A Food Critic's Year in Review - Bryan

Bryan RMarch 31st, 2008
By: Bryan R

Over the past year, we've easily reviewed over a hundred restaurants, eateries, burger huts and the occasional bar and grill. Do I actually remember everything about every place? The honest truth is that my memories for many of these places have been relegated to that same obscure bit of brain that still knows my high school locker code.

Most of the time, the vast majority of the places weren't altogether bad (the true offenders you never forget for all eternity). But, we've also had the fortune to discover some real gems, so we thought we would make sure to highlight these especially memorable places.

Ambiance Winners
Since we only have 331 more days till next Valentine's Day, I thought I'd start off with my short list of top date spots (it never hurts to get those reservations in early). An easy suggestion that is sure to impress is Ballard's little French jewel, Le Gourmand. First off, it's French, which is one huge advantage when it comes to date spots. Also, Le Gourmand dishes out some remarkably good food, has more wine than you shake a wine-loving stick at, and maintains a quiet and serene ambiance that's perfect for a-wooing.

Tamarind Tree, an International District favorite, provides top-notch ambiance without having to spend an arm and a leg. Yarrow Bay Grill is an easy recommendation for great seafood and excellent views. Serafina is perfect when you want an intimate but more cheery atmosphere, while Andaluca is perfect when sophisticated styling in a cozy, intimate dining room is desired.

Tangos Tapas, located right where Capitol Hill meets downtown, offers semi-authentic tapas, fantastic house sangria (sangria lovers rejoice!), and a comfortable atmosphere with city views.

Don't Judge a Restaurant by its Cover
When you're feeling a little spunky and are up for ignoring first impressions, there are a handful of places that may very well win your heart.

Make sure to check out everyone's favorite BBQ joint, Dixie's. Tucked away in an old car repair shop near the 520 freeway, Dixie's BBQ is easy to overlook and (criminally!) dismiss. Inside, you'll be greeted with the smells of roasting BBQ and the antics of the larger-than-life chef/owner Gene Porter.

Jay's Cafe, a lunchtime discovery we stumbled upon during a bout of irreconcilable hunger, proved to be an underdog winner. With its aged, small town diner exterior and a Denny's-inspired interior, Jay's initially put us off a bit. But when we were presented with the soon-to-be classic dish of fish & mac & chips, we quickly revised our impression.

Pacific Market Place, a tiny little Persian eatery in Lake City (of all places) almost doesn't even look like a restaurant. But the sweet demeanor of the motherly matron running the place and the mounds of saffron spiced, home-styled Iranian cooking easily won us over.

Kirkland's Kirkland's The Crab Cracker was another surprising winner. Reminiscent of the Simpsons's all-you-can-eat seafood shack The Frying Dutchman, the Crab Cracker may be a little strange to some, with its heavy maritime theme and aged exterior. However, inside we found a veritable bounty of tasty seafood options that quickly charmed us.

Lastly, set in one of the many sprawling industrial parks of Redmond, Pomegranate Bistro is truly a diamond in the rough that produces one fantastic burger along with tasty flatbreads and several other succulent options.

Feeling Adventurous?
For the more adventuresome eaters out there, several local restaurants have begun offering various game meats on their regular menus. Personally, I love game meats; their complex flavors and (typically) leaner, healthier cuts provide a good dose of variety to the regular menu options.

Serafina, on Eastlake, cooks up a remarkably tasty rosemary-infused venison loin that is perfect for those who want to try game meat for the first time.

The elk tenderloin from Barking Frog is another excellent game animal dish, although it's slightly higher on the gamey scale.

Lastly, Le Gourmand has a wide and constantly changing variety of game and uncommon meats, including braised rabbit and roasted duckling.

Best of the Best
Seafood
For the best seafood, consider the previously mentioned Yarrow Bay Grill--you'll get to satisfy both your eyes and your tongue.

Duck
For duck lovers, the camphor wood and tea smoked duck at Yea's Wok is phenomenal.

Wood-fired pizzas
Columbia City's Tutta Bella leads the pack when it comes to fantastic Italian-styled, wood-fired, brick oven pizzas.

Chinese
Cafe Ori, as it dishes out one tasty Chinese dish after another, easily proves that you can have fantastic flavors at excellent prices.

Vegetarian
For those times when you feel like eating meat, but you don't really want to, Teapot Vegetarian House's vegetarian beef stroganoff will astound your palate.

Better Luck Next Time
Though they are in the minority, there have been a couple of disappointments along the way.

The Matador was a bit of a letdown and taught us that impressive wrought iron exterior accents and the most extraordinary array of tequila ever just couldn't make up for lackluster food.

Hector's of downtown Kirkland also seemed like a potential winner with its cozy, parlor room feel. But, we felt cheated with their tiny portions of crab in the crab chowder and the crab mac & cheese.

And while 3 Pigs BBQ of Bellevue claims to have won numerous BBQ contests, the mild flavors and uninspiring tastes makes me a little dubious.

Fond Farewells
Lastly, we bid adieu to a couple of places that closed their doors recently.

Two fantastic eateries, both coincidentally located in Redmond, served their last meals several months back. The exceptionally charming Stone House Cafe, located in a historic bootlegging house, used to serve up fantastic sandwiches that tasted like Thanksgiving between two slices of bread. Sadly, they are no more.

In a similar vein, the Brown Bag Cafe closed its Redmond location despite heavy patron traffic and obvious popularity. Fortunately, the Kirkland location still remains.

Neither restaurant's webpage described why they closed shop, but it was likely that the condo boom in downtown Redmond caused rent prices to climb so high that small eateries serving up simple and cheap sandwiches just weren't able to compete.

The End (almost)!
So that's it. Six months worth of reviewing distilled down to six minutes worth of reading. Now, if I could only lose those extra six pounds.

A shot of Pomegranate's tasty flatbread
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