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Quintessential Seattle

Hello, fellow Hounds. And greetings from Phoenix!

I am taking my spouse to Seattle for a birthday surprise in late May and need some help. I am looking for some suggestions on places that are quintessential Seattle that we should consider for meals. There are no price or location or cuisine parameters and we will have transportation if you know some fantastic little bistro outside the city.

To that end, however, I have just a couple of requests:

1. Someplace romantic but fit for a birthday meal.
2. Dim sum.
3. A true Chowhound find that the locals go to but the tourists would probably never consider.
4. Something very unique.

Those are requests, of course, and any ideas are appreciated. We will have dressy clothes if needed and look forward to visiting.

Thank you, Hounds of Seattle.

(And if you ever need recommendations for Phoenix, just pop over to the Southwest board where my home away from home is.)

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  1. How romantic do you want for her birthday meal? If you don't mind a bit more casual, I think that #1 and #4 can both be fit by Matt's in the Market. Make a reservation, get a 2 top at a window and enjoy the wonderful food and view. Some of my best birthday memories while living in Seattle is walking the market for fun and then heading to Matt's for lunch or dinner. Just my two cents.
    For something special for birthday drinks I would say go for drinks/apps at the bar at Canlis. The building alone and the view is worth a trip there. I think I had heard they are remodeling their bar? You may want to call ahead and make sure everything is complete when you go.
    There are quite a few Chowhound finds that are outside of the downtown core, so it's usually mainly locals. Does your wife have a favorite food/cuisine? Personally I would say head up into Queen Anne for How to Cook a Wolf (love the space, and the food is amazing) however they don't take reservations so it may depend on what day of week you go and how important it is to get a table ASAP.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nseattlefoodie

      Oh, it doesn't have to be over the top romantic. But if something stands out, that would be a plus. :)

      As for cuisine, anything except Mexican as that is a staple here so we want to venture off that path for our trip.

    2. 1. Birthday Meal: I would suggest Cafe Juanita or Crush for some of the best food in (or just outside) of the city. I would also suggest the Harvest Vine, Sitka & Spruce (although the small space hurts it in terms of romantic atmosphere), or Elemental @ Gasworks. Place Pigalle is one of the best spots in terms of romantic atmosphere as well, a tiny spot tucked away in the Pike Place Market.

      2. Dim Sum: Jade Garden has good quality and variety, but on weekends probably isn't worth the wait you'll have to go through. House of Hong is pretty good. Also check out Chiang's Gourmet for their weekend Dim Sum which is Northern (or Taiwanese?) style and very different from what you'll find elsewhere.

      3. I'd suggest Elemental again for this one. Make sure to hit Paseo's for one of their cuban pork sandwiches. Hit up Seattle Deli for a sensory overload of Vietnamese take-out. Top Pot doughnuts and Trophy cupcakes will satisfy anyone's sweet tooth. Also, the Pacific Inn Pub might have the best fish & chips in the city.

      4. Elemental, again, is a unique spot. If you're into Japanese check out Maekawa Bar for izakaya style food you wont find anywhere else & Fort St. George for Japanese/Western hybrids (Cod roe & kim chi spaghetti) that sound strange, but are delicious. A "smal plate Monday" or "weekend supper club" meal at Art of the Table is another rare dining experience you'll find in Seattle.


      7 Replies
      1. re: bergeo

        I really like Elemental a lot, but their no-reservations policy can make it a major hassle - I wouldn't recommend it for a low-stress romantic dinner. It's definitely off the tourist track, though.

        1. re: terrier

          1. Shez Chea is very romantic, lovely view and has good food. Boat St Cafe as well. Concur w/ Cafe Juanita and Matt's
          2. Concur w/ Jade Garden, Monsoon- not traditional, but yummy!
          3. Harvest Vine, Sitka and Spruce, How to Cook a Wolf, (all are really great food, but b/c of communal dining or tight space i would say NOT romantic), Spur, Portage
          4. Corson Blg (res required), Elemental (none accepted), Art of the Table

          1. re: bluedog67

            Thank you all very much. These are great selections.

            If there is someplace you highly recommend that doesn't fall into my categories, just say the word. I would love to know more.

            1. re: Seth Chadwick

              Lunchbox Laboratory (Ballard)

              A wide array of gourmet burgers. The building is a bit of a dive, but the burgers are fun and creative. Try the Dorkburger (Duck & Pork)!!

              The chef's experience is in fine dining. He had a heart attack, lost 100 pounds, and opened this unique place. Plus, there's a display of vintage 1970's lunchboxes on the wall. My favorite -- the 6 Million Dollar Man!

              1. re: FireRev

                FWIW, I had the worst burger experience of my life at Lunchbox Lab. I know that some people love this place, but I found that my burger was just totally overwhelmed by massive amounts of cheese and bacon (and that's saying A LOT if there's too much of either of those), the burger was salty, and had a very off-putting beefy flavor. My wife's burger was similarly horrible. we'll never go back.

                By far the best Burger in Seattle is at Quinn's. Their other food is phenomenal too - very meat-centric.
                For lunch, make sure you go to Paseo in Fremont - no sign, plastic chairs, best Cuban sandwiches anywhere north of Miami.
                For fine dining, I've always really enjoyed my meals at Zoe.

                1. re: jakecola

                  I love it when people complain about burgers tasting like beef. Wow has our collective palate gotten sad. Though, I will agree that unless you truly love bacon you ought to get something without. Their menu certainly lets you customize whatever you want, however.

                  1. re: celtic_tiger

                    Celtic_tiger: I love a good, beefy tasting burger. But my burger @ Lunchbox Lab had a very *off-putting* beefy flavor. It wasn't the beefiness that bothered me, in fact, that's usually what I love (used to get a burger made with dry-aged rib eye scraps in Cambridge, MA), but the problem was that this beefiness was downright nasty tasting.

