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Union, Poppy or Tilth -- One Night in Seattle

Coming to Seattle for one night in March, and having trouble picking between these three. Also interested in Art of the Table and How to Cook a Wolf. We are coming from NYC, so ideally would like something unique to Seattle -- something that would showcase the strengths of the city and the food scene.

We may also have time for brunch the next day, so any recommendations for brunch would be greatly appreciated.

Will be staying at Hotel 1000, so proximity may be a bonus, but not a game changer. The most important thing is the food.

Thanks in advance for all your guidance!

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  1. You will find lots of information on each of these restaurants on the Greater Seattle Board and its recent predecessor, the Pacific Northwest Board. Use the Chowhound search function for both of these boards, and you will have plenty of reading material. Of the three, there’s probably the most buzz around Poppy at the moment. And, as long as you are up in this price range, I would put Canlis into the mix. The Executive Chef at Canlis, Jason Franey, is very talented. He worked under Daniel Humm at Campton Place in San Francisco and 11 Madison Park in New York City, and is producing exceptional food at Canlis. Canlis is a sixty-year-old Seattle institution which has always been known for its polished hospitality and attentive service. The food has always been good there, but has ratcheted up significantly in creativity and interest since the arrival of Chef Franey in October 2008.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tom Armitage

      I'd definitely go with Tilth--it really is the best that Seattle has to offer. Book ahead--every time I've been there or walked past, it's been packed. It's located in a little cute house on 45th in Wallingford and you definitely get a homey, community vibe while enjoying elegant, simply prepared, locally sourced food. Maria Hines is basically a genius. Tilth is less flashy than Union but showcases the ingredients and the cooking far better. For the quality of what you get at Tilth, the tasting menu is a steal.

      As for Union...the food was solid and good, but nothing life-changing. For a restaurant smack in the middle of towntown, I feel like Union aspires to be like a slightly more low-key version of restaurants in New York or San Francisco but doesn't quite pull it off and ends up being kind of awkward...If you're coming from NYC to see what the food scene in Seattle is like, Tilth is the place to go.

    2. Union is a very short walk from your hotel---and a good choice.

      1. I think you'll get as many different opinions as responses. I feel like a broken record, and I am very much in the minority on this, but I think Union is highly overrated on this board. I think Tilth is great with local, organic, and catching a real PNW vibe. I really enjoy Poppy and it has an innovative way of serving and many local ingredients. I would say Tilth is more intimate, Poppy is a large space (very large for Seattle).

        I live close to How to Cook a Wolf and love it. It has more of an Italian/mediterranean edge than PNW. I have not been to Art of the Table.

        local and unique to Seattle, I would also consider Sitka and Spruce or Corson Building. But then I hate it when I get more options rather than narrow down the few I have when I ask a question, so maybe you should forget I mentioned it!

        1. I really appreciate all the responses so far. I narrowed down the choices by reading all of the many (and differing) reviews on the boards, but just can't decide. Also considering Lark. So hard to choose!

          Approximately how far is Tilth from the hotel? My gut is saying to go with Tilth, but SO is worried it is too out of the way.

          Thanks again!

          5 Replies
          1. re: kiworan79

            Tilth is in Wallingford which is probably 5 miles from downtown Seattle, but over a bridge...you'd have to drive, taxi or take the bus. By car it would take about 15 minutes without traffic, most of which would be getting out of the downtown core.

            For what it's worth, I'd choose Union. I've only had excellent meals there. I've had disappointing meals at both Tilth and Poppy, although others here have had positive experiences at both.

            1. re: akq

              The bus will get you a little peek into the terrain and community of Seattle, and is really not much more travel-time than a car or taxi. The METRO transit website has a good trip-planner.

              1. re: mrnelso

                Downtown brunch, for us, is Cafe Campagne.
                Get the French French Toast.

                1. re: mrnelso

                  Great pick, mrnelso, even though my fave is the oefs en meurette, with a side of that fabulous house-made pork & chicken sausage. I enjoy your posts,by the way.

