St., 675-0037. WALLINGFORD $$ Monsoon This white box of a restaurant exhibits the clean lines and smooth surfaces of an art gallery, though here the art comes plated, its duck confit rolls painted with hoisin sauce and its Asian eggplant salad garnished with tofu paper. Since 1999, Eric and Sophie Banh's modern takes on traditional Vietnamese cuisine–like "wokked" wild boar curry or Kurobuta pork belly with rice noodles and pineapple–have made their restaurant a mainstay for reliably good dinner. (And, more recently, brunch too.) Well-balanced dishes use high-quality meats and seafood and feature the flavors of lime, chili, and basil. The wine list is populated with local wares as well as less-common German and Austrian varietals. Like any good art opening, the place sometimes gets crowded, and this chic spot has floor-to-ceiling slick surfaces that can make for a bit of a din. Still, you will dine oh-so-well. ADRIANA GRANTServes: dinner, weekend brunch. 615 19th Ave. E., 325-2111. CAPITOL HILL $$$ Restaurant Zoë An exercise in the artistic—from the large murals on the walls to the precious spoonfuls of garbanzo bean salad that the chef gives out at the beginning of the meal—Zoë gives the feel of an urban bistro in a much larger city. Enter through the dramatic purple curtains into the spare but tasteful dining room, an apt canvas for the art that will arrive at your table. The chic waiters speak in hushed tones, but Zoë is full of itself. Like any gallery worth visiting, this Belltown hot spot is a place to become a regular. Follow the sage advice from our waiter and order the beet and chanterelle salad. Another must-have is the fresh ricotta-filled gnudi floating in a shallow puddle of brown-butter balsamic vinaigrette. There's also scallops and winter squash with a hearty bacon influence, a pork and potato dish inspired by sweet figs, and a pot de crème served with salt-and-pepper shortbread cookies. You'll tumble back through the purple curtain inspired toward greatness (or, at least, to take a long walk to the next gallery). AIMEE CURLServes: dinner. 2137 Second Ave., 256-2060. BELLTOWN $$$

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