Dining in the great indoors

Cafe Flora To fully appreciate Cafe Flora, dine in the atrium. Before you even get settled at your table, you feel your shoulders relax thanks to the abundant plant life hanging all around and the soothing gurgle of a fountain in the center of the room. The atrium is wall-to-wall glass, warmly lit in the evenings, and above all, quiet. Absent are the sounds of clanking dishes, kitchen rumblings, and screaming children—even they seem to be affected by their surroundings. There are two menu essentials: The portobello Wellington, consisting of mushrooms, mushroom-pecan pâté, sautéed leeks, and a rich Madeira sauce, is the meatier of the two, but the Oaxaca tacos, crisp tortillas filled with spicy mashed potatoes, smoked cheeses, crème fraîche, feta, and pico de gallo, pack the most flair. The fact that the restaurant is vegetarian seems almost secondary. The food is excellent, to be sure, but Flora offers something rarer: a reminder that eating should always be nurturing. BRIAN J. BARRServes: weekend brunch, lunch, dinner. 2901 E. Madison St., 325-9100, MADISON VALLEY $$ Jade Garden The name "Garden" here is less metaphorical than usual: The place is light and airy, with wooden latticework on the ceiling through which vines trail, laden with grapes and . . . carrots. Just try to resist the charms of dining underneath hanging plastic carrots. Jade Garden is famous for its dim sum, but the dinners are good, too. "The smell [of rice cooking] was good when I came in," said the picky friend who accompanied me, and in fact it was details like that, our meal's accessories, that were particularly impressive—the prawn-laden egg rolls, the plum dipping sauce, which tasted fresh and homemade (and wasn't at all weirdly gelatinous), and the brightly zingy ginger relish that came with the chicken, which I would have happily eaten alone, dab by dab, with the rice. GAVIN BORCHERTServes: dim sum, dinner. 424 Seventh Ave. S., 622-8181. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ Kingfish Cafe The best two things about the South are town squares and shamelessly artery-clogging food. On those hot, sticky summer nights, people gather by gazebos in the squares to share greasy barbecue, gumbo, sweet tea, and neighborhood gossip. Sadly, we live in the health-conscious, politely-keep-to-yourself-please Pacific Northwest. Where's our crawfish chowder? Where's our shameless kibitzing? Where's our fried chicken? Where's the damn gazebo? The answer to all these questions is Kingfish Cafe. The food is all comfort and the atmosphere all Southern charm. The high ceilings and expansive windows make it as close to dining in the park as you'll get this side of the Mason-Dixon, and the chefs have no patience for raw-vegetable, macrobiotic diets. It's hot August nights in Savannah town squares on Capitol Hill—have another mint julep. LAURA ONSTOTServes: lunch, dinner, weekend brunch. 602 19th Ave. E., 320-8757. CAPITOL HILL $$ Mioposto There have been many incarnations of the cafe across from Mount Baker Park in recent years. I liked most of them. Really, any place with good coffee and decent baked goods in such a lovely setting was bound to be a neighborhood hangout. But Mioposto, wrapped in big wood-framed windows looking out on the park, has made more of its surroundings than any of its predecessors. When the weather is nice and the windows are open, it feels like you're dining outdoors. And the food is much more than coffee and pastries. Like Tutta Bella, which has had so much success in this part of town, Mioposto offers perfect family fare. For the parents: thin-crust pizzas with ingredients like arugula and goat cheese. For the kids: small cheese pizzas. Salads are fantastic, like one with greens, beets, goat cheese, and almonds. If the kids get antsy, and they're old enough, send them across the street while you linger. You can see the playground from your seat. NINA SHAPIROServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 3601 S. McClellan St., 760-3400. MOUNT BAKER $ Sunlight Cafe At the Sunlight Cafe, it's all about the window seats. Occupying the corner of 64th Street and Roosevelt Way since the 1970s, this vegetarian mainstay has weathered various trends and the corporate manipulation of healthy eating by sticking to the basics: no-frills, hearty meals that existed long before veganism, yuppies, and industrial organics invaded the meatless revolution. We're talking brown rice, granola, nutburgers, black beans, and lentils. All of it tasting very, well, 1970s, which is to say refreshingly familiar and comforting, like looking at photos of your parents from before you were born. With your bowl of lentil chili under your nose, you can gaze out the Sunlight Cafe's windows and see the SUVs pulling into the Whole Foods parking lot. But don't let it rile you. The Sunlight is proof that, at its core, true vegetarianism has absolutely nothing to do with status and profit. BRIAN J. BARRServes: lunch, dinner. 6403 Roosevelt Way N.E., 522-9060. RAVENNA $ Tempero do Brasil The vibrant exterior of Tempero do Brasil is strangely at odds with the workaday bike shops and bars nearby at the north end of the Ave. With its African-inspired Bahian cuisine and sunlit gazebo seating, Tempero is definitely a spring and summer destination. The strains of a solo bossa nova performer drifting through the low-lit dining room make the perfect ambience for a date. Tempero's menu doesn't have the usual focus on meat of some Brazilian restaurants, though its thinly sliced New York steaks are good. Fresh prawns are complemented well by a complex but not overrich sauce of coconut, lime, and palm oil, and frango grelhado tops chicken with mango salsa. Caipirinha cocktails made from sugarcane rum taste great with about everything. Brazilian culture and cuisine reflects the country's diverse ethnic makeup and history, and Tempero does its best to put that on display. Bonus: Stop by the Brazilian market across the street for a case of Guarana, Brazil's national soft drink. JACOB CASEYServes: dinner, weekend lunch. 5628 University Way N.E., 523-6229. UNIVERSITY DISTRICT $$ 35th Street Bistro There was a time when you couldn't hear about Fremont without hearing how "funky" it was. The former tenant of the 35th Street Bistro space, Still Life Cafe, was in large part responsible. Little remains of the Still Life vibe, save for the large windows, hardwood floors, and dedication to sustainably farmed local ingredients. Now the Bistro has the feel of an upscale sidewalk cafe moved indoors. The patrons are a mix of younger neighborhoodies and older diners from Magnolia and Ballard. The picture windows still lend an airy light during the day, and a large potted tree in the center of the room brings the patio inside. In the evening, the lighted tree turns chandelier, casting a romantic glow from its canopy. The food is well-executed traditional French bistro fare: steak frites, seared and succulent Muscovy duck, and French onion soup, all prepared with seasonal ingredients. An extensive wine list emphasizes French and Italian, with a range of price points, including several values. DEL ENGENServes: lunch, dinner, brunch. 709 N. 35th St., 547-9850. FREMONT $$

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