            2. re: kiworan79

              Tilth is probably about a 15-20 bus ride from downtown seattle plus maybe a 6-7 walk along 45th...Wallingford is a great, low-key community that has a surprisingly good neighborhood restaurants and it really exemplifies what life in Seattle is like once you get out of downtown...

            3. These three choices serve your purposes well; each is representative of the "locavore" movement and Seattle's scene generally, and each of the chefs are wise and worldly enough to avoid chasing food trends that were set a couple years back. Tough call for me, as a fan of all three restaurants. My first impulse is to say that, after a few visits to each place, Tilth is a half-step below...fine food but not as creative as the others. But I haven't been for at least 18 months now, and things indeed change. It's hard not to recommend Poppy for a Seattle one-night stand: it's thali concept is genius and it tackles seasonal fare in a very inventive way. I can understand where sparklylights is coming from in saying that Union is a wannabe big city restaurant, but I can't quite agree. True, it basks in the conscious metropolitanism of the remodeled SAM next door--which I mean in a good way--and has some degree of polished, all-inclusive grandeur (you can get a $20 glass of Barolo and sometimes, a chateaubriand for two) that the others eschew in favor of more casual styles and earnestly organic fare. But Stowell at Union has a achieved a simple elegance and purity in his dishes that is very unique, and if you've visited some of the NY Times' 3-4 star stalwarts, you can't seriously find the place pretentious or "awkward". Finally, I haven't been to Canlis since the new chef, but I plan to, and Tom should be credited as a very reliable source on this board. There, at Seattle's classic special occasion destination, you will find a level of coordinated, crisp service and depth of wine cellar that you could find in several NYC dining rooms but nowhere else in Seattle. Note that the tab there will likely be 25-50% over the three you have selected.

              N.B. with a modicum of hesitatation, I still nominate Crush for The Best Restaurant In Seattle on any given night. But if you've looked, you've probably found that we have entered the era of Crush backlash on this humble board.

              If we can't help, maybe rochambeau for it?

              2 Replies
              1. re: equinoise

                As usual, a very insightful and thoughtful response, equinoise. Just as you are puzzled by the Crush-bashing on this Board (and -- please forgive me -- I am among the guilty ones), I have a hard time understanding the negative vibe around Union that many Chowhounds fuel. No place is perfect, and not every single thing I've ever eaten at Union has been spectacular, but on the whole, I think the food and wine there are first-rate, and I always look forward to going there. Besides, I can go to Taste across the street and have Duncan Chase prepare one of his marvelous craft cocktails for me before heading over to Union. It's a dynamite combination..

                1. re: equinoise

                  Fantastic insight. Thank you so very much. I certainly have a lot to think about, and will report back after my trip. One thing is for sure -- I will definitely need to return to Seattle to try some of the other restaurants.

                  Also, if anyone has any recs for brunch places near or around the area, I am open to suggestions.

                2. My vote is Poppy. The food and cocktails are fantastic and unique, and it's a quick cab ride up from downtown.

                  1. Look into Lark. Poppy is yuck. Tilth is boring, and Union haven't been too in a long time so no comment there. Anyway if you are from New York you won't be blown away by anything here anyway.

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: landguy

                        Lark would have made my top few until my last visit (a couple weeks ago) when it was very disappointing. I am hoping it was just an off night though. Nothing interesting or inspired on the menu and everything we ordered (6 dishes) was bleh or a little bit off.

                        I know many people have had mostly great experiences at Union, but I have been several times but never once was I wowed. tasting menu, variety of dishes, dining table, bar seating, etc. I last went a couple years ago though. It's not bad at all--I would not turn it down if I was with someone who really wanted to go there, but I wouldn't seek it out either. But I stress, to each his own.

                        NB, Crush is also my vote right now for best in Seattle when I want more ofa f ine dining experience, except for maybe Rovers, but Rovers is traditional French and so not for the OP, I think.

