June 2, 2020

Pleasers for all palates

Dear Alix,

I’m in charge of making a reservation for a group of high school friends (6-8 of us) at the end of this month. As the foodie that you are, I would love your suggestions. I have my favs…many are yours…but this is an eclectic group. They tend to leave the reservation making up to me and then say this or that about it afterwards. Some are adventurous eaters like us, but some are pretty simple and would be happy with a plate of pasta or a burger at a good price. Help, AC, help! People are traveling from south, north and east…So thinking a fairly central locale…no Ballard or West Seattle.

Any of these?? Marjorie, The Saint, Dinette, Spinasse, Sitka & Spruce, Anchovies & Olives (Capitol Hill); Cicchetti (Eastlake); Harvest Vine with its cozy downstairs or Luc (Madison Valley). Or something “safer” like: Cantinetta (Wallingford), Brad’s Swingside Cafe (Fremont) or Cafe Lago (Montlake)?

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Dear Group Palate Pleaser,

I think that those are some great restaurant ideas, and several are my favorites as well though I agree that if this isn’t a pork belly crowd many of those will be a tough sell. A few thoughts:

I agree with the coziness factor of the downstairs at Harvest Vine, but might be a bit of too offbeat. (Have you seen what he does with eels??) And I must admit, Luc isn’t my favorite yet… I think that they might really like Dinette, and being on Cap Hill right off the freeway it’s a great location. Mexican is a good idea, too, but rather than The Saint, I might suggest El Camino in Fremont. A little more fun and less hipster, I’d say. Spinasse is the best pasta in the city, in my opinion, but I’d lean more toward Tavolata in Belltown for this crowd.

How about doing the slightly upscale version of pizza? Usually a versatile crowd pleaser, and Seattle has its share of great options. Maybe Serious Pie downtown or even better, the Capitol Hill location of Via Tribunali. I would also suggest upscale or maybe just interesting burgers, but maybe for the next go-around as the two I have in mind aren’t quite open: The Capitol Hill brick-and-mortar location of mobile food vendor, Skillet, and its famous burger with cambozola and bacon jam; and Uneeda Burger, the brainchild of Scott and Heather Staples of Quinn’s and Restaurant Zoe fame, opening soon in Fremont.

Good luck with this crowd of pals, and let me know what you choose – and how the post-meal commentary goes.

Crowd pleasers of the brunch world

Dear Alix,

It’s my mother’s 80th birthday (and my brother in law’s as well — although he seems to be getting less play). My daughter and the new beau are flying in from Europe, sister and birthday boy coming down from Alaska and a childhood friend of mom’s is coming from another town, foodie hubby… I’m looking for a Sunday brunch for a party of 11 that appeals to the lot. I’ve had recommendations from various people — but somehow don’t feel the right mix — everything from:

Anthony’s (view, middle of the road appeal, seafood options, food that everyone understands but not getting high enough marks in the reviews to say hands down that, “this is it”); Chinooks (never been, but some reviewers like it better than Anthony’s, great view); Toulouse up on Queen Anne (I wonder how they would accommodate a large party? Would the older folks enjoy?); Bastille in Ballard (will they recognize the menu? It is gorgeous inside, fun atmosphere with the Farmers Market, parking hell); 35th Street Bistro in Fremont (large party?). Do you know anything about Portage Bay Cafe’s Ballard location? (Is there more room by any chance? Birthday girl loves breaky at the U-District location.)

There must be some middle ground that is delicious, accessible to the less adventurous eaters while still satisfying the Euro-crowd and food snob among us. Seattle has so many incredible places but we mostly cook at home and rarely get out to experience the goodness. Do you have a recommendation? Please advise.

All dressed up — but where to go?

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Dear All Dressed Up,

It’s such a conundrum, isn’t it? Finding a brunch spot that’s interesting enough to please a discerning palate, but not so interesting that it alienates those with more traditional breakfast tastes.

