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SAVORING SEATTLE DINING - July 1999

My wife and I recently returned from a week's stay in Seattle, Washington. If you're heading to the West Coast in the near future, you might consider some of the dining recommendations listed below:

ADRIATICA, Restaurant Closed, 1107 Dexter Avenue North, (206) 285-5000, Cuisine: Mediterranean Once upon a time, Adriatica's cozy third floor lounge, and even cozier melange of second floor dining rooms, provided patrons with a breathtaking view of Lake Union. But in more recent years, unfortunately, this lovely vista has degenerated into a somewhat less than palatable panorama of a newly constructed office building. The cuisine, however, remains as breathtaking as ever. Its roots are clearly Mediterranean, but it speaks with an utterly exquisite international accent. Starters are uniformly excellent: smoked wild salmon and risotto fritters served with a tangy gazpacho dipping sauce; grilled portobello mushrooms on a bed of wilted spinach dressed in a lovely balsamic reduction and crowned with frizzled onions; and the enticing calamari fritti accompanied by a gutsy skordalia sauce (pureed baked potatoes, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar and parsley). You might also wish to begin your meal with a classic Greek salad or, my personal fave, the orzo and bread salad. Bits of arugula, tomato, feta cheese and kalamata olives liven things up considerably, and a lemon/thyme vinaigrette with a touch of chili oil will surely put a tingle in your taste buds. Among the entrees, there are several nice (and relatively inexpensive) pasta dishes available: razor clams sautéed with shiitake mushrooms, leek and tomatoes tossed with linguini, or the spinach fettuccine combined with portobello, crimini & porcini mushrooms. Both are top drawer. Also worthy of your attention is an exemplary white bean cassoulet, replete with duck, lamb and chorizo. Both carnivores and those of a piscatorial persuasion receive equal consideration. In the former category, the establishment's signature dish, grilled pork tenderloin, is an absolute must. It arrives at table dressed in a spiffy dried cranberry port wine sauce accompanied by perfectly roasted Yukon gold potatoes. Finny creatures are ably represented by wild king salmon, grilled sushi grade ahi tuna, and a pristine seared Alaskan halibut with a tomato tart and picholine olive salad. Be sure to make a selection from the extensive wine list and to leave room for one of the scrumptious desserts. Moderate/Expensive.

CAFE FLORA, 2901 Madison Street East, (206) 325-9100, Cuisine: Vegetarian -- If Cafe Flora can't convince carnivores to give up their evil ways, nothing can. This bright, spacious, very '90s eatery offers diners an incredibly luscious and flavorful array of vegetarian comestibles (many of which are prepared without the use of dairy products). Appetizers include: black-eyed pea salad with arugula, roasted corn, tomato & chickweed tossed with a red pepper vinaigrette; grilled Washington asparagus embellished with a curried yogurt/lime sauce; and a lentil-pecan pate accompanied by gherkins, apple slices, marinated olives and a sweet red onion confit. Entrees are no less intriguing. The establishment's signature dish is the "Portobello Wellington." Grilled portobello mushrooms, sauteed leeks and a mushroom/pecan pate are wrapped in puff pastry and garnished with Madeira wine sauce. Another winner here is the angel hair pasta. It is dressed up with roasted oyster mushrooms, organic sugar snap peas, braised organic baby fennel, and tossed with an outstanding roasted carrot/shallot sauce. If you'd prefer a bit more heat, try the roasted vegetable vindaloo, a spicy Indian curry served over basmati rice and cooled down with an exotic coconut yogurt raita & sweet beetroot chutney. When the dessert tray makes its appearance, don't hesitate to indulge your sweet tooth. Prices are moderate, and there is also a compact list of local wines to complement your meal. A real find.