                        1. re: cocktailhour

                          I've found that since this nifty recession started my favs around Seattle have all sort of gone downhill unfortunately. Even Cafe Juanita has been hit and miss. I wonder if they are slyly going with less expensive ingredients. It's been a while since I've had a really great meal here sadly.

                        2. re: equinoise

                          Please don't insult. The Poppy meal I unfortunately ate was horrible in fact I have yet to meet someone in real life who has enjoyed a meal there. There is also no shortage of negative reviews online last time I checked. I also find it interesting that we all share the same complaints, ie cheap IKEA decor, lukewarm food, mushy texture, and the inappropriate collection of flavored food sloppily served together buffet style. LOL.

                        3. First Brunch-
                          I highly suggest Lola (Belltown Area- Tom Douglas restaurant with great and unique brunch)- followed by Steelhead Diner (Pike Place Market) and Toulouse Petit (new with agreat menu- by Seattle Center in lower Queen Anne)

                          For dinner- Having eaten to all three of your choices... my opinion is to go with Poppy or throw in the wildcard=Crush (based on my expereince at Crush and your desires)... Also I am a huge fan of Art of the Table- please consider spending an evening there*

                          My ranking-
                          1. Crush or Art of the Table!
                          2. Poppy
                          3. Union
                          4. Tilth

                          *I found Tilth basic and many items we ordered were cooked wrong or burnt
                          *Union was stale to me, and I was not impressed by anything we had in our 3 course meal- it was not inventive and did not showcase Seattle or the restaurant
                          *Tilth can be a little stressful to get to from downtown

                          1. Ok, so we have narrowed it down to Union, Tilth or Lark for Saturday night. We are going to come a day earlier now, so we have to plan for Friday night too.

                            Where should we go on Friday. Thinking maybe something a little different, like:

                            Matt's at the Market

                            or something like Spring Hill?

                            Or sushi?

                            We could always throw Poppy in the mix for Friday too.

                            Any thoughts on what would round out the experience?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: kiworan79

                              I know you can get good oysters in New York, including Pacific Northwest oysters, which are IMHO some of the best in the world, but for freshness and a huge selection, sit at the oyster bar at Elliott's and slurp down a couple of dozen oysters. You can't get a better appetizer than that, unless, of course, you don’t like raw oysters. If you get there between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m., you can take advantage of discounted prices at the Oyster Happy Hour, although the house selects the oysters that are served. My suggestion is to tell the oysterman behind the bar, usually Anthony, to provide you with an assortment of oysters for your first dozen -- those that he thinks are the best. If you have a specific preference (e.g., briny and salty vs. mild and sweet), tell him. Then, pick the one or two you like best for your second dozen. Stick to the oysters at Elliott's. You can get better dinner fare elsewhere.

                              I am a sushi fanatic, but you have good sushi restaurants in New York. If you are interested, however, here are some of my recent posts on sushi in Seattle. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/689640 and http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/689232. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Kisaku.

                              I love Spring Hill. It would be a good choice if you have a way of getting to West Seattle. And I’d definitely throw Poppy into the mix. It would be much more interesting than either Matt’s or Ray’s.

                              1. re: kiworan79

                                Do NOT got to Elliott's for dinner. Happy hour oysters, fine. Dinner, no. It's not nearly in the same league as your other picks. Neither is Ray's, really. Stick with your first three picks and choose 2.

                              2. Downtown: The Wild Ginger. Unique for the good tongues of New York.
                                Tilth the best of the three.
                                To even put Poppy in the mix is ridiculous. The worst blend of spices on any stove.
                                Shiki for sushi.
                                Spice Room for the Thai meal.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: atiziano

                                  Score for your recommendations (IMHO) = zero for five.

                                2. Thanks again to everyone. Here is what I have so far:

                                  Friday Snack -- Oysters at Elliots
                                  Friday Dinner -- Poppy
                                  Saturday Brunch -- Cafe Campagne or Steelhead Diner
                                  Saturday Dinner -- Union or Crush (all those Crush recommendations have me thinking)

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: kiworan79

                                    Personally, I would choose Crush over Union.

