Providence Cicero is always hungry for something new. And she's found a crop of new resaurants well worth your dining dollars.
MOST PEOPLE go out to eat in search of something specific. They’re in the mood for a burger or sushi or steak; they want pizza, falafel or pho. They gravitate toward the tried and true.
But a restaurant critic is always hungry for something new. Got deep-fried pork belly and spring rolls stuffed with pig cheeks? I’m there! Tiradita with cancha and choclo? Bring it!
Here’s where I discovered those amazing morsels and more from my 10 favorite new restaurants this year:
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Why I love it: Ethan Stowell’s modern Italian cooking finds a fitting home in a revamped vintage Ballard warehouse once occupied by a grocery and dry-goods emporium (whence the name). The intimate space, handsomely crafted of masonry, wood and metal, much of it reclaimed, honors the past while being thoroughly contemporary, much like Stowell’s cooking. The printed menu (stapled not so fancily to a wooden slab) includes a strong exhortation to disregard it and leave your meal up to them. Heed the advice (but only if you can stand to cede the control).
What surprised me: The four-course, family-style supper is a feast that unfolds gradually with numerous antipasti as a prelude (among them, those deep-fried spring rolls stuffed with pork jowl). It crescendos with pasta followed by meat or fish, then closes with something sweet: a slice of polenta pound cake, say, with honey-kissed seasonal fruit. It’s vastly satisfying and at $45 per person undeniably a value.
Why I love it: Matt Dillon’s idealized pantry and eat-in kitchen anchors Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market, a fantasyland for the food obsessed. You’ll watch cooks tend roast chicken, Dungeness crab and more in the wood-fired hearth at the foot of a long butcher-block table. Who knows what you’ll find on his brief menu from one day to the next, or even from lunch to dinner, but count on most of it not having traveled too far or too long from field or stream, forest or sea.
What surprised me: La Quercia ham and watermelon salad with purslane and feta; dill-speckled roasted cucumbers and peperoncini with rye berries; fresh huckleberries layered with hazelnuts and caramel in luxurious chocolate pot-de-crème.
Why I love it: Savoir faire is what you expect from Thierry Rautureau, the French chef who turned a neighborhood restaurant called Rover’s into a nationally recognized fine-dining destination; it’s what you also get at his boisterous, cosmopolitan Madison Park bistro, where he tips his hat to the home cooking of his native land.
What surprised me: The concentrated flavors of Luc’s boeuf bourguignon.
Why I love it: Lampreia’s affordable successor is in step with straitened times, but Scott Carsberg isn’t cutting corners on quality. The portion police will decry the petite plates, but I appreciate the skill that transforms a razor clam into creamy mousseline, the painstaking prep required to smoke and stuff an artichoke heart with robiolina cheese, the patience that results in perfect risotto.
What surprised me: Orange confit, rind soft as a marshmallow, acid balanced with sweet, unforgettably paired with chocolate caramel mousse and cocoa crisps.
Why I love it: Kevin and Teresa Davis (Steelhead Diner) conceived a thoroughly modern downtown fish house that merges class and sass. They stick to U.S. waters, sourcing responsibly caught or sustainably raised seafood, but the kitchen’s inspiration is unfettered by boundaries.
What surprised me: Cancha and choclo, two kinds of large-kernel Andean corn, garnishing tiradito, a Peruvian-style ceviche sauced with sunny, spicy aji amarillo.
Why I love it: “The beast” is a beauty with impressive lineage. Chef/owners Aleks Dimitrijevic and Tyler Moritz met in the kitchen at Union; both also cooked at Lark. Dimitrijevic, an artist in and out of the kitchen, fashioned the intricate, carved-wood table tops at this Capitol Hill restaurant, and his massive, mixed-media canvasses add drama to a fairy-tale setting that’s as dim as a castle keep and furnished with weighty timber chairs, church-pew banquettes and graceful, wrought-iron window grates.
What surprised me: Lusty merguez lamb sausage with harissa and pickled ramps; dainty Parisian gnocchi (made with cream-puff dough) with Dungeness crabmeat and the last of the summer’s corn in a buttery, tarragon-tinged broth.
Why I love it: The Italian restaurant that wowed Wallingford and beyond last year has been replicated on Bellevue’s Old Main Street right down to the peek-a-boo kitchen windows through which sharp-eyed dinners can glimpse chef Tomer Shneor at work. His Tuscan fare tastes so true, don’t be surprised if nearby Bellevue Towers start to lean.
What surprised me: Tender garganelli folded like tidy little napkins; beet ravioli so sheer their plump red tummies seem about to burst.
Why I love it: Steamed clams in beer broth bristling with garlic and piri piri reminded me of the old days when owner Matt Janke cooked on two propane burners behind the counter at the original Matt’s in the Market. At Lecosho (“pig” in Salish) Mike Easton cooks in a far-better-equipped exhibition kitchen. Early on their first Saturday night, Janke paced the polished concrete floor of the mahogany-accented dining room along the Harbor Steps, looking like a kid impatient for everyone to show up for his party.
What surprised me: Grilled house-made bratwurst and a soft-boiled egg nestled among the sweetest braised lentils ever.
Why I love it: Even a first-timer at Taichi Kitamura’s sociable Eastlake sushi bar will leave feeling like a friend. There’s savvy in the sushi-making and locavore leanings to the seasonal menu: meat and poultry come from Skagit River Ranch, mushrooms from the Northwest forests, and much of the seafood from Washington, British Columbia and Alaska waters.
What surprised me: Profoundly aromatic matsutake dobin mushi steeped in a teapot and sipped from a tiny ceramic bowl.
Why I love it: This canal-side, former book-construction facility turned restaurant and winery near the Fremont Bridge was still a work in progress at press time, but even slack service couldn’t diminish my delight in food as impeccably styled as the informal dining room lined with bookshelves and wine barrels — a setting that the soon-to-come, glass-enclosed greenhouse on the water will surely enhance.
What surprised me: Chef Shaun McCrain cooks with uncommon elegance, focusing flavor with astonishing skill and precision, from black-pepper gnocchi to impeccable bordelaise to the tiny timbales of horseradish panna cotta and Worcestershire-spiked aigre-doux accenting a sumptuous heirloom-tomato tableau.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic.