Remember Dulces Latin Bistro in Madrona? It’s been reborn as Dulces Bistro & Wine, on the ground floor of the new Lawrence Lofts at 19th Avenue and East Madison Street.
Carlos Kainz still oversees the dining room; his wife, Julie Guerrero, still cooks. The baby grand and the host stand, bedecked with colorful ceramic tiles, are the same ones that graced the Madrona original and its short-lived successor on Western Avenue.
Those familiarities aside, the new Dulces has an updated look. An intimate bar and lounge adjoin a softly lit dining room with windowed walls that can be raised like garage doors in fair weather to connect with a sheltered patio. The floors are polished concrete, the ductwork visible, the kitchen partly exposed.
Yet Dulces has lost none of its gentility. When you call to ask if they take reservations, the answer is, “Of course.” White cloths cover well-spaced tables. Kainz holds a lady’s chair when seating her, and with a magician’s flourish unfurls napkins for guests to drape across their laps. On weekends a pianist plays a range of 20th-century popular songs.
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“This is a place for older people,” observed my teenage daughter in a whispered voice I could hear across the table. I wholeheartedly agreed. Thank goodness there are still some around.
The menu is a blast from Dulces’ past. Those who’ve missed Guerrero’s Dungeness crab custard and her roasted red-pepper ravioli will find them here, just as good, maybe even better than you remember.
The savory custard, topped with lump crab meat lightly sautéed with chopped tomato and cilantro, fills a buttery, fragile phyllo cup. The ravioli’s cilantro-tomatillo cream sauce is subtle but stands its ground against the forthright chorizo filling. Both are appetizers that could also be light main dishes.
Other noteworthy starters included asparagus soup, chili-reddened prawns sautéed in butter, and tender strips of calamari steak sautéed in a garlicky pool of oil, balsamic and herbs. That potent sauce, not to mention the bottle of chipotle-spiked dipping oil on every table, compelled the consumption of many warm baguette chunks, readily replenished.
Guerrero’s Mexican heritage finds beautiful expression in two entrees: chicken enchiladas and seafood-stuffed crepes made with masa flour. A creamy tomatillo sauce draped the rolled corn tortillas plumped with white meat and cheese. Chipotle gently jolted the rich white sauce enveloping bits of scallop, white fish and shrimp that filled the delicate crepes.
Chipotle was a more forceful presence in a special of wild sockeye salmon. It contributed heat and smoke to an orange-laced sauce that helped moisten the grilled fish, which was just a little dry. As with most entrees here, the plate included a starch (pine nut-flecked white rice in this case) and an array of steamed vegetables (at times undercooked or under-seasoned).
The smell of saffron heralded the arrival of paella, steamed rice ruddy with roasted peppers and well stocked with clams, mussels, bay shrimp, chorizo, chicken and fish (the latter two the least distinguished elements). But I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for boeuf bourguignon lacking in complexity, or for tough braised pork shoulder served over risotto revealing very little trace of the promised Parmesan.
There was plenty of coconut in the coconut layer cake, however. Lemon cheesecake was properly tart and creamy, but a melt of Ibarra chocolate over crème brûlée interfered with that dessert’s burnt-sugar top.
Prices skew high for a neighborhood place, but most entrees are available in half-orders and many appetizers are shareable. Some of those are among the small plates on the bar menu. A few, like the ravioli, are half off during Happy Hour (5-7 daily), when house wines are $5 and cocktails $2 off.
Speaking of drinks, the bartender mixed a mean dry martini and a smooth Old Pal, though his Lemon Drop was weak and way too puckery. One night he had on a knit cap, the only hipster-ish quirk I detected at Dulces.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.