Special occasion restaurants for Valentine's Day and beyond
By Jeanne Doherty, MLIS
Wonderful food is at the center of what I consider the good life. Thankfully, my sweetheart (who is an excellent cook) agrees with me. In addition to lovely home cooked meals, over the last few years, we have had some amazing culinary adventures. There are still places in town where every tiny detail of a meal and the serving thereof is near-perfection. At The Herbfarm, the wait-staff carry silver buckets of ice, and use tongs to drop single perfect cubes in to your water glass. At The Georgian Room, the hostess, upon seeing that I was wearing a black dress, whisked away my white napkin and brought me a soft black one so that my skirt wouldn't get lint on it. At Rover's they set each place with a small, flat jelly spoon so that you can scoop the last precious drop of sauce off each plate without using your fingers. I don't even need to tell you that you definitely want to savor every last drop.
Many people see these places as a ridiculous indulgence, and perhaps they are, but an experience like any one of those I just described can last you an entire year or lifetime, nurturing your imagination long after it is over. And there is something poignant about these dinners, at least for me. The truth is, it isn't going to be possible to get the kind of food that I love forever. Small farms are being consumed by gigantic conglomerates, the earth in which perfect forest mushrooms are found is being paved over and colonized by housing developments, the artisans who make tiny wonderful cheeses are retiring without passing on their secrets. In the entire world, there isn't a piece of produce untainted by pollution. I fully intend to suck the last drop of sweetness out of this life while it is available to me, and so should you.
Of course, right now I am in graduate school, and therefore unable to indulge my passion very often. I am sure most of the readers of this paper are in the very same boat. Thankfully for all our sakes there is plenty of great food in this town for which you won't have to break your piggy bank or take out a new student loan. If you can't do Rover's this Valentine's, try these, recommended by our own iSchoolers:
Tucked in between the Seattle neighborhoods of Wallingford and Greenlake is a small stretch of cafes, restaurants and random businesses that people are starting to call "Tangletown." It is N 56th St, bounded by Latona on one end and Meridian on the other. Anyone who has done any driving in that neighborhood will understand the moniker, as it is full of streets that start out in one direction and end up going another. Even the locals get lost from time to time. I guarantee it is worth the confusion if you can make it to a table at a casual-but-delightful restaurant on the corner, called Eva. With a dining room ringed by many-paned, wood-framed windows and grape vines, a wine bar, and cuisine heavily influenced by the Mediterranean, Eva is a charming, unusually high quality neighborhood spot. The prices are not so outrageous you would feel terrible stopping in for dinner after work, but the food is wonderful enough to rate a special occasion. Eva has a full bar, and is home to one of my favorite champagne cocktails, whose ingredients I am completely forgetting at the moment, but which smells a bit like roses and tastes divine.
- Jeanne Doherty, MLIS
My absolutely favorite restaurant in Seattle is Carmelita up on Greenwood. The food is divinely-executed, gourmet vegetarian...not a "veggie burger" on the menu and my first pick for special occasions. The menu changes seasonally and they make heavy use of locally-grown, organic produce. The food is so good it is also the favorite place of my meat-devouring companion. The ambience is also warm, inviting and arty.
- Carmine Rau, MLIS
Ivar's Salmon House
I love going to Salmon House for a fine evening out. It's a great combination of local food and local history. It sits right on Lake Union with a lovely, if slightly industrial, view of the water. The atmosphere is nice, but not so formal you can't wear jeans (if you must) or take kids. Wonderful place to bring out-of-town guests.
- Sarah Evans, dMLIS
I have been known to actually dream about the Asteroid Café. Usually I just daydream about it, though; imagine the puttenesca or roasted eggplant pasta, or perhaps the perfect spinach salad. The Asteroid is quirky, reflecting the taste of its owner, Marlin, who has collected an amazing wine list and who along with his talented staff will match the most difficult of tables ("we want wine that goes with seafood, veal, pasta and under $30, please") to the perfect bottle, if asked. The Asteroid's menu of specials and entrees changes weekly, while the pastas remain mostly the same. It's not especially cheap (although not especially expensive, either) - your tab depends a lot on whether you take them up on that perfect bottle or creative starter. It's worth it for a birthday (my last excuse to go) or fancy date. Speaking of dates: the Asteroid is tiny and packed, with 13 tables that should be 8 or 9, and it's designed for couples - seating more than 4 is a stretch, and it's not a place for kids. Reservations are almost always necessary, except midweek or late at night. One thing: have dessert. It's worth it. (In Wallingford on 45th, just east of the library; call 206-547-2514).
- Phoebe Ayers, MLIS
Though it won't have the dimmed lights and fancy decor of your average Valentine's Day restaurant, Toyoda Sushi in Lake City should more than satisfy the romantic needs of sushi lovers. It looks like any other semi-upscale but affordable (as these things go) Japanese restaurant, except for the pictures of Paul Newman (it's where he eats when he comes to Seattle), but in addition to the rolls and nigiri that one finds anywhere, they have The Best Sashimi Plate Ever, which is also an amazing deal. One plate is more than enough for two hungry people (plus, sharing a plate is cute), includes at least seven kinds of fish for only about $26, and will make you make that Homer Simpson noise. You know, glaaaaughhhhhaaahhgllhhhh. 12543 Lake City Way NE, 206-367-7972.
- Lauren Manes, MLIS
This charmingly tiny restaurant doesn't take reservations for fewer than four, so get there early or be prepared to wander Ballard while you wait. But do wait - you won't regret it. Dandelion's seasonal menu of entrees ranging from $16-$24 focuses on French-influenced Northwest cuisine (read: fresh ingredients in simple but amazing combinations, proving that simplicity is best if you can pull it off like they have) prepared by a staff that the open kitchen reveals to be in remarkably good spirits. If you sit at the bar, the cook will get chatty and tell you that their most important ingredient is love, though observation suggests that butter also figures prominently. 5809 24th Ave NW, 206-706-8088.
- Lauren Manes, MLIS