What to Get Instead of Roses This Valentine's Day
What you’re getting: Oysters, steak tartare
The bar is cool marble, the shellfish are on ice, and the best dishes haven’t seen heat: it’s hard to take a wrong turn at this tiny oyster bar thanks to a menu that quickly leads you to the wide assortment of the season’s tastiest oysters, and then onto a section of fish and shellfish that might feature lesser-known seafoods/preparations, but into which you should dive like it’s the cool ocean on a hot summer day.
What you’re getting: Xiao long bao; noodles with minced pork sauce
By opening some of its first stateside locations in the Seattle area, this world-renowned Chinese chain signified that Seattle was about to be a whole different market for Chinese food. While we’re still aiming envious glances northward to Vancouver, Din Tai Fung and the places that have opened in its wake have let Seattle focus a bit more on the dumplings in front of us, rather than those we pine for from far away.
What you’re getting: Spam Sliders
One of Seattle’s first and best-loved food trucks opened this stationary location in an accessible, iconic location and it serves affordable, quirky grub. It’s like some sort of strange, hazy dream. But grab the water taxi from Downtown, order up as many Spam Sliders as you can imagine eating, and admire the panoramic view of the city while gorging yourself on canned luncheon meat transformed into a tasty sandwich.
What you’re getting: The five-course, constantly changing tasting menu
The Italian-inspired tasting menu -- which is presented as a list of ingredients ranging from luxury (Royal Belgium oscietra caviar) to obscure (finger lime) -- is a parade of plates, carried to your table by some of the few servers in town who seem truly focused on perfecting the customer experience. The chef and sommelier cook and curate a meal that is worthy of every celebration: birthday, anniversary, or maybe just the fact that Seattle has a truly world-class restaurant.
What you’re getting: Toshi’s Original Chicken
This is the chicken that started it all, and launched what The New York Times called the city’s specialty. After starting his original teriyaki spot in 1976, Toshi Kasahara’s chicken recipe gained a kind of iconic status throughout the city. In 2013, he opened this flagship shop, where he is still the man behind the chicken.
What you’re getting: The Fancy menu
Ethan Stowell has a growing empire of nearly a dozen restaurant around the city, but here you’ll find Stowell doing the kind of food that made him famous: simple, local ingredients prepared with Italian techniques, at incredible-value prices. The supposedly four-course “Fancy” menu stretches out an evening: the first course is really a parade of appetizers, and it segues into a feast of pastas, main courses, and desserts at the whim of whatever ingredients and ideas the chef has that day. Look forward to house favorites such as fried oysters, padrón peppers, bucatini with clams, steak, whole-roasted fish, and cheesecake.
What you’re getting: Smoked Manila Clam Dip; Whole Roasted Mediterranean Branzino
The name, the location, the boat-shaped bar: everything here screams “nautical,” so the take the hint and order seafood. Designed as nearly an extension of Lake Union, the space invites diners for a slow, beachy stroll through the menu, with low-alcohol cocktails and small plates that extend dinner beyond the usual starter, entrée, and dessert. Start with oysters at the adjoining Little Gull, finish with cocktails around the outdoor fire pit.
What you’re getting: Bành xéo
The yellow, omelet lookalike arriving at nearly every table is bành xéo, described on the menu as a Vietnamese crêpe. The yellow comes from turmeric, the name from the words for “sizzling cake,” and the flavor from the shrimp and pork tucked inside. The fame comes from the expert version served here: crispy on the outside, stuffed to near-bursting, and served alongside a platter mounded with the freshest herbs. It is where Seattle fell in love with the dish, and where Vietnamese food started its push into the everyday diet of Seattle.
What you’re getting: The Canlis Salad; Peter Canlis Prawns
It could have made this list for longevity (it opened in 1950), for the view (overlooking Lake Union and Gasworks Park), or for dragging young chefs out of New York’s top restaurants to create groundbreaking tasting menus. But the best reason is a few snacks at the bar -- including the founder’s classic shrimp dish -- and an evening of listening to the live pianist jam out everything from classical music to Lady Gaga.
What you’re getting: Whiskey (in the form of your choice); the Shrouded Roulette
Welcome to a drinker’s paradise, where 155 pages of beverages -- mostly in the form of whiskey -- await your choice. If you can’t make a decision, that’s where the Shrouded Roulette comes in -- the bartender will make the choice for you. And with the world-class staff mixing your drinks, you’re all but guaranteed to love it.
What you’re getting: Meatball sandwich; cured meats plate
Everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Mario Batali (okay, it’s his family’s restaurant) has raved about this tiny meat shop. The cured meats plate will get you the best assortment of sausage this side of the Atlantic, and the hot sandwiches are the gluttonous, messy products of the American dream filtered through Italian cooking.
What you’re getting: Assorted raw oysters; half a Dungeness crab; fried oysters
Since Taylor Shellfish was already growing the oysters, clams, mussels, and crab for most of the city’s chefs, it only made sense for it to open up a shop where diners could find it at its freshest. With an almost overeducated staff (you could even ask your dishwasher about geoduck -- everyone here knows their stuff), and the simplest preparations, this oyster bar is all about all seafood in its purest form.
What you’re getting: The Brooklyn
Ordering a pizza at Delancey means never again having to listen to your New Yorker friend complain about a lack of decent pizza in this town. Ordering it with a little extra kale or local, house-pickled peppers, or any other of the slightly twee seasonal specials on it means twisting the knife a little bit deeper -- and improving upon a genre of food the East thought it had locked down.
What you’re getting: Nigiri
When the restaurant is older than your grandparents and the slices of fish on your nigiri are bigger than the sole of your shoe, you’ve chosen wisely. It’s hard to go wrong at this ancient classic (where even the prices don’t seem like they’ve changed in decades)... unless you forgot to make a reservation, because then you’re probably not getting in.
What you’re getting: Phở
Nobody else was serving phở back when these guys started. Now, it’s hard to find a street corner in the city without a phở shop on it. But sometimes the original is the best, though to quote its own sign, this stuff may, or may not, be: "The best phở in town... Maybe, don't know, really, who cares, just eat it."
What you’re getting: Dungeness crab cakes; made to order donuts
While today Dahlia seems a bit dated, a bit stodgier than even star Chef Tom Douglas’s other restaurants; in its day, it was a trendsetter. Subtle nods to Asian flavors, using local Northwest seafood, and making everything from scratch: all groundbreaking ideas. Not to mention the focus on quality and fresh ingredients. We can all thank Dahlia Lounge for making these priorities in our city’s restaurants.
What you’re getting: All three of that day’s pastas, if possible
Each day, Mike Easton’s team creates three unique dishes combining whatever produce is season, whatever meat they can bring in, and the pasta shape and sauce appropriate to make it taste best. Sort of like how your Italian grandmother might cook, if you had one, and she had access to the city’s top produce vendors, and she only made lunch. It means you’ll rarely see the same thing twice, but you’ll keep coming back because each one is better than the last.
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