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Aug 17, 2010 05:39 PM

Best overall meal in the last year

A recent experience brought to mind this question: Which Seattle restaurant provided you with the best overall meal within the last year? I’m not focusing here on one or two knockout dishes, but an experience that hit a total home run across the board, from appetizers through dessert, in a way that put it in a different league from other good meals you enjoyed. I’ve had the good fortune to have a handful of truly memorable meals over the past year but, until a few weeks ago, none of them was at a Seattle restaurant. Seattle restaurants provided me with many good meals and a few great dishes, but nothing that, overall, was an off-the-scale memorable experience. Then I ate at Spinasse, and was totally wowed by every dish I tasted – not just mine, but those of my three dining companions as well. So, for me, the answer to my question is clearly, unmistakably Spinasse. What’s your answer?

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  1. I have had probably three great overall meals this year - one in NYC at Jean George, one in Chicago at Frontera, and one here at Copperleaf. In the interest of disclosure none of the people in my party had dessert, but this was not because of anything lacking with the experience or the options. Just that a couple of people in the party really wanted sleep more than dessert (just back from a cruise). However, from what I saw other tables enjoying I would bet their desserts are excellent as well.

    The service at Copperleaf was great. They paid attention to all of our dining needs without being overly obsequious or hovering. The bread Tolls were freshly baked and were excellent. All of the food was well presented and the setting is amazing. The dining room looks out onto their lawn and while we were dining a raccoon strolled across right in front of the windows. There is a beautiful stone fireplace that would be nice during most of Seattle's weather and while the menu is not overly extensive, there is a good selection and the food is locally sourced. All in all it was a memorable experience and one I look forward to repeating.

    1. New Year's Eve at Cafe Juanita. We've had dinner there twice on New Year's Eve over the past few years and it has been wonderul both times.

      Second place goes to Nell's - a Friday night, last-minute decision to eat there late after a walk around Green Lake somehow turned into a truly memorable meal - I think it was the venison that sealed the deal.

      Cafe Juanita
      Kirkland, WA, Kirkland, WA

      3 Replies
      1. re: bourbongal

        Ah, a food soulmate. I've written about Cafe Juanita and Nell's on this board many times, and both are still among my top five favorite restaurants in the greater Seattle area. But my experience at Spinasse was truly remarkable.

        1. re: Tom Armitage

          I have to assume that, since many hounds like Nell's so much, it has improved since I ate there quite a few year's ago. We had several wonderful dishes, but one appetizer and one main course were way oversalted. I mentioned this to our server. She said that other customers had mentioned to her on various occasions their feeling that some dishes were oversalted. But she couldn't pass on the comments to the chef herself, because he'd never listen to her.

          After the meal, I went up to talk to the chef. I first talked about the dishes I really liked, and why I liked them. Then I quite courteously (I thought) mentioned that I thought two dishes were overly salty. The response was snide, practically nasty. He said that I must cook myself, and use little salt, so I couldn't know what the dishes should taste like. I forget what else he said.

          I have never had the desire to return to Nell's.

          While it's more like two years than one year ago, I had a truly memorable meal at Le Gourmand. I was taking advantage of a prize certificate, although that did not seem to affect our treatment. The ambiance, service, and presentation of classic dishes was superb. I know that some reviewers have had less stellar experiences, and inconsistency is inexcusable at their prices. Nonetheless, for me and my wife it was one of the best meals we have had in Seattle in recent years.

          1. re: RandyB

            The chef's snide, arrogant response at Nell's was inexcusable, Randy, and I can’t blame you for not going back. I had a whiff of that recently when my wife asked for her salmon to be prepared rare, and the chef resisted. In that case, however, his reasons were related to food safety since, unlike salmon sushi or sashimi, where the salmon is frozen to kill the parasites, he was preparing fresh, unfrozen salmon. Although initially I sensed a little “attitude” in response to my wife’s complaint, the chef re-cooked the salmon to make it less well done. On a subsequent visit, he cooked my wife’s order of mahi mahi to her complete satisfaction on the first go-around. My mention of Nell’s as one of my Seattle favorites is based on several experiences in the last year, including a couple of 30-for-30 dinners. In all cases, my wife and I thought the food at Nell’s was excellent, and my wife, unlike me, is particularly sensitive to saltiness. See, e.g.,

      2. Tom, Il Terrazo Carmine was a stand out for me because of both the food and the highly professional service. I am weary of hot spot Belltown restaurants where the wait staff seem to be taken from the set of "Night of the Living Dead." Given that, I've never had an overall dining experience in the United States that rivals Commander's Palace in New Orleans.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Leper

          AHA! I always suspected that N'owlens was in another country. Here's the confirmation I was looking for, thanks!

