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The Seattle scene


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Given gc's astute post, I would like to clarify a little what my actual issue with service in this area is, and it has nothing at all to do with a desire for more stuffiness.

What I loathe are servers who want to be my best friend. If another waiter either sits down at the table or puts their hand on my shoulder while taking my order, I'm gonna scream. I also get tired of the many times that I have an empty water glass for most of the meal. My wife and I have taken to asking for a carafe of water, so we can nip this one in the bud. When I talk about professionalism, what I mean is that in the best service experiences I've had, there is a quality of personal commitment to doing the job well and an ability to strike the delicate balance of genuine friendliness and helpfulness tempered by an acknowlegement that their role is to facilitate a good experience for the customer, not to necessarily BE part of the experience.

As a native to this area, I totally understand where you're coming from. Whether they mean it negatively or not, when Fat Guy, Steve Klc or other east coast types start talking about 'small' or 'less sophisticated' markets in reference to Seattle, there's a part of me that starts getting pretty uppity. I definately don't want to have to wear a jacket and tie every time I go out for a decent meal.

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Harrumph! Harrumph! (That is, I agree!!)

I remember Seattle 5 years ago...and even 13 years ago. Sorry, I moved there in 1989 so I can't go back further. I love the way the restaurant scene has changed -- especially downtown! And I agree that service can be frustrating and needs work. Vancouver would be a good role model to aspire to!

But, oh, even though I love that we're constructively criticising the restaurant scene in Seattle, I find it terribly depressing to be stuck in Pittsburgh for the next several years (grad school) without the benefit of "neighborhood finds, ethnic eateries and exquisite seafood"! You guys don't know how lucky you are (sorry Pittsburgh!) I live again in Seattle, vicariously, by reading eGullet's PNW board. I hope the Seattle scene continues to improve! And I hope I'll get to read about it here as it happens!! :rolleyes:

Luscious smell like love

Essential black milk worship

It whispers to me...

...Chocolate

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OK, I just got back from Hoffman's Bakery. I got two items:

Princess Torte: wonderfully moist and tender yellow cake layered with whipped cream, pastry cream, and raspberry jam and covered with marzipan. Fresh, light, yummy and not too sweet

Raspberry filled shortbread: this was kind of like a very upscale pop tart. Just the right amount of raspberry jam sandwiched between thin rounds of tender shortbread and sprinkled with coarse sugar.

Based on this limited sampling I would have to say: "big thumbs up". Not exactly all that I was hoping for from an upscale european patisserie - the selection is heavy on the cookies and cakes with fairly common flavor combos and formats, and I didn't see any croisants or puff pastry - but the quality is definitely there.

Thumbs up on the liquor store too, but that's another thread :biggrin:

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Girl Chow,

To clarify:

1- I am not calling for stuffy service, nor am I necessarily even calling for formal service. But I am often annoyed that many Seattle servers are content with going through the motions to get a paycheck, not caring if they are doing their job properly (one of the reasons that Le Gourmand, on the other hand, is exciting to me). Thoughtfulness is the important thing that distinguishes formal service (usually). I love Seattle to death, that's why I haven't moved away to NYC or wherever. But if you work in a restaurant you have to push, you know? And it seems a lot of folks in this town are just getting lazy.

2- Also, I realize some of these comments of mine seem bitchy and hyper critical lately, sorry. And maybe I'm just having awful luck, but the past three times or so that I have gone out to eat at a nice, unfamilar restaurant I've had a completely mediocre experience. That's the thing that drives me insane . . . I can understand awful more easily than mediocre.

Striving is tops. Movement, desire.

J.

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gc, thanks for giving this thread a good kick in the ass.

I realize my original post was bitchy (not to mention underinformed). Perhaps I was reminded by Penelope Corcoran that a food critic should be the local restaurant scene's best friend and worst enemy in one. In my more pessimistic moments, I think "That's not good enough" should be the restaurant critic's stock phrase. Has Seattle dining improved? No doubt. Could it be a lot better? Same answer.

Of course we shouldn't strive to end up like New York, SF, or (god forbid) Paris. I think we can improve our standard of service and food without becoming stuffy or exclusive. (And even New York isn't always like that--one of the best meals I've had there was at the Gramercy Tavern, in dockers and a polo shirt.) Look at Vij's in Vancouver, for example: an exemplary level of service that makes every customer feel cool.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Thanks so much for finding and posting the article Blue. It's interesting to read about restaurants that were here before I moved to Seattle 8 years ago as well as those that closed before I had a chance to try them out. I actually did live here for a year about 20 years ago while I was going to school, but back then I couldn't afford McDonnalds let alone Settebello.

Speaking of Settebello, isn't it sad to watch the string of half-hearted attempts at "restaurants" take over this location after it was such a classy and upscale place?

I also appreciate the article's description of service issues in Seattle restaurants. The author made the points I was trying to get to, but I couldn't get my brain to put the words together right.

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great thread. I've lived here for 17 years and yes, the scene has changed dramatically since then. I feel like Seattle has a great restaurant scene evolving. my god the choices we have now compared to then are astounding. --And I agree with Girl Chow, I don't want to see all of the higher end places moving to "jacket required" status. I love that one can eat at Rover's or the Herbfarm in jeans, or dress up, the choice is yours. I think that is part of what makes us unique.

Rover's has been here for quite awhile, over 12 years as far as I know. The first time I ate there was in 1990. It was a regular menu then, Fat Guy. Oh, you also should know that Rover's offers a selection of tasting menus, there's usually 3 or 4 you can choose from, not just one like the Herbfarm.

Born Free, Now Expensive

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What I do really appreciate is this: a server who brings my drink within a reasonable time frame, a check back after the entrees are delivered and removal of dishes promptly after a course is completed. A chilled plate for my salad is always greatly appreciated.

To clarify once more (I've had some trouble defining my thoughts on this topic), I feel like these basic points that you note simply aren't being met in some higher end restaurants. I wonder if that was what Jonathon was referring to earlier?

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Hi All:

I'm replying to mamster's first post (sorry to be late--I just signed up thanks to running into nightscotsman at a party last night), but I've read the whole thread.

I think the Seattle restaurant scene compared to NY, Paris, London is like American wine compared to French (this will catch some heat...): American wines can go head-to-head with French in the quality of 9 and below on a scale of ten. But when you get to those really ethereal, still-taste-it-the-next-morning, remember-it-on-your-deathbed kind of wine-drinking experiences (I'm thinking of the '59, '64 [yes, '64!], and '66 Latour right now, but I'd also include far less expensive items like the '81 Gruaud, '86 Meyney, or '91 Clape Cornas), the U.S. just hasn't gotten there yet. (Same for US cheese--I'll get to that in another section.)

The same is largely true of Seattle restaurants, IMO--though not completely