COASTAL KITCHEN, 1429 15th Avenue East, (206) 322- 1145, Cuisine: Eclectic -- Coastal Kitchen is somewhat difficult to describe. It's part West Coast kitsch, part Jersey diner--and just about everything in between. The food, like the extremely casual clientele, is as eclectic as all get out and, for an establishment that serves breakfast, lunch & dinner every day of the week, acquits itself quite well. Here you discover such diverse offerings as center-cut pork chops with mashed potatoes & gravy, a spicy Louisiana stew prepared with andouille sausage & tasso ham, and simply grilled fish served with veggies and a flavorful rice pilaf. There's even an "All Day Long Breakfast," sporting three eggs, toast, hash browns, and a choice of maple-smoked bacon, ham, or apple link sausage. In addition to the set menu, the kitchen also features quarterly-changing culinary excursions to the far-flung regions of the globe. Most recently, we were treated to a cook's tour of the Aegean. A shareable starter, the "Peloponnese Platter," included a delicious sampling of falafel, lamb, hummus, Greek olives, pita and a zippy yogurt dipping sauce. The star of the show, however, was the grilled salmon wrapped in grape leaves and presented on a bed of cornbread salad spiked with feta cheese. Desserts are just so-so, but there's a nice selection of companionable wines. Prices here are moderate and, in some cases, downright inexpensive. If you're in the mood for plenteous portions of good, solid fare, you surely will not be disappointed.

THE HUNT CLUB, Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison Street, (206) 343-6156, Cuisine: Northwest -- An old-world atmosphere pervades the posh, diminutive Sorrento Hotel. And that same charming intimacy is equally apparent within the romantic, mahogany-paneled precincts of The Hunt Club. While the kitchen has suffered from a somewhat chronic case of musical chefs over the years, the cuisine has remained consistently excellent on all counts. And the current exec, Brian Scheehser, continues the same high standards that have propelled this eatery into the forefront of Seattle's hotel dining scene. Chef Scheehser begins with the freshest ingredients the great Pacific Northwest has to offer and invigorates them with a subtle variety of French and Italian accents. The results are truly extraordinary. But where to begin? Perhaps with the handmade spinach ravioli caressed by a light sage butter sauce, or the salmon bruschetta with lemon citronette & capers. Then there's always the Dungeness crab cake or the seasonal heirloom tomato salad garnished with creamy goat cheese, fresh basil, and a touch of premium olive oil. When it comes to entrees, the impeccably fresh finny fare clearly takes center stage. The Northwest farmed king salmon is grilled and then presented with fresh artichokes, leeks, and a summer salad of English peas & tomatoes. Fabulous. But even better is the Alaskan halibut filet. It is perfectly seared, then set atop a bed of julienne veggies and finished with American caviar and an incomparable Champagne beurre blanc. Equally recommended is the oven-roasted Idaho rainbow trout embellished with gnocchi, pancetta, and tastefully adorned in lemon butter & fresh sage. The carnivorously inclined are not neglected, and vegetarians may indulge themselves with a vegetable plate of grilled asparagus, baby carrots, fresh green beans, sauteed greens and decadently rich garlic mashed potatoes. Desserts are all made in-house and are up to the mark, as is the professional yet personable service. Ditto the excellent wine list. Expensive, but worth the price. A definite winner here.

