Hobbit Hole

Small, dark, and rustic

Buddha Ruksa Imagine returning from a long journey through the valleys of Mordor, or, say, across the West Seattle Bridge. After months overcoming the wind, rain, forces of darkness, and perpetually late buses, all you want is soothing eats and neighbors who are glad to see you back. But imagine that in your absence, your friendly neighborhood hobbits had visitors from the East who brought chile paste and mysterious herbs like cilantro. You settle into a small bungalow with friends to celebrate your return, only to find that they've switched out bland fish 'n' chips for zesty crispy garlic chicken—rejoice! If Hobbiton became the epicenter of Thai food in Middle Earth, it would look a lot like Buddha Ruksa. The friendly little restaurant blends so well into the surrounding homes of West Seattle that it's easier to find by smell than sight. And oh what a smell it is: curry, mixed with garlic and a hint of basil. The memory of a meal is enough to get you through the tough times, whether battling orcs or traffic on I-5. LAURA ONSTOTServes: lunch, dinner. 3520 S.W. Genesee St., 937-7676. WEST SEATTLE $www.buddharuksa.com Green Leaf Not long ago, Green Leaf was a place where anyone over average size would (literally) be rubbing elbows with strangers, spilling out onto the street to wait, and sitting at tiny tables overflowing with bowls of steaming pho and plates of stir-fried deliciousness. But the restaurant has finally wised up. The ID hideaway recently closed its doors for a few weeks to expand the place from halfling-sized to a few notches up. They've added an entire second level, complete with roomy wooden tables, chairs adorned with wagon wheels, and wood-paneled walls (think Asian Cracker Barrel), making a long wait for a table much less likely, if necessary at all. The menu, however, seems to have remained the same. It's full of delectable Vietnamese options that would keep any hungry hobbit happy. Grilled shiitake mushroom caps are plump, juicy, and almost steak-like, skewered on wooden sticks and resting on a bed of greens and crumbled peanuts. Soup options abound: Choose from egg, rice, or udon noodles and a wide range of meats and fish (pork, fish balls, and squid make a delightful combination). Green Leaf's hearty stir-fried dishes would leave even the most ravenous of creatures satisfied. And now there's room to hold them all. AJA PECKNOLDServes: lunch, dinner. 418 Eighth Ave. S., 340-1388. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ How to Cook a Wolf Follow me, if you will: Say the Shire finally decides to come out of the Brigadoon-like sea of mist that obscures it from the rest of the world. And, once the Dwell subscriptions start arriving, the young hobbits announce that they're bored, bored, bored with that twee country shit their little mounds are decorated in. So they redecorate in materials like curved blond wood, hammered copper, and Rat-Pack stonework. I have no idea whether Ethan Stowell and Patric Gabre-Kidan have hairy feet or not, but with Wolf they've come up with the perfect balance of cozy and sleek. Meals there progress in halfling-sized plates of beef carpaccio, trofie pasta tossed in parsley pesto, and duck breast with beets and oranges. No one plate is a course in itself, but the food is far from dainty. While Wolf is a casual, neighborhoody place, if you spot a ring on a manicured finger around you, chances are it will have diamonds on it. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: dinner. 2208 Queen Anne Ave. N., 838-8090. QUEEN ANNE $$www.howtocookawolf.com Panos Kleftiko Taverna Panos Kleftiko is a nook. It's what your dining room would have looked like in 1989 if your mom had gotten serious when the neighbors told her she should open a restaurant. Outside light is kept mercifully low, thanks to this cubby's few, well-garnished windows. Seated at one of the few tables in the intimate room, you feel as though you have completely escaped the city. And on a soggy Seattle spring day, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything more comforting than a bowl of arni youvetsi: melt-in-your-mouth pot-roasted lamb, baked and topped with kasseri cheese. Yes, it even burns the roof of your mouth if you're too eager (and you will be). Add a bottle of the Greek lager, Mythos, and your escape from the city is complete. Opa! CHRIS KORNELISServes: dinner. 815 Fifth Ave. N., 301-0393. LOWER QUEEN ANNE $$ Serious Pie A few years back, Tom Douglas dug a new restaurant into the side of his Dahlia Lounge. It's a nook of a place, where you descend past the burning hearth (OK, pizza oven) into a warm, bustling room with wrought-iron chandeliers hanging from timbered ceilings. Given that your other option is to watch the legs of the people walking by on Virginia, the best view is the one looking inward at the chef's bread-baking operations. It's fitting that you don't order in grand style at this hobbit hole. Instead, order airy, crusty ovals of pizzas with toppings like yellowfoot mushrooms and truffle cheese or salumi with bitter greens and a cracked egg. Split a pizza, a few of the vegetable sides (if the roasted delicata squash with anchovies ever appears on the menu snap it up), and a $20 bottle of Barbera d'Asti, and you've got the makings of a casual meal. Serious Pie's most Shire-like touch is its shoulder-height communal tables, where you sit on stools so tall your legs will dangle over the floor. Been a while since you felt like such a halfling, hasn't it? JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner. 316 Virginia, 838-7388. BELLTOWN $$www.tomdouglas.com/serious Sitka & Spruce If Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were to head to Seattle for spring break '08, they'd likely be disappointed by the sopping-wet weather as well as by the lack of body shots and wet-T-shirt contests. But the saving grace of the hobbits' Northwestern spring break might come in the form of a week holed up in the kitchen at Sitka & Spruce. They'd feel right at home in the cozy space, much like their own holes, decorated with warm wood, community tables, stacks of cookbooks, and framed foliage. Chef-owner Matt Dillon bustles about each day, working with ingredients culled from the local lands. The ingredients magically make their way into a menu of ever-changing dishes, based on what's fresh that day: Nettles swirl into translucent pasta, housemade kielbasa tops a generous bowl of perfectly cooked lentils, hedgehog mushrooms complement a wedge of gnocchi, and juicy roasted chicken lies in an expanse of white beans. The hobbits might be so satisfied they'd never leave. But then again, there really is no place like the Shire. AJA PECKNOLDServes: dinner, weekend breakfast. 2238 Eastlake Ave. E., 324-0662. EASTLAKE $$$www.sitkaandspruce.com

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