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Canlis The rest of Aurora Avenue will never live up to its most acclaimed food spot. For 58 years, the Canlis family has been steadfastly upholding property values on the northeast shoulder of Queen Anne Hill. The Roland Terry–designed perch has been well-maintained and tastefully updated; the Greek immigrant clan's third generation has kept off the kitsch and Trader Vic cobwebs. Even an Enzo needs an oil change now and then. Standbys like the Dungeness crab cake lead seamlessly to the Canlis salad, which in turn suggests the mahi mahi that chefs Aaron Wright and Jeff Taton have personally approved. Not that anyone's pushing you to order up the menu. Canlis still succeeds in part by the art of the undersell: Your car is carefully parked and your water glass discreetly refilled not because you're paying for the service, but because such service imparts a value, a standard, of its own. Aspirational dining is the result. Patrons want to live up to the reputation—rent a Bentley if you must—and they're the ones who sneak engagement rings into the chocolate lava cake as the sun sets over Lake Union. Considered as a fraction of the ensuing wedding, mortgages, and college funds, Canlis is still a bargain. BRIAN MILLERServes: dinner. 2576 Aurora Ave. N., 283-3313. QUEEN ANNE $$$ Dahlak Eritrean Cuisine A reconfigured strip joint (no joke), Dahlak exudes the air of a private club: a bit cliquey, a bit hidden, set back from the street. And a great find. Here the spices are resoundingly unique, subtly layered, and more complex than at many similar places. (Yes, the walls are strung with Christmas lights in spring, the occasional beer bottle serves as a vase, and sometimes you'll spot dancing, though these days it's nothing more risqué than a wedding party.) For a sampling of their best dishes, order the meat and veggie combo platter, dolloped with lentils, greens, and chicken and lamb dishes soaking their delicious juices into the bread. It's generous enough for two. Your fingers will get greasy, stained red with berbere spices, and you'll embarrass yourself by how much you'll manage to put away, tearing at the best part, the sauce-drenched layer of injera beneath all the finger food. ADRIANA GRANTServes: lunch, dinner. 2007 S. State St., 860-0400. RAINIER VALLEY $ Maneki At this buzzing bar-restaurant, the only thing you don't want to miss is your reservation. If you haven't made one, prepare for the hostess' you-should-know-better look, although she will check for cancellations and might even remember your name (as thrilling as if the popular girl said, yes, she would lunch with you today). Once seated, whether in the crowded main room or a private one, you can get down to enjoying the tight, colorful, inexpensive sushi rolls and no-nonsense service that makes entry to Maneki so coveted. It all goes down smoothly with a giant bottle of Kirin or a shochu cocktail. Maneki is the kind of place that, in another city, you'd find at the end of an alley, on the other side of a single door with a small window. But luckily for you, exclusivity in Seattle doesn't mean inaccessibility. What I think is the best damn sushi in town is everyone's "secret"—go ahead and ring that bell. RACHEL SHIMPServes: dinner. 304 Sixth Ave. S., 622-2631. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ The Metropolitan Grill Unlike quaint, formal establishments like Canlis, you can walk into the Met in the standard Seattle work uniform of plaid shirt, jeans, and dark tennis shoes and shout at the TV screen. Whether this is a good thing is debatable. If you're going to drop $75 on a porterhouse steak, shouldn't there loom the threat of its succulence oozing out of your mouth and onto a pricey sport coat? And isn't a tumbler of top-shelf Scotch best enjoyed in a pair of handmade Italian loafers? Actually, fuck all that—Seattle is a casual town where the no-collar set earns some crazy loot, which makes the Met, with its embrace of the casual, the perfect club for our disheveled upper class. Not that you can't roll up in a tailored suit. That's cool, too. But see that commercial fisherman over there drinking a pint of domestic lager with his lobster? He's in your tax bracket, pal. Don't look down your nose at him. The Met's got a rambunctious bar, too, and bars, even ones where triple-digit tabs are the norm, are where most of the world's fistfights occur. MIKE SEELYServes: 820 Second Ave., 624-3287. DOWNTOWN $$$ Tulio Ristorante You may be able to get into the Rainier Club or the College Club, but I can't. So all my fantasies about what the dining room of a tony private club looks like are based on Tulio. (Heck, given the College Club's '70s-drab exterior, I suspect the hotel restaurant is far more attractive.) It's not stuffy, but the dining room, with its high wooden wainscoting, amber lights, and Victorian-rich upholstery, looks like there should be at least a few ancient blue-bloods in the corner, nodding off while their cigars smolder away next to them. Tulio's chef, Walter Pisano, has a classicist's respect for Italian culinary traditions, but he's not daunted by them: His grilled calamari comes on a bed of chickpeas flecked with lavender sausage; his linguine are tossed with clams, chile flakes—and Moroccan preserved lemons. This is food even society matrons will unclench their jaws for, served in a room that makes all its guests feel like they're richer than their bank accounts would attest. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 1100 Fifth Ave., 624-5500. DOWNTOWN $$$

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