THE PAINTED TABLE,,Restaurant Closed Alexis Hotel, 1007 First Avenue (at Madison Street), (206) 624-3646, Cuisine: Northwest/Fusion -- Chef Tim Kelley honed his considerable culinary skills at Vong and Bouley in New York before heading west. In Seattle, he presides over the kitchen of one of the city's premiere dining establishments. The two-tiered Painted Table, boasting colorful booths and banquettes, is as contemporary and up-to-date as Mr. Kelley's innovative twists on Northwest cuisine. The perfect way to begin your meal is with the chef's signature appetizer, a tower of goat cheese, grilled eggplant and onion-thyme confit with just a splash of basil oil & balsamic vinegar. As eye-catching as it is delicious. Another highly recommended starter is the spicy rock shrimp cake luxuriating in an utterly sublime coconut nage accompanied by a tasty sprout salad. The more carnivorously inclined may wish to indulge in the foie gras terrine embellished with rhubarb marmalade, sun-dried strawberries & micro greens. Decadent. Positively decadent. As is the Argentinian beef tartare served with an intoxicating mushroom extraction. Entrees here are especially noteworthy. If you enjoy pasta, be sure to try the linguini tossed with asparagus, cherry tomatoes, Parma Prosciutto, and topped with shavings of Parmesan cheese. Seafood is always a good choice, and the "Day Boat Scallops" are definitely worth a look-see. They are pan-seared and presented with a succotash of summer veggies, oyster mushrooms & fava beans. A tarragon/corn broth proves to be the perfect complement. The Alaskan halibut is also pan-seared to perfection, set atop slivers of grilled Portobello & (slightly underdone) Yukon gold potatoes and finished with a mushroom jus. The king salmon, a Seattle favorite, is tea-smoked, sprinkled with a mango dust, and adorned with garden sorrel & French lentils. There are some very nice wine possibilities here, listed according to category (dry, sweet, light-bodied, full-bodied, etc.) rather than region. Oregon's Eyrie Vineyards' 1997 Pinot Gris is an excellent fruity white; DiStefano's 1996 Washington State Cabernet is an auspicious (if somewhat expensive) choice for red. Pastry Chef Patric Gabre-Kidan also acquits himself with suitable aplomb. His creme brulee is classic, his warm chocolate ganache topped with vanilla bean meringue is simply extraordinary. There is also a selction of local cheeses with suitable wine or port pairings. The Painted Table is both stylish and sophisticated, and is most assuredly worthy of a visit. If you arrive early for your reservation, be sure to sample a single-malt Scotch at the hotel's "Bookstore Cafe."

RAY'S BOATHOUSE & BAR, 6049 Seaview Avenue Northwest, (206) 789-3770, Cuisine: Seafood -- Ray's is a rare culinary bird, indeed. Despite the fact that this romantic waterfront restaurant provides a spectacular view of Shilshole Bay and the Olympic Mountains beyond, both the food and service--contrary to that old axiom--are above reproach. And, although this establishment appears to have "Tourist Trap" written all over it, you find as many locals chowing down here as you do those who hail from out of town. Chef Charles Ramseyer's famous seafood creations are what keep patrons happy, so don't be afraid to jump in and swim with the tide. Begin with a half or whole Dungeness crab from the house's live tank. It is served steamed or chilled with homemade cocktail sauce. The steamed Skookum Inlet Manila clams with butter and dill are also a good bet, as are the Penn Grove mussels in red curry & coconut broth, or the Shilshole sampler: chilled smoked salmon, tiger prawns & smoked scallops accompanied by warm Dungeness crab cakes. When it comes to entree selections, you will also not be disappointed. And the array of Pacific Northwest finny fare is particularly impressive. You may, for instance, order the Yakutat Bay sockeye salmon smoked and basted with melted butter or pan-seared with cucumber/jicama relish & curry oil. The grilled Alaskan king salmon comes swimming in a delightful lemon/thyme beurre blanc, and the Alaskan halibut, also grilled, is spiffed up with a tomato/horseradish salsa & chive oil. Also highly recommended is the Chatham Straits black cod with ocean salad and pickled ginger. If you really can't make up your mind, why not just opt for "Ray's Northwest Family Platter" (king salmon, black tiger prawns & black cod) available for parties of two or more. In addition to the set menu, don't be shy about checking out the daily specials; you're sure to find something to tempt your taste buds. For those who prefer a more casual (and less expensive) dining experience, the upstairs cafe is the perfect venue. Here you find the same spectacular view, a cozy bar, tasty sandwiches, and this eatery's justly famous batter-dipped French fries. Ray's Boathouse has something for everyone. Definitely worth a visit.

RISTORANTE MACHIAVELLI, 1215 Pine Street, (206) 621-7941, Cuisine: Traditional Italian -- It doesn't look like much--a small, nondescript dining room with red vinyl tablecloths and white paper napkins--but Machiavelli's Italian food is the real thing, and it is served up at pleasingly moderate prices. Enjoy a glass of Chianti and start things off with an atypical antipasto that includes a positively addictive eggplant salad and a yummy combination of lima beans, peas, and artichoke hearts. The tuna carpaccio with balsamic Dijon dressing is also quite fine, as is the tapenade with fresh mozzarella. At first glance, the entree descriptions may look ordinary, but they certainly are not. The use of chicken livers in both the lasagna and the Bolognese sauce clearly denotes a chef who knows his stuff. The marinara has a nice kick to it, the veal saltimbocca is benchmark, and even something as mundane as eggplant parmigiana is several steps above the ordinary. There are a number of worthy desserts from which to choose, and the coffee is good and strong. Come casual... and come early, as reservations are not accepted and, as you might expect, the restaurant is immensely popular.

