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October 17th, 2001 12:00 am Audrey Van Buskirk | Food Reviews & Stories

Restaurant Guide 2001-- secret seattle

six eateries up north you probably don't know about, but should

BULL'S-EYE: Chef Scott Carsberg hits it at serious foodie paradise Lampreia.
IMAGE: robin laananen
Restaurant Guide 2001 Index
The Restaurants
Everything looks better after a meal
Shop Talk
Secret Seattle--six eateries up north.
Year of the Frog?
Thrill Seekers

Portlanders like to think that there's a running, serious competition between their foodies and ours in Seattle. Sorry, folks. Truth be told, people in Seattle don't think about Portland much at all. My survey of several habitués of the hip answered with such innocent insults as "How about Shiro's? They can't have very good sushi down there." Or, "Recommend a Thai place. Do they know about Wild Ginger?" As a former restaurant-guide editor at Willamette Week, I know you know about Wild Ginger. And I know, firsthand thankfully, how amazing the Portland restaurant scene is. But there are reasons, many of them, to come to Seattle to eat. The following suggestions are for places you may not have heard of, spots in neighborhoods most visitors don't explore, and experiences you still can't get in Portland. Although, as much as we hate to admit it, we know you're gaining on us.

You've probably heard of Christine Keff's shrine to all things shelled and scaly, Flying Fish, but don't miss her newest, Fandango (2313 1st Ave., 206-441-1188) right across the block. The sizzling colors inside match the fiery, intense South American-imbued cooking. You may feel the need to bring along an Alice Waters dictionary to sort through the menu choices such as cajeta, chimichurri and huitlacoche, but the results are well worth the adventure. In the heart of trendy Belltown, the scene and the cuisine don't get much hotter.

Just a block away but worlds apart find the serious foodie paradise called Lampreia (2400 1st Ave., 206-443-3301). When you're feeling sedate and serious about eating, this is the place. It's worthy of a very special occasion. You'll long remember the excellent service, gorgeous presentation and stunning, whimsical tastes. I'm still salivating over a buttery lemon tart surrounded by a fire-engine-red strawberry "target." And a recent multi-course fish sampler meal featured several of the best things I'd ever

If the Sex and the City women were meeting for drinks in Seattle, they'd choose the of-the-moment Capitol Club (414 E Pine St., 206-325-2149). On the edge of Capitol Hill, this two-storied Mediterranean tapas joint features very beautiful people in the quieter downstairs dining room and cushioned parlor and in the swanky upstairs bar, complete with must-have balcony tables. Charming bartenders offer high-end cocktails such as an elegant concoction that's like a gin gimlet enlivened with champagne. But don't pass on the Spanish-influenced food. One night's recent special of grilled beef tenderloin nearly melted. The coriander-marinated halibut on roasted-corn risotto is worth going up a dress size for, and the seared scallops with smoked paprika corn relish could spice up even the dullest date.

Tourists rarely venture far beyond downtown Seattle and its two main hills (Capitol and Queen Anne), but great food awaits those with a car, map and good sense of direction. Out in chi-chi waterfront Madison Park, you'll find the always-bustling Cactus (4220 E Madison St., 206-324-4140). Sidle up to the bar, order a minty mojito cocktail or a tart margarita and enjoy the wait. This is another place with plenty of meal-worthy appetizers (try the zippy seviche, sugar-cane-grilled prawns, or baby back ribs with pineapple sauce).

For seafood, you won't go wrong at Ponti Seafood Grill (3014 3rd Ave. N, 284-3000). Teetering between the back of Queen Anne and Fremont, this fish house has a lovely view of the ship canal. The chef does creative things with fish, and they come together beautifully--the Thai curry penne with grilled scallops, crab and tomato-ginger chutney sounds weird, but it really, really works.

Finally, you're likely familiar with Tom Douglas' firstborn, the Dahlia Lounge, but check out his latest baby, the tribute to American basics called Palace Kitchen (2030 5th Ave., 448-2001). Dinner is available until 1 am, and this always-crackling hot spot serves what may be the best late-night bar snack of all time: Olive poppers--stuffed, breaded, deep-fried and served with luscious avocado cream--make bad memories of the I-5 drive fade deliciously away.

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