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Help Me Refine my Seattle picks, please?

I have been lucky enough to get to Seattle several times over the past year and loved it every time - my wife is joining me on the next trip and hasn't ever been there. We are staying downtown at the Monaco Wed-Sun. without a rental car, but happy to walk long distances and use public transport. We are from Boston but consider fresh Pacific seafood a top pick - we are likely to skip on upscale Italian or French. Our budget is hugely variable - it's all about value vs. prices.

We love carefully-crafted cocktails, amazing, original food , and casual/smart atmosphere with genuine, even geeky/passionate, service/owners. We often dine at the bar in upscale spots rather than a formal dining experience.

Here's my must-do list so far:

Matt's in the Market (probably lunch - catfish sandwich for me)
Salumi (another lunch and some to go provisions to aromatize the hotel room)
Zig Zag Lounge - Murray is one of, if not, the best bartenders - ever.
Starbucks #1 (both of us are coffee fiends - how can we not?)

Here's are the other options we are considering as well:
Elliott's Oysters
How to Cook a Wolf
Wild Ginger

These are on the margin, about to be deleted from the list:
Dahlia Lounge
Chez Shea

What should I reconsider from these notes (any that have closed? changed hands for the worse, etc.)?

Where is the best cup of local-roasted coffee available?

Where is the best affordable sushi?

Thanks very much for your insights and recommendations - I will report back and am happy to help with anything I can about Boston.


Zig Zag Cafe
1501 Western Ave Ste 202, Seattle, WA 98101

Chez Shea
94 Pike St. Suite 34, Seattle, WA 98101

309 3rd Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104

Dahlia Lounge
2030 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

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  1. Delete Wild Ginger from your list. Although many people still like it, I think it has gone down hill in the past several years, on both quality of ingredients and preparation. You might try Cafe Vita, which has excellent coffee. I like Elliott's, but ONLY for the oysters on the half shell.

    1. From the considering list... go with How to Cook a Wolf and happy hour at Elliot's skip Wild Ginger 9tourist destination that most try to stay away from IMO) and Crow (not worth a trip to)

      Your two deletions are fine but I would delete a few places off your list before Dahlia. It is celebrating it's birthday this month and has specials and add ons every day. Plus this month is 3 for $30 at Dahlia. Dahlia has solid NW food and nice atmosphere.

      For coffee- Cafe Vita (just voted top 10 cups by GQ magazine)- My favorite Cafe Vita is in Capitol Hill, about a block east of Broadway, on Pike.

      1 Reply
      1. re: natalie.warner

        Based on your description, i would consider Spur for creative cocktails and interesting, innovative food. It is small plates, so if you are starving, can end up expensive (same w/ how to...wolf), but i am always pleased w/ drinks, food and service. Also Tavern Law (same owner as spur) has outstanding cocktails. Have not tried the food yet, so can't say if it is as good as spur.

        Agree w/ Natalie on Dahlia, it is an oldie, but certainly a goodie.

        My personal favorite sfor coffee are Uptown Espresso and Cafe Fiore http://www.caffefiore.com/ http://www.uptownespresso.net/ . Note: personal favorites, you will get much debate on this one.

      2. Your "about to delete" list struck me. As local sportscaster Wayne Cody used to say, "I don't like it; reverse it.

        Matt's isn't what it was before Matt left, and, though I'd still expect a good meal there. Though its personality has sagged a bit in the expanded space, the catfish sandwich is still a nice lunch. Evenings, Matt's has always been exceptional for its wine offering$, and if that's not a high priority, you might consider it for another occasion.
        Though it leans to the French, Chez Shea, on the same floor of the same building (about 20 feet away) is refined, way romantic and quite good.
        A few blocks away, Dahlia Lounge is expressively Northwest, good with fish, and memorable. Sol, I'd put both Chez Shea and Dahlia ahead of the others
        A ceremonial visit to Starbucks #1 makes a useful entry in a coffee fiend's portfolio, but the hordes of coffee aficionados they have spawned have brought forth shops at ever-higher levels. Caffe Vita is my current favorite, though I stop at Cherry Street Coffee on Third avenue when I'm close.
        Lark/Licorous is a tasty evening, as is How to Cook a Wolf, though it is quite smaller, and with even smaller plates.
        Vessel is fine, but see also Spur (oh, yes).
        Wild Ginger has generated competition. For Asian food, particularly Vietnamese, consider a visit to the International District, East of the Bus Tunnel station, and Little Saigon, around 12th and Jackson. Tamarind Tree is a stylish venue for good Vietnamese, and Green Leaf is also good, though a mite homier. I've not yet visited Long Provincial, Tamarind tree's younger, uptown, sibling, but it's worth a look.