        2. I was blown away by Joule. It was my first visit, and a friend had picked it. I looked at the menu online beforehand, and was not excited about going. I had no idea what to expect.

          In short, I was blown away, as were my friends. Among the five of us, we had something like 20 dishes, and each one was amazing. Each dish was a perfectly orchestrated combination of flavor and texture - I had the pork shoulder, which I quickly realized was an entirely different thing when eaten without the cilantro that accompanied it. We shared a wide variety of small plates, the most memorable being the most perfectly prepared Chinese broccoli I have ever eaten - if memory serves me correctly, there was a citrus element that was a fantastic counterpoint to the bitter greens. The dessert menu, as well, offered surprise hits, including the pearl tapioca "Joule box", which was light and refreshing.

          The atmosphere is just a slightly more dressed up version of the usual Seattle casual, but very comfortable, and the service was also casual yet professional. Love, love, loved it!

          1913 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103

          7 Replies
          1. re: voodoobec

            I suppose it should be no surprise that this thread is pulling up many of my favorite restaurants in Seattle. When I told my wife about my "best-overall-meal" post, she said, "Why didn't you pick Joule?" And Joule was, indeed, a very close runner-up. We have eaten many times at Joule, and each time come away enthused and impressed. Not only is their approach to food interesting in the way it combines flavors, but it is restrained in the sense that the flavors are nicely balanced -- a few grace notes rather than hitting you on the head with a sledgehammer. On our last visit, we had a small whole two pound chicken that had been fresh killed that morning, then brined before frying. It was some of the best fried chicken I've ever had. Add to all of this the fact that Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang are two of the nicest people in the business. It's a dynamite combination.

            1. re: Tom Armitage

              I am going to pick Joule's Thai urban bbq. The meal was start to finish delicious--lick your plate, go back for THIRDS delicious (and they let you do that!!). The fizzy coconut drink, the salads, the mains--all fantastic. (Okay, dessert was very good but maybe not spectacular. It was just mango rice pudding) And the kicker was, it was $18. We went last week to the Vietnamese one and it was very good but not as good as the Thai.

              Their menu hadn't interested me much but I'm definitely going to try them now.

              My other best meal was Per Se. Quite a price discrepency between my 2 best meals!

              1. re: christy319

                Oh my, I wish I had heard about these Sunday BBQ's before. Looks like they'll be doing Korean BBQ tomorrow night, but have no reservations available. I am so sad but hope they'll do it again next year.

                1. re: soypower

                  Oh, crap, really? For the last 2 we've called on Sunday and gotten counter seats, which is fine with us. Maybe I'll call tomorrow and see if there are any cancellations.

                  1. re: christy319

                    I went to the Korean BBQ dinner at Joule last year, and while the food was good, it wasn't outstanding. In fact, I think it was closer to mediocre good. They were VERY busy and my hunch is that they didn't adequately prepare for the volume. I thought the restaurant was also super smoky because of all that Korean BBQing going on. If you go this year, let us know how it is!

                    1. re: maybelle

                      We've gone the passed 2 years without reservations in the middle of the afternoon and got in. The food was always fun and different. The format seems to be a bit different this year and we do have a reservation for today. The menu looks intriguing.

              2. re: Tom Armitage

                I had one of my first "nice" meals with my wife (for our one-year anniversary no less) at Joule and were really impressed. All of the food was very inspired and executed perfectly. The spicy beef soup, fried chicken (amazing), kimchi rice fritters, zucchini pancakes, everything was spot on. Looking forward to returning (although it probably won't be for a while given that we're new and have a lot of new places to try)!

                1913 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103

            2. I have had three memorable meals this year. The first was here in Seattle at Tilth, it wasn't just amazing because of the food, our server was outstanding, she guided us through the menu, made recommendations and then planned out the meal so that the items that came together complimented each other. One of my dining companions was fighting a cold at the time and the server just kept bringing her hot toddies all night.

              My second memorable meal was at Oyamel one of Jose Andres restaurants in Washington DC, this one was all about the food. Mexican tapas, it was a good concept well executed.

              My third most memorable meal was at Cochon, one of Donald Links restaurants in New Orleans. It changed my life. My sister bought the cookbook and now wishes she was part of his family so that we could attend his family events. She has not stopped reading and cooking from that cookbook since she bought it in June. And I am not complaining.