You’ve received some good recommendations thus far; I might just suggest a twist on a couple. For one, I’m a big fan of Ballard for the Sunday Farmers Market ambience, though my favorite is Volterra rather than Bastille. They have a sweet little patio that’s perfect for this time of year, and I can personally attest that the Milano! Milano!, the savory herb bread pudding topped with two eggs, asparagus tips, and smoked Gouda cream, is absolutely heavenly. I know — parking isn’t exactly easy but well worth it in this case. Although I too love the inside of BastilleI haven’t been wowed by either the menu or the service so I would pass on this particular occasion.

I tried to do a party of ten at Queen Anne’s Toulouse Petit and their best solution was to split between two booths, so I think that’s not the spot for you. But if you think that your group would like the French-y vibe, Le Pichet, just up from Pike Place Market, is surprisingly accommodating for such a small place. And who wouldn’t like to be close to the Market with friends and family in from out of town?

Another downtown restaurant that you don’t hear a whole lot about is Tilikum Place Café, a bit off the beaten path on the edge of Belltown. They don’t seem to be so jam-packed all the time so it might be a bit easier to accommodate a group your size, and as they’re just up from Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park it would be easy to wrap in a little sightseeing at the same time.

I’ve only been to the U-District location of Portage Bay Cafe but I know that it’s a crowd pleaser in all three neighborhoods. I suspect that the Ballard location is actually smaller, so I think that you’re not likely to gain much in that regard. If you’re interested in Ballard, though, another good option might be A Caprice Kitchen. It’s a bit out of the way up in a micro-neighborhood along with Delancey Pizza and Honore Artisan Bakery, but from what I’ve heard it’s well worth the trip.

Speaking of worth the trip… How about Verve in Columbia City or Spring Hill in West Seattle? Both in interesting city neighborhoods that would be excellent for post-brunch exploration, and both with a good mix of traditional and inventive menu items that I think would satisfy all around.

Last but not least, if you really want to get wild and crazy: Nettletown on Eastlake. I admit that you may want to save this one for just you and the foodie husband, but good to have one on the list for once the gang leaves town, yes?

It’s my party, and I’ll charge if I want to?

Dear Alix,

My birthday is just around the corner and I need to come up with a plan. Since it generally falls on or near Memorial Day I tend keep it low key as many people leave town; small groups over to my apartment for drinks, meet friends out at the bar, nothing major.

This year I have come up with something a little more fun. I would like to host a dinner party for about 20 guests.

The party would start with a cocktail reception in my apartment and then move across the hall to a vacant unit for a seated dinner. I would rent the necessary tables and chairs and set up, what I believe to be a great dining room with minimal decor that would allow for maximum impact. Being that I am in the event planning business I have access to discounts on most items, including a great caterer, rentals, and wine and I am positive it would be a great party.

So here is my question: Is it appropriate to ask my invited guests to bring $30 per person to subsidize the costs of this party? I would love to be able to pay for this all on my own, but being 26, going on 27, and in the event industry, my pockets are not that deep!

$30 for your thoughts,

– Penny-less Planner

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Dear Penny-less Planner,

Ooh, that’s a tough one, and I know whereof you speak: That desire to throw a fabulous party, if only you had the cash to make it spectacular.

The only catch is that really, you can’t ask your friends to pay to attend your birthday party. Unless you put a bit of a twist on it, of course…

How about making it a fundraiser instead, where you donate all proceeds from the dinner to a particular cause or charitable organization? In inviting your 20 favorite people, you could explain that you want to spend your birthday with them, have the chance to throw a great party, and benefit a worthy cause all at the same time. Perhaps you could let them know that in lieu of a birthday gift the suggested donation for the evening is $40, but if they felt inclined they might give more. And depending on the selected organization you might even have a thematic décor element present itself. Zebra-print table runner in honor of the Woodland Park Zoo?

If all goes well, you’ve covered your costs and you have at least $200 to donate to a good cause. Maybe you really can have your cake and eat it, too.

Happy early birthday, and good luck!

Quick party turnaround

Hey Alix,

I am hoping you can help me with something:

We are having somewhat of a last minute “big wig” dinner on our boat for a group of eleven this Thursday! The higher ups from a large corporation are coming in from all over the nation — including Hawaii — for this occasion. I am thinking finger food and cocktails along with our tour. We have hired a captain but feel like we don’t need catering staff. Looking for Northwest-y food, artfully displayed.


