SEATTLE — We have just finished a startlingly good dinner at Spinasse, a meal that felt as if we’d time-traveled to a rustic farmhouse in Piedmont. With its open kitchen, worn wood tables and floors, and soft, chandelier lighting, this restaurant shines in a city that was the forerunner in the farm-to-table movement.
Freshly dug carrots, rabbit meatballs, and local quail with foraged chanterelles are on the menu, but this innovative fare isn’t unusual in Seattle, which seems to be a breeding ground for James Beard winners. Artisan producers, organic farms, wineries, and world-class seafood are part of the mix, and the result is an adventurous, ever-changing culinary scene.
“There’s so much food coming out of the Pacific Northwest, it’s just stunning in its raw state,” says Spinasse chef-owner Jason Stratton. “That’s where good chefs draw their inspiration.”
William Belickis, chef-owner of MistralKitchen, agrees. “We also have a relatively strong, diversified economy, drawing educated workers from around the world, who are adventurous eaters and have high expectations.”
Any food tour of the city might begin with brunch at Terra Plata in Capital Hill, a restaurant with a rooftop garden, the newest venture from chef Tamara Murphy. Chickpea fritters are accompanied by poblano peppers and paprika cream, manchego biscuits are dribbled with spicy chorizo gravy and topped with a farm-fresh poached egg.
In the same triangular-shaped building is Sitka & Spruce, one of Seattle’s favorite eateries, run by Matt Dillon, named for a variety of spruce that provides the perfect habitat for wild porcini. Communal tables, a wood-fired oven, and an open kitchen are the backdrop here for breads with house-made preserves and butters, marinated and grilled squash with sheep’s milk feta, homemade yogurt with za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix. Entrees may include local albacore tuna and king salmon.
Now another generation of cooks is emerging to start their own ventures. “The last few years have been all about the diversification of our restaurant scene,” says Stratton. One exciting aspect of that scene is the growing number of pop-up restaurants by unknown chefs who want to showcase their talents. “Here at MistralKitchen,” says Belickis, “we had a quasi pop-up each Monday, focusing on a different region or country in the Middle East.”
The entire city isn’t farm-to-table fancy. At Little Uncle, a tiny Thai food takeout shop, the menu includes bowls of chicken curry egg noodles and perfectly steamed dumplings filled with braised beef cheeks, both easy on the wallet. Also a deal are Seattle’s popular happy hours. Toulouse Petit has more than 50 items between $4 and $8, including spicy lamb chops, crispy fried pork cheeks, shrimp Creole, and clams with chorizo.
The once-gritty Belltown neighborhood is now a hot location. Local 360 in Belltown is a popular early and late-evening spot, offering local liquor flights and microbrews at wallet-pleasing prices, along with rabbit gratin with potato, kale, and caramelized onion, or braised short rib with cheddar fondue.
Up the street is Branzino, which serves the oven-roasted Mediterranean sea bass for which the place is named, prepared tableside. Seattleites call ahead to make a reservation and also reserve the dish. A few blocks away, at the contemporary steel and gun-metal gray restaurant Spur, you might be offered thinly sliced raw scallops, melt-y veal sweetbreads, and slow-poached halibut. Around the corner, folks line up at Serious Pie for thin-crusted golden potato and rosemary pizza. And at The Walrus and the Carpenter, diners sample an array of bivalves, washed down with glasses of champagne.
Just outside the city, Copperleaf Restaurant at the Cedarbrook Lodge is nearly zen-like, with its landscaped gardens and towering cedars. The menu gives a serious nod to local purveyors in such dishes as briny clam chowder, field rhubarb with grilled leeks and pecans, and hand-rolled potato gnocchi. Local prawns are served with chickpeas and piquillo peppers, and tender rabbit with asparagus tagliatelle.
Seattle is a city passionate — nearly fanatically so— about its food.
2429 2d Ave., Seattle, 206-728-5181, www.branzinoseattle.com
18525 36th Ave. South, Seattle, 877-515-2176, www.cedarbrooklodge.com
1509 East Madison, Seattle, 206-329-1503, www.littleuncleseattle.com
1st & Bell, Seattle, 206-441-9360, www.local360.org
2020 Westlake Ave., Seattle, 206-623-1922, www.mistral-kitchen
316 Virginia St., Seattle, 206-838-7388, www.tomdouglas.com
Sitka & Spruce
1531 Melrose Ave., Seattle, 206-324-0662, www.sitkaandspruce
1531 14th Ave., Seattle, 206-251-7673, www.spinasse.com
1501 Melrose Ave., Seattle, 206-325-1501, www.terraplata.com
601 Queen Anne Ave. North, Seattle, 206-432-9069, www.toulousepetit.com
4743 Ballard Ave., Seattle, 206-395-9227, www.thewalrusbar.comDiane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.