Charm and country matters

Alki Homestead Less than a block from the most SoCal strip of seashore in Seattle sits the city's most Midwestern restaurant. Housed in a gargantuan Farmer-John log cabin, the Homestead attracts a customer base comprising mainly senior citizens and families with small children. Its mood music skews toward Tin Pan Alley and old-time standards, and its interior consists of antique plate sets, polished armoires, and frilly white linen. In short, hipster kryptonite if ever it existed. The Homestead specializes in fried chicken—lots and lots of fried chicken. Served by the platter until the customer says uncle (i.e., all you can eat), the chicken is very greasy, very moist, and very good. If you're on a diet, don't come here. If you're stoned or have the metabolism of a fruit gnat, however, this is paradise—amplified all the more by the Great Northern–meets–The Shining ambience. They call it comfort food, but on a rainy winter evening, with the wind howling and the waves crashing ashore a short distance off, it'd be better classified as safety food. If the Homestead were to wash out to sea, its logs would make you feel as though you were on a large, sturdy life raft. And, best of all, there'd be an endless supply of fried chicken. MIKE SEELYServes: dinner. 2717 61st Ave. S.W., 935-5678. WEST SEATTLE $$ Cafe Juanita Would it be heresy to suggest that this Eastside institution, owned by chef Holly Smith since 2000, ought to consider a move? The City of Juanita has exploded around her small eatery, which opened in 1977. Back then, grateful suburbanites swarmed the place in their station wagons. Now they can walk from the condos and town houses next door. Today's Eastside is full of competing restaurants—some as expensive, none with consistently superior food—with more tables, bigger kitchens, better parking, actual views, and substantially more modern dining areas. Would it be wrong to change the setting for the softest octopus appetizer I've ever tasted? Or to enjoy a beet salad that obliterated all my traumatic childhood beet memories? Poaching from my companion's pear–excellent parmigiano–truffle oil salad might've been easier with more elbow room. And when it came time for the extraordinary Arneis-braised rabbit, it would've been nice to run a few victory laps around the joint to high-five the other patrons. (Yes, the sauce is that good, though the point of the soggy chickpea crepe escapes me—isn't bread sufficient for plate mopping?) The wine suggestions, including a superior 2006 Scurati Nero d'Avola, and dessert selection met the same high standards, but those standards could easily be transplanted to, say, downtown Bellevue, which would also make the cross-lake commute a lot easier for Seattle dinner commuters. Farmhouse is well and fine, but downtown Juanita ain't so rustic anymore. BRIAN MILLERServes: dinner. 9702 N.E. 120th Pl., 425-823-1505. KIRKLAND $$$ The Harvest Vine Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez's rustic, homey restaurant has long been garnering attention for its gourmet small plates, best described as French-influenced tapas. Reminiscent of an old farmhouse, the downstairs dining room is all exposed brick and raw beams. The best seat in the house? Upstairs at the bar, in sight of mellow cooks sliding miniature sauté pans across the gas to sizzle and flame. You'll enjoy the privileged first sight (and smell) of all that emerges from this open kitchen. Do you have a craving for grill-charred squid, or is it an evening for seared rabbit drizzled with a zig of neon cilantro coulis? Perhaps a demitasse of butternut squash bisque, accompanied by a spoon preloaded with foie gras—richness self-managed and self-medicating. In considering the generous wine list, listen to the recommendations of your expert server. To finish: a snifter of sherry—one last mouthful of indulgence. ADRIANA GRANTServes: dinner. 2701 E. Madison St., 320-9771. MADISON VALLEY $$$ La Medusa Maybe it was the long drive south to Columbia City, or maybe it was a simple hunger on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but we decided on a recent visit to La Medusa to go big on pork. It proved to be a fitting choice for a place that specializes in "Sicilian soul food" but aspires to bring visitors the very best in local organic ingredients—and isn't afraid to be a little bit country. Think of the restaurant as the place where Seattle's farm-to-market ethos meets Italy's. We started with the fresh-cut noodles with two enormous slabs of pork belly, controne beans, and fennel. Then we savored the country-style pork ribs wrapped around a slaw of tomato jam, celery root, fennel, and yogurt. At the risk of having too much of a good thing, we skipped the double-cut pork chop stuffed with dried figs, anchovy, and garlic in favor of grilled octopus with crispy chickpeas in a Moroccan marinade. La Medusa is smaller than your average farmhouse and the sentimental favorite of many, so it fills up fast. AIMEE CURLServes: dinner. 4857 Rainier Ave. S., 723-2192. COLUMBIA CITY $$$ Le Pichet Visiting Le Pichet is a little like coming home—if your home is a farmhouse in the French countryside. And nothing says "country" to the French like baguettes and wine, ripe cheeses, and venison sausage. Gaze out the picture windows or lose yourself in the homey charm of the interior, the simplicity of which is punctuated by vintage white tile floors and a long wooden bar. The great thing about this Seattle standard is that, be it 9 a.m. or 9 p.m., you can saunter in and have some boiled ham and eggs or oysters on the half shell. Pichet's all-day "casse-croûte" menu is the perfect salve for a busy day of market wandering. Or, at dinner, order a bottle of wine and one of the seasonal entrées, like duck confit with roasted chestnuts and garlic rutabaga, or the hanger steak with fried potatoes (aka French fries). As if in character, the waitstaff can be snooty, but they warm up. Calm, now—you've embarked on a short holiday to the country. AIMEE CURLServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 1933 First Ave., 256-1499. PIKE PLACE MARKET $$

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