      2. I want to let you know that I am an experience person, not just a foodie. Go to Serafina. An Eastlake gem. Not a tourist spot..a local spot. Very romantic, but fun too! The best part of the place is/are the bartenders. They will make you feel at home and give great food suggestions. I love 'em! Call ahead and tell them that you want it to be uber romantic and they will make it so.

        1. 1. Crush, Union, Lark, Canlis and Rover's.
          2. Jade Garden in Seattle, maybe Noble Court or Top Gun in Bellevue. Also Monsoon is Seattle for dim sum/brunch, very nice. Good early reports on the new place next to 7 Stars in the ID.
          3. Maybe Pacific Inn would fit; difficult to say. I think alot of tourists never leave downtown/pike place/belltown. So maybe Kisaku, Quinn's, Tilth, La Medusa, or Spring Hill.
          4. Tamarind Tree or Monsoon (esp. East). I like to think this sort of well-presented Viet food is locally unique. An oyster bar (e.g. Elliot's or the Brooklyn)?

          1 Reply
          1. re: equinoise

            Seth welcome to the Pacific Northwest board! I read the SW board frequently and occasionally comment there since I was raised in Arizona and then transplanted to the beautiful PNW.

            I second equinoise' suggestion of The Brooklyn for oyster samplers and microbrew or wine flights. If you plan to try it, hit the bar no later than 3:45 p.m. It's impossible to find a seat later. If you decide to stay for dinner and move into the restaurant, try the chef;s counter. Fun to watch and the same delicious food as served at the tables and in the booths.

            Not intended for a Birthday dinner, but a place to consider for a comfort food lunch or dinner is Steelhead Diner a couple of steps up from Pike Place Market . They're open 7 days a week now for lunch and dinner.

            I agree Cafe Juanita in Kirkland would be a terrific choice for a Birthday special dinner.

            Thanks for your reviews on the SW board. I've forwarded them to a friend and her husband who recently relocated to Phoenix and they are enjoying your suggestions tremendously.

          2. 1. Crush (23rd & Madison)
            2. Asiana' (downtown business district, might have the name wrong but it's close...)
            3. Le Pichet, Monsoon, Kingfish, Dinette, La Medusa
            4. Cafe Presse' (lunch)

            1 Reply
            1. re: vega4933

              2. I think it's O'Asian? Stupid name but decent dim sum.

            2. 1. I agree with Matt's in the Market. The view of Pike Place Market makes it quintessential Seattle and the food is fantastic.

              3. I love Elemental but it's true that unless you get there at 4:30, you'll have a wait. You can also try showing up around 9pm when the first round of diners is starting to leave. Another idea not mentioned is Spinasse. It's also small place, so you might have to wait. Spinasse serves amazing fresh pasta; it's not in the downtown core so it's not a tourist place (foodies will find it but not run-of-the-mill tourists). Lark or Harvest Vine might fit the bill as well.
              4. Also Elemental, since the experience is very unique. If you're a control freak, you won't like it, however. :)

              3 Replies
              1. re: caraely

                I'm not a fan of communal tables such as you find at Spinasse. Okay sometimes, but not okay always!

                1. re: firecracker

                  Oh, good point firecracker. When I've eaten there it's been at the bar (view into the busy kitchen), so I've never had to do the communal table thing at Spinasse. I'd suggest asking for bar seating if you do go, it's a great view and the bartender(s) are helpful but mellow.

                  1. re: caraely

                    Well, I've not tried the bar seating and didn't even think of it. Thanks for the suggestion caraely. I'll try that next time. I've hit Spinasse after working late and dining alone. The communal tables are fine but sometimes awkward for lone diners. The times I've been there with another tho have been a hoot.

              2. Thank you all for these wonderful suggestions. There is some great selections here and I am going to have to trim the list down. If anything else comes to mind, I have until May. :o)

                1. Canlis would be my choice. My husband and I had this restaurant recommended for a romantic evening about 20 years ago. We have returned every year since and have never been disappointed.

                  Canlis Restaurant
                  2576 Aurora Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109

                  1. For a romantic birthday meal: Canlis, Café Juanita, Nells, or Union.

                    For Cantonese dim sum, Jade Garden is the best in Seattle. Across Lake Washington in the Factoria area of nearby Bellevue, Top Gun is also good. Both are busy on weekends with lines and waiting time. To avoid, or at least minimize, the wait, go on a weekday. For something different that may not be available in Phoenix, you can try the Shanghainese-Taiwanese style dim sum at Chiang’s Gourmet on Lake City Way, where you order off a special menu, not from carts.

                    For something unique and off the tourist-track, try the delicious Korean-French inflected dishes at Joule in the Wallingford neighborhood. Another non-touristy venue is Spinasse, where Jason Stratton has ably taken over the reins after Justin Niedermeyer’s departure, and is continuing to serve ethereally delicate egg pastas along with a variety of delicious antipasti and secondi like roasted chicken with Negroni flavors. At Poppy on Capitol Hill, uber-chef Jerry Traunfeld prepares small portions of creative combinations of flavors and ingredients on a single plate, in the manner of the Indian thali..

                    If you like raw oysters, a unique Pacific Northwest experience is to sit at the oyster bar at Elliott’s and sample the enormous variety of Pacific Northwest oysters available there. As I have opined previously (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7007...), don’t screw around with the oyster happy hour at Elliott’s. It’s just not worth the hassle and the limited selection, especially for a one-time visit.

                    Finally, although it’s not on your list, I’d stop by Café Besalu in Ballard for what is perhaps the best croissant in the United States, accompanied by an espresso or latte made with a good locally roasted coffee (White House).