Seattle Times restaurant critic Providence Cicero reveals her 10 favorite new restaurants she reviewed this year.

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Seattle Times restaurant critic Providence Cicero reveals her Top 10 new restaurants reviewed this year (along with excerpts from her original reviews).

 

Bateau

1040 E. Union St.

Pacific Northwest magazine: Dining Out

Buoyed by her passion for Northwest France and deep attachment to the land and waters of the Pacific Northwest … ”

BATEAU: The Reuben Mille Feuille is braised brisket and smoked beef belly with bright purple cabbage and a Russian dressing, served on rye. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)
BATEAU: The Reuben Mille Feuille is braised brisket and smoked beef belly with bright purple cabbage and a Russian dressing, served on rye. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)

At this Capitol Hill steakhouse, chef Renee Erickson does for meat what she has previously done for French country cooking (Boat Street Café), oysters (Walrus and the Carpenter) and vegetables (The Whale Wins). Much of the beef listed on the chalkboard menu was raised on her company’s own Whidbey Island farm. Starters and accompaniments are as carefully prepared as the butter-basted steaks. Bateau gets all the other details right, too, from the petite cocktails to the bread service to a nimble staff that converses with passion and humor about topics as diverse as bovine anatomy, French grape varieties and basketball.

 

Copine

6460 24th Ave. N.W.

A restaurant for grown-ups, long overdue.

COPINE: Ahi Tuna Crudo with compressed watermelon, jalapeo and mizuna salad. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)
COPINE: Ahi Tuna Crudo with compressed watermelon, jalapeo and mizuna salad. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)

For nearly two years after leaving Book Bindery, chef Shaun McCrain and general manager Jill Kinney refined the concept that would become Copine. They retained their loyal following through a series of pop-ups while hunting for just the right location, which turned out to be in the Ballard Public Lofts & Market. The minimalist décor is inspired by nature and enhanced with art and antiques, a fitting framework for McCrain’s beautiful food. Kinney oversees a dining room and bar that hum with the quiet conversation of locals celebrating milestones or just treating themselves to a night out.

 

Best of 2016

The OG sandwich — fried chicken, dill pickles, tangy cabbage slaw and mayonnaise on a toasted Franz bun — at Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches just might be the best of its kind in town. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)
The OG sandwich — fried chicken, dill pickles, tangy cabbage slaw and mayonnaise on a toasted Franz bun — at Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches just might be the best of its kind in town. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)

Eden Hill

2209 Queen Anne Ave. N.

… full of surprises …

EDEN HILL: Buffalo-style veal sweetbreads, with watermelon radish, bleu cheese espuma, shallot pickle and herb salad. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)
EDEN HILL: Buffalo-style veal sweetbreads, with watermelon radish, bleu cheese espuma, shallot pickle and herb salad. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

The laudable use of seasonal, local ingredients results in a certain sameness to restaurant menus: Beet salads, Brussels sprouts and pork belly abound. Ennui fled at the first glimpse of Maximillian Petty’s brief menu at tiny Eden Hill on Queen Anne. After grazing on Brussels sprouts with kettle corn, veal sweetbreads made in the style of Buffalo wings and the deep-fried head cheese he calls “Crispy Pig Head Candy Bar,” I was eager to try this inventive young chef’s blind tasting menu. Everyone should do the same.

 

Gracia

5313 Ballard Ave. N.W., Unit B

Ballard meets Baja …

GRACIA: House-made tacos include, from left, carnitas (pork), barbacoa (lamb), cochinita pibil (pork) and pescado (halibut). (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)
GRACIA: House-made tacos include, from left, carnitas (pork), barbacoa (lamb), cochinita pibil (pork) and pescado (halibut). (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

When chef Chester Gerl was a student at the Culinary Institute of America, he signed on for an immersion course in Oaxaca with celebrated chef Rick Bayless. Since then, the Southern California native has often tinkered with moles and tamales. He put pozole on the menu when he headed the kitchen at Matt’s in the Market. Then he went off to New York and learned to make tortillas from scratch with landrace corn, heritage varieties specific to a geographic region. Now his passion for Mexican cuisine has come home to roost at Gracia in Ballard, where the agave cocktails created by general manager Salvador Huerta complement Gerl’s exceptionally well-made tacos, tamales, mulitas and more.

 

Nirmal’s

106 Occidental Ave. S.

Enchantment is the first word that comes to mind …

NIRMAL’S: Roomali roti stuffed with chicken and fried potatoes, from the lunch menu. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)
NIRMAL’S: Roomali roti stuffed with chicken and fried potatoes, from the lunch menu. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Trees wrapped in tiny white lights front the grandly arched portals of Pioneer Square’s historic Interurban Building, home to Nirmal’s. When proprietors Oliver and Gita Bangera wanted a marquee name for the Indian restaurant they envisioned, they turned to Nirmal Monteiro, a chef whose career has taken him from Mumbai to Japan and Europe and now to Seattle. Inside the elegantly austere, brick-walled space filament bulbs glow like novas, and spices perfume the air. Pungent flavors entwine in ways that can’t be easily decoded in Nirmal’s thalis, tandoor platters, curries and cream sauces. So you tear off another piece of buttery naan or charred roti and succumb to more.