        Tamarind Tree
        1036 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98104

        Chez Shea
        94 Pike St. Suite 34, Seattle, WA 98101

        Caffe Vita
        5028 Wilson Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118

        Dahlia Lounge
        2030 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

        1 Reply
        1. re: mrnelso

          Yes Yes and Yes- we all seem to be thinking the same... + agree on catfish sandwich and fun lunch at Matt's...

        2. Thanks for the help so far - this is great - here are the refinements to date - looking forward to more help and opinions - still two weeks to go...

          1. Elliott's will be a happy hour raw bar stop only

          2. Caffe Vita will be a coffee destination (what others? - is there anything along the lines of Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver/Calgary available? Didn't love Zeitgeist on either of two tries.)

          3. Spur is a high priority (likely to knock out Vessel), and Wild Ginger and Crow are off the list

          4. Dahlia Lounge and Chez Shea are back in serious contention, along with Lark and How to Cook a Wolf - which 2 should we pick if we can't enjoy all four?

          5. No mention of sushi standouts implies nothing memorable to try?

          Again, many thanks - your insights and experiences are greatly-appreciated - keep them coming!

          13 Replies
          1. re: rlh

            I would not knock out Vessel for Spur. If you are able to only go to one cocktail bar however, it really ought to be Zig Zag.

            Zig Zag Cafe
            1501 Western Ave Ste 202, Seattle, WA 98101

            1. re: Lauren

              Whoa - who said anything about one cocktail bar? Absolutely, by all means, we WILL be at Zig Zag at least once, probably more - Murray has rocked my cocktail world every time I've been to Seattle since I discovered it! Does anyone know when he is NOT there (days off)?

              Seriously- thanks for your recommendation for Vessel - we will definitely keep it in mind - one of our favorite barkeeps in Boston recommends it as well - I think it's having someone recently refer to it in the same sentence as the words "molecular mixology" that kind of scared me away....

              Zig Zag Cafe
              1501 Western Ave Ste 202, Seattle, WA 98101

              1. re: rlh

                rlh, as a fellow Bostonian/former Seattleite, I would ditto Spur (do a violette tasting while you're there) and add Crush (reserve seats at the bar, get anything with lobster (better than any in Boston imo) and short rib)

                1. re: rlh

                  Whew! I'm glad to know that you are not going to just one cocktail bar. That was just crazy talk!

              2. re: rlh

                1. Elliott’s oyster happy hour is a good choice. Be aware, however, that your choice of oysters is limited to one or two types of oysters chosen by Elliott’s. I suggest that you sit at the oyster bar and talk to Anthony (or Jeff, if Anthony isn’t there), and have him recommend the best oysters to suit your preferences (salty & briny vs. mild & sweet). Then, spring for a small sampling, say a half-dozen, of the top four or five recommendations along with the happy-hour oysters. If you think the happy-hour oysters are just fine, then you are on your way. If you like the non-happy-hour oysters better, you can judge whether the difference is worth paying full price versus the heavily discounted happy-hour price. On a recent visit to Elliott’s, for example, they had some wonderful Dabob Bay oysters as a happy hour special.

                2. Caffe Vita is fine. Other contenders for Seattle’s best espresso are Vivace, Zoka, and Stumptown But why not double-dip and go to Café Besalu, which prepares a very nice cup of coffee (using White House Coffee beans), but also has indescribably wonderful croissants, some of the best I’ve had outside of Paris.

                3. Seattle is blessed with a formidable group of very knowledgeable and talented bartenders. But I agree with Lauren that, if you have only one place to go for a cocktail, it should be the Zig Zag. Most of the other great bartenders in town will tell you the same thing. Other places where you can get great cocktails prepared by great bartenders include Vessel (Keith Waldbauer), Taste (Duncan Chase), Sambar (Jay Kuehner), Rob Roy (Anu Apte and Zane Harris), and Spur and Tavern Law (David Nelson).

                4. Dahlia Lounge is classic Tom Douglas and has a Pacific Northwest flair. I personally think that, focusing purely on the food, there are better places in Seattle, but it’s a perfectly fine place to eat, especially if you stick to the signature dishes. The choice between How to Cook a Wolf and Lark is a tough one. How to Cook a Wolf has a Mediterranean slant to the food, focusing primarily on small plates of appetizers, salads, and pastas Chef Ryan Weed and Sous-Chef Jason Stoneburner produce some very tasty food there. The menu at Lark is a little more wide-ranging. It has a nice selection of cheeses, soups, salads, charcuterie, fish, meat, and desserts. Chef John Sundstrom is very skilled and imaginative, and he rarely disappoints. I would choose one of these three places over Chez Shea.