ROVER'S, ,2808 Madison Street East, (206) 325-7442, Cuisine: Northwest with a French accent -- Born and apprenticed in France, Chef Thierry Rautureau brings a decidedly Gallic influence to the not quite traditional cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. In both stature and personality, Mr. Rautureau resembles his good friend Georges Perrier of Philadelphia's famed Le Bec-Fin: he is short, handsome, dynamic, and absolutely inspired in the kitchen. But whereas Mr. Perrier's presentations are understated, allowing the bold flavors and textures to speak for themselves, Mr. Rautureau's offerings tend to be a bit on the fussy side. His superfluous colorful culinary embellishments, for example, appear specifically designed to match the bright hues contained in the bold works of modern art that adorn the restaurant's otherwise bare walls. Or were the paintings chosen to match the food?? Additionally, while I would certainly never be accused of joining the "Clean Plate Club," Rover's diminutive portions transformed me into an enthusiastic member... Yet I was still awakened in the dead of night by the unmistakable sounds of hunger pangs snapping at my vitals. "A la carte" is not spoken here. Diners may choose the six-course "Menu Degustation" at $69.95 per person, the six-course "Vegetarian Menu Degustation" at $59.50, or the nine-course "Grand Menu Degustation" at $97.50. An assortment of French and local cheeses is available at $15.00 extra. My wife and I opted for the first two, respectively. The regular degustation menu commenced with a breathtaking smoked salmon on a bed of cucumber salad adorned with Columbia River sturgeon caviar. The sea scallops with foie gras were also quite excellent. Ditto the Alaskan halibut presented with sauteed shiitakes, portobello mushrooms, and a delicious lobster sauce. The sorbet was a spice infused pinot noir affair that did more to inflame the palate than to cleanse it. The duck breast was presented rare, thinly sliced, and kissed by a delicate rosemary sauce. Unfortunately, the flesh was both tough and stringy. The "Symphony of Desserts" turned out to be a tiny pineapple tart, almond cake and double chocolate torte swimming in a yummy strawberry soup. The vegetarian menu was quite inventive; although, toward the conclusion of things, all those rich flavors did conspire to sabotage the taste buds. The chilled tomato soup with goat cheese and Morrocan olive tapenade was exquisite. Ditto the Olympic oyster mushrooms in a balsamic vinaigrette and the roasted bell pepper & Walla Walla onion tartlette with fennel relish. Following the sorbet, the carrot flan with Perigord truffle, wax beans & chanterelle ragout was simply too much for our overworked palates to absorb. Dessert was the same as the one noted above. And be advised. While the wine list is extraordinary in both its depth and breadth, the prices are lethal. So... the bottom line, including two 1/2 bottles of vino, 2 espressos, tax and gratuity... $240.00. Is Rover's worth the price...? Yes, but only for that special, SPECIAL occasion.

ODDS & ENDS

If you're looking for lunch, or a dinner that's a wee bit different, be sure to try JACK'S BISTRO (405 15th Avenue East, 206-324-9625). The food and clientele are decidedly casual, and there's even an interior courtyard when the weather cooperates. THE KINGFISH CAFE is a quaint storefront that serves up tasty Southern fare (602 19th Avenue East, 206-320-8757). Just across the street you'll find MONSOON (615 19th Avenue East, 206-325-2111), majoring in first-rate Vietnamese cuisine. For an afternoon libation, be sure to check out HOPSCOTCH (322 15th Avenue East, 206-322-4191) or THE BOOKSTORE (in the Alexis Hotel (1007 First Avenue at Madison Street, 206-624-4844). Both offer an opportunity to indulge in somewhat lighter fare and to sample your favorite single-malt Scotch.

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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