– Happy Boater

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Dear Happy Boater,

A small event two days from now, and you want the party to have a Northwest flair? Here are a couple of options:

1. If you’re looking for easy, my first suggestion would be to call caterer Madres Kitchen and see if they can get something together this quickly. They are great — two mothers own it (hence the name) — and they are terrific to work with. They can likely put together lovely platters that they simply drop off, rather than having to hang around and be “cater-y.”

2. Or, if you’re up for a little bit of assembly and a little bit of cooking, how about the Whole Foods route? Their prepared food section would have a bunch of good options, including outstanding crab cakes if you have access to an oven. A quick bake and some bottled sauce, and you’re all set. Chicken and vegetable skewers can be done slightly in advance, so that you’re not slaving over the grill and trying to be hostess with the mostess at the same time. Add a couple of salads from that same section, maybe a shrimp something and whatever orzo variety they have on hand.

Elsewhere in the store, pick up packaged lox, cream cheese, capers and sliced tomato, along with thin rye toasts; such a Northwest kind of thing to serve. A cheese plate with a selection of two to three always helps to round out heavy hors d’oeuvres; Mt. Townsend’s Seastack is one of my favorites.

3. As for beverages, how about St. Germain gin and tonics, made with gin from Spokane’s own Dry Fly Distilling. You might also want some beers on hand, and perhaps at the same Whole Foods you’ll be able to find some local options. Two of my personal favorites are made locally in Georgetown, Georgetown Brewing Company’s Manny’s Pale Ale and Baron Brewing Company’s Baron Pilsner.

4. For dessert, how about a tray of artfully broken up bars from Theo Chocolate or Fran’s salted caramels — both available at Whole Foods, I’m nearly certain. Add a couple of small bowls of different berries (strawberries and blueberries, say) and you’re set.

Breakfast joints

Dear Alix,

Help! I’ve worn a path to my same old breakfast spots and need some suggestions for other places to try. No specific area of town in mind…

Thanks in advance!

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Ah, the never-ending search for a good breakfast that doesn’t also come with a line out the door. On occasion the line is worth it, but more often than not I think there are plenty of places that will fill the bill and don’t require a long wait.

By no means a comprehensive list, but some of my favorites:

  • Oddfellows Cafe – It’s not fancy food or a particularly extensive breakfast menu, but they have some interesting options and I like the big, open interior. Also, you get to soak up some of the hipster Capitol Hill vibe along with your latte.
  • Hangar Cafe – Situated in an old house a little bit off the Georgetown strip, Hangar Café has fantastic sweet and savory crepes. If you’re not up for the trip to Georgetown, sibling Citizen Coffee in Queen Anne has a similar menu with a totally different interior vibe.
  • Café Soleil – Talk about no lines! I’ve never had to wait for a table at this sunny, corner spot in Madrona, and they serve good, solid American breakfast. Curiously, the menu turns to Ethiopian for dinner, something I definitely need to check out.
  • Vera’s – If it’s a dive-y, diner-y experience that you that you’re looking for, Vera’s in Ballard is a good bet, as is The Shanty in lower Queen Anne. Country fried steak? Yum.
  • Le Pichet – If you like the French-y version of breakfast, and I do, Le Pichet downtown on First Ave just east of Pike Place Market is one of my favorites. Whenever I go, no matter weekday or weekend morning, it’s always fun and bustling and somehow cozy all at the same time.
  • Verve – I just went to this Columbia City wine bar for the first time, and I said it then and will say it again that my breakfast was one of the best I’ve had in the city. Sunny, happy atmosphere and absolutely delicious, interesting food. Great combo, no?
  • Volterra – One of the best in the upscale brunch category. If savory herb bread pudding topped with two eggs, asparagus tips and smoked Gouda cream isn’t enough to get you to Ballard, I don’t know what is.
  • Bakery Nouveau – Although there are several fantastic bakeries in the city, West Seattle’s Bakery Nouveau is worth the drive for a breakfast of the quiche-y and pastry-y variety.