 

Scout

110 Stewart St.

Few [hotel restaurants] risk going off trail. Scout not only dares to do that; it does it well.

SCOUT: Duck, with egg, confit thigh, sugar peas and herbs. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)
SCOUT: Duck, with egg, confit thigh, sugar peas and herbs. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)

Locals are likely to elbow out tourists at this upholstered-in-plaid restaurant from the Huxley Wallace Collective, housed in the Thompson Hotel at First and Stewart. Executive chef Derek Simcik makes familiar Pacific Northwest ingredients taste new again. The dining room is a great place to sweet-talk clients or settle after a downtown shopping spree. The Chef’s Counter offers a unique dining experience with chef Quinton Stewart, who guides eight guests through a multicourse tasting menu. The extravagant evening begins downstairs and ends in the hotel’s top-floor bar, The Nest, where even lifelong Seattleites will gasp at the panoramic view across the downtown waterfront.

 

Tarsan I Jane

4012 Leary Way N.W.

Electrifying in its intensity …

TARSAN I JANE: Pastenaga (carrot in textures). (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)
TARSAN I JANE: Pastenaga (carrot in textures). (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)

At this provocative Frelard restaurant, Perfecte Rocher and Alia Zaine create an idiosyncratic, autocratic dining experience. The only dinner options are a seven- or nine-course tasting menu; diners get no hint of what’s to come. I found every dish intriguing, many thrilling. The Sunday paella lunch is less of an investment and a good introduction to Rocher’s style, which is influenced equally by his rustic Valencian roots and the refinement of the world-class restaurants where he previously worked in Europe and the United States.

 

Upper Bar Ferdinand

Heeding the call of the wild to create plates that express their own version of terroir …

1424 11th Ave.

UPPER BAR FERDINAND: Jersey milk butter salted pork and chive flowers. (Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times)
UPPER BAR FERDINAND: Jersey milk butter salted pork and chive flowers. (Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times)

From Marc Papineau and James Beard Award-winning chef Matt Dillon comes a wine bar and restaurant that is personal, intimate and without pretense. Tucked off a courtyard at the far end of Capitol Hill’s Chop House Row, this bigger sibling to Melrose Market’s Lower Bar Ferdinand feels like a secret clubhouse. Much of the food is raised on Dillon’s Vashon farm, and he’s often cooking. From just about any table you can watch him char claypot rice on a binchotan, slice raw fish for sushi-style presentations, or pull a roasted chicken or whole fish from the hearth. Grab a seat at the bar, and let Papineau guide you through the wines he pairs with each dish. If you find one you like, buy a bottle off the retail shelf to take home.

 

Vestal

513 Westlake Ave N.

Playing with fire …

VESTAL: A salad of shaved braising greens, cultured ricotta, sunflower pickles and blossoms. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)
VESTAL: A salad of shaved braising greens, cultured ricotta, sunflower pickles and blossoms. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

A blazing hearth is the dramatic focal point of this intimate South Lake Union restaurant, the latest enterprise from chef Josh Henderson and his prolific Huxley Wallace group. The fire’s glow reaches every table, but to really bask in its warmth, sit at the six-seat kitchen counter and interact with the cooks (often including Henderson himself) as they pull vegetables from the embers, sear meat and smoke fish. Cedar-planked salmon, served with puffs of fried salmon skin liberally dusted with yuzu kosho salt, surpasses any version I’ve had before. Dishes like shaved braising greens bedded on cultured ricotta or compressed melon with matsutake mushrooms in a gentle citrus broth provide cool counterpoint to the fire and smoke.

 

Wataru

2400 N.E. 65th St.

His cuts are as fluid and precise as an haute couturier …

The camaraderie at this six-seat sushi bar in Ravenna is surpassed only by the pleasure of the food chef Kotaro Kumita presents with modest ceremony and a twinkle in his eye. Yes, there is table service and a menu that goes beyond sushi. But only at the bar are you able to closely watch this Japanese-trained chef, a longtime protégé of Seattle legend Shiro Kashiba. With swift knife work, he painstakingly crafts dainty Edomai-style nigiri sushi using ocean gems from near and far, kept fresh in handmade cedar coolers. To my mind, Kumita-san is the best sushi chef in Seattle right now.

WATARU: Kotaro Kumita displays his dainty, Edomai-style nigiri. He stores the fish in cedar boxes. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)
WATARU: Kotaro Kumita displays his dainty, Edomai-style nigiri. He stores the fish in cedar boxes. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)