After a glowing review in Bon Appétit, the best time to visit this Wallingford gem is happy hour.
When we last saw the headlines about Manolin, the Wallingford seafood spot was basking in the glow from being crowned one of America’s best new restaurants by Bon Appétit magazine.
Overnight, that declaration in August made Manolin the most sought-after dinner spot in town. Its no-reservations policy made it a test of will. The wait was over an hour.
Savvy diners and locals know to come during happy hour — 4-6 p.m. daily — when the room is half empty and there are discounts on the seafood plates that customers pay full price for later in the night.
It’s less frenetic, more romantic before 6, with young techies and middle-aged locals holding chairs for their friends. They snuggle along the corner tables, clink flutes out by the patio or hang along the blue wall.
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Those blue tiles bring to mind the sea or maybe the sky and in any event lighten the exposed ceiling and hearken to the driftwood-esque bar top.
The food looks almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Slivers of raw albacore get their pop from fried quinoa with an artful pileup of cucumber, radish, grapefruit and rounded out with smoked chili sauce. Tea-poached squid gets kicked up with jalapeño. Umami-burst anchovies are paired with beets, avocado, coconut and pimentos. All are studiously plated with Technicolor root vegetables and fruit, as bright as a Dr. Seuss book.
By 6 p.m. the crowd picks up, and the clanking from the busy open-kitchen cranks up.
A table of four orders half the menu. At the bar, a brunette who appeared to be on an Internet date fidgets, self-conscious to be sitting alone. Her date was 15 minutes late. Yikes!
Outside by the patio, where it was 58 degrees and cloudy, a younger crowd in beanies, hoodies and cargo shorts sips Cachaça and tequila concoctions while hovering around the gas flame like a bonfire gathering at Golden Gardens.
Manolin, 3621 Stone Way N., offers happy hour daily 4-6 p.m., $2 off on seafood items, $2 off on house cocktails, $1 off on draft beer and selected wine (206-294-3331 or manolinseattle.com).