                                    1. re: kiworan79

                                      I'd toss out Poppy for Chez Shea in The Market at the drop of a hat!

                                      1. re: firecracker

                                        I wouldn't; you can get what chez shea does better in NYC.
                                        I understand poppy is getting mixed reviews but in my experiences it is a unique experience where I experienced a lot of "wow" dishes. Also I think they have the best dessert around. Get the Desset thali, it is worth it.

                                        1. re: dagrassroots

                                          Yes please get the dessert thali at Poppy! I rank it as the best/most unique dessert I have had in Seattle this year... Dana Cree does amazing pastry and dessert work... plus do Crush :)

                                      2. re: kiworan79

                                        Cafe C over Steelhead, for sure.
                                        and assuming you stick with Poppy, I agree about the dessert thali. Dana Cree the pastry chef is amazing and experiments with all kinds of things.

                                      3. Get a taxi. Go to Ballard. Eat at Delancey's. Fantastic.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                          The original poster is coming from New York. Delancey is very good but you can get equally good or better pizza at a half-dozen places in NYC.

                                          1. re: terrier

                                            Delancey's isn't just about pizza. it is Seattle unique, and I've been to New York many times and did not find better pizza. Different pizza, yes, but not objectively better.

                                            1. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                              I love Delancey but claiming it some how outshines any number of New York pizza joints both known and totally off the radar!??! I doubt they would even agree with this comment.

                                              1. re: landguy

                                                Such is your palate. Enjoy New York.

                                              2. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                                Sorry, I'm from New York. Delancey = Motorino. That's not a bad thing, by the way - but it's not unique to Seattle.

                                          2. Poppy has food you will see at no other restaurant period. Up for best chef in the USA this year at the Beard Foundation. A favorite everytime I go. Union is for sale, go to Anchovies and Olives, his best restaurant by far. Tilth is a dream, go when it is not busy. Spring Hill for Brunch, Spring Hill for Dinner, it does not matter - it is very good.

                                              1. I, too, am from out-of-state, so I have no input on Union or Tilth or elsewhere (tho' I'll give a thumbs up to Cafe Flora, at which I've had dinner and brunch, both excellent). But I can offer a recommendation for Poppy.

                                                I was in Seattle last week and my boyfriend and I had dinner at Poppy Saturday night (no reservation, but we got there early. The place filled up fast, so I'd recommend reservations if you plan on going after 5:30 or 6). Judging from our one meal, all the haters surprise me. We had a delightful experience.

                                                We had a table tucked away in a corner of the bar so it was a little like having the place to ourselves despite that the restaurant was FULL by the time we left. Even though we were sort of hidden, the service was good. Waitress was attentive, water was kept full. The time between appetizer and thali was a little long, but considering the fact that it was a busy Saturday it really wasn't bad. The delicious eggplant fries had taken the edge off of our hunger and we had drinks and conversation to pass the time.

                                                We weren't that hungry so shared the veg thali. It didn't even occur to us to consider whether or not all the dishes went together; we were too busy sampling everything and trying to decide our favorites! The hot things were suitably hot, the cold things cold, the textures just fine; no problems with off-temperatures or textures, nor over- or under-seasoning for us.

                                                Both the nettle soup and the ricotta gnocchi with nettle sauce were lovely. I'm usually not a big ricotta fan (it's the texture) but the gnocchi (while not the best I've ever had) were very tasty. The hedgehog mushrooms with couscous & winter vegetables was really good too, with an unexpected little spicy kick. I can't remember what was in the brussel sprout dish, but it was perhaps my favorite. Out of 10 dishes, the only ones I felt I could kind of take or leave were the salad-y ones (not that they were bad, just not as interesting as the hot dishes). Oh, and the naan was savory and onion-y and delicious too!