                5. Seattle has some good sushi restaurants. The best itamae is Shiro, who is semi-retired and works three days a week at his namesake restaurant. But as recent posters on Chowhound have pointed out, Shiro-san tends to favor his regular customers and high-rollers of the Seattle elite, and there is a significant risk that you will come away from Shiro, after dropping a bundle, feeling neglected and treated like a second-class citizen. Some Chowhounds like Nishino, but I’m not one of them. I recently had a disastrous experience there, with inferior quality fish and miso-marinated black cod that was served with a thick, black, unpalatable char, and was horribly overcooked and dry. That leaves Kisaku and Chiso/Kappo. Kappo offers a carefully prepared omakase with some cooked items in addition to sushi and sashimi. Kisaku’s sushi and sashimi are top quality and include some unusual, seasonal items that are not generally available at other Seattle sushi restaurants. It also has a kitchen that produces very lovely cooked items. Kisaku is my regular hang, where you will often find my wife and me seated at the sushi bar served by the itamae, Nikano-san.

                1. re: Tom Armitage

                  This is awesome - extremely helpful and valuable - thanks very much - so much good stuff in this posting! Much to think about and search on...

                  1. re: Tom Armitage

                    I wouldn't rule out Mashiko for sushi, if going to West Seattle is an option. Just be sure to get the omakase for the seasonal dishes. It's superb.

                    1. re: CMSeattle

                      An interesting note about Mashiko is that it is Seattle’s first “sustainable” sushi restaurant. At such, it has stopped serving such sushi staples as farm-raised Atlantic salmon, black tiger shrimp from Southeast Asia, farm-raised unagi (freshwater eel), farm-raised hamachi, ankimo (monkfish liver), and toro (bluefin tuna belly). If you are serious about walking-the-walk on sustainability, Mashiko is where you should go for sushi.

                      1. re: Tom Armitage

                        tom, can you help with a couple kid friendly questions?

                        1. re: kevin25

                          I'll try, even though my "kids" are all grown (ages 31 to 45).. What are the questions?

                          1. re: Tom Armitage

                            thanks, my wife and I will be in seattle for weekend in feb. 2 boys 9 and 10. staying at westin. Elliots for my wife and I for oysters then was thinking Matts or Pike Fish Fry after that for kids. comments? They like pasta steaks simple fish and pizza. what about The Brooklyn Steak house? Quinns looked good as well. thanks

                  2. re: rlh

                    Vivace Caffe Niko is a flavor hit
                    Dahlia and Chez Shea are the full sit-down deal. Of these, Dahlia is first, but the other choices are better for a ranging experience. Lark is a bit more relaxed and you won't feel out-of-whack ordering just a small plate or two, maybe with a drink.
                    How to Cook a Wolf has even more a small-plates focus, as does Spur, and it's not nthinkable to hit both HTCAW and SPUR, so you might be able to go for 3.

                    Chez Shea
                    94 Pike St. Suite 34, Seattle, WA 98101

                    1. re: mrnelso

                      That should be Nico.
                      What a treat.

                  3. Here's another vote for Kisaku for sushi. I used to be a totally devoted 10+ years Shiro's regular, but have to say things haven't been quite the same since his semi-retirement.

                    And yet another vote for you to consider keeping Dahlia on your list. Popped in for lunch this weekend - I had the bento box, friend had the congee, and we were well-fueled for shopping. And yeah, we splurged and had an order of the doughnuts which were served with a delicious huckleberry jam. Plus, in celebration of their 20-year anniversary, they have the sweetest little 2010 calendar for sale...cool artwork, recipes on the back.

                    Skip Wild Ginger. MrNelso's advice re: a visit to the ID instead is the way to go!

                    1. Thanks for all of the tips - we are finally here and very excited. I will probably post detailed comments on specific spots on other posts. So far I had one of the better large group corporate-sponsored dinners I have been to at Wild Ginger - nice private room, solid service, and tasty, mainstreamed Asian knockoffs - also had a small business dinner at Dahlia Lounge last night - nice bartender Bill and good, very experienced server and helpful sommelier as well (though still not sold on Syrah as Pacific NW grape choice...the bottle was fine, but Pinot would probably shone off the region better) - great food - free signature duck entree for saying "Happy Anniversary Dahlia" to hostess stand! The coconut pie is really great as noted in so many spots.

                      1. I just got back from my first visit to Seattle!! I am so glad you got to go to Wild Ginger, it was my favorite place. If you have not chosen a sushi place yet, I would recommend Red Fin at the Max Hotel. I was there for lunch and got three very good sushi rolls for $15!! It was great and lots of other options too. Sit at the sushi bar....so much fun!!
                        For Coffee...I took the Coffee Crawl tour ( you can get info and tickets at Brown Paper Tickets.com We got to taste lots of different coffee and heard lots of history and interesting info about coffee and Seattle. If you just want a cool place to go, try Cafe Vita.
                        I also had dinner at Elliott"s!!! Great!! Sit at the oyster bar if you can!