                                                We decided we had room for the dessert thali, tho' we came to regret that a little -- not because it was bad (quite the opposite) but because we ended up being too full, and collectively everything was pretty rich. We chose the goat cheese pudding with grapefruit -- the slight bitterness of the fruit nicely offset the rich, creamy pudding (bits of candied grapefruit peel were a little too overwhelmingly bitter for me, so I just picked them off) -- and the bergamot huckleberry sundae (again a nice contrast of bitter & sweet), which were accompanied by very rich little "nutter-butter" peanut butter squares, deep rich chocolate sea salt caramels, and delightfully refreshing passionfruit pate de fruit. The only real "miss" of the night was the caramel corn -- just eh, and for me only notable as a textural contrast to the smooth/creamy desserts (boyfriend suggested kettle corn would've been more agreeable; I concur).

                                                Overall I found Poppy to be fun, tasty, and an interesting experience. I definitely look forward to going again on future visits to Seattle and experiencing more dishes (hopefully they'll work out whatever consistency issues they seem to be having --judging from other reviews -- so I won't have to worry about a contradictory experience next time).

                                                622 Broadway E, Seattle, WA

                                                1. I recommend Boat Street. The past few times I've been there have been really wonderful, they had a roasted chicken with paprika type spice mix that was sort of spanish-esque and mind-boggling, they have wonderful oysters, and a great wine list (although it IS more french than washingtonian).

                                                  Other interesting seattle things include Maneki, which isn't always great, but IS an institution, Nishino, which is always top notch, Shiro's as well, and as a great snack Jack's Fish and Chips in the market for pure fried food fun (especially outdoors in the sinter / spring), and you can stop in to Beecher's right down the block.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: dnamj

                                                    At Jack's - get the Cioppino. Maybe some oysters. F&C seems inconsistent.

                                                  2. If you're just coming here for one evening, I'd absolutely reccommend Elemental or The Corson Building. Both are a set price for food and wine pairings, there's no menu and the chefs cook whatever they want. At Elemental the chef showcases many of the PNW fair, and the meal is about 12 courses. Make sure to take a cab as everytime I go, I can barely stand from all the booze that they dish out.
                                                    The Corson Building is one of my favorite restaurants in the country. Matt is a creative genius and I've never had a bad dinner there. Last time I was there he had gotten in an entire pig and made 11 out of the 15 dishes using different parts of it.
                                                    I;ve been to Poppy twice and both times was disappointed in my meal. The eggplant fries were good, the desserts were good, but the main courses were nothing speacial.
                                                    Union is fair, they duck is good, dont order the steak... unfortunately that is something that this city lacks severely...

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: akmar

                                                      HI..as a former NY'er I would recommend to you:
                                                      CANLIS for the Saturday night dinner...incomparable, sure to impress and delight a NY'er and very PNW.
                                                      I would not choose Tilth, Union or Poppy for a NY'er....they're far below the quality & creativity you can easily find in many a neighborhood restaurant in NYC.
                                                      I agree with akmar: Elemental, Corson Bldg. would also be unique experiences for a NY'er.
                                                      For locavore fare I like Earth & Ocean better than Tilth (which I find cramped, noisy, uninviting ambiance & overpriced)

                                                        1. re: staffstuff

                                                          I agree with your approach. See my post at the end of the thread “Quintessential Seattle Experience,” http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611249. Foodwise, what can you get in Seattle that you can’t get better in New York City? Although Pacific Northwest seafood can be air-expressed to New York, the variety and freshness of local fish and shellfish make them worth seeking out in Seattle, especially the wide variety of fresh local oysters available at places like Elloitt’s. Places like Corson Building that feature unique local products in season – things like Miner’s Lettuce, nettles, and the tiny wild Pacific Blackberry (not the ubiquitous Himalayan or Evergreen blackberries) – are also worth seeking out. But, in general, the “Seattle experience” may be more about ambience and style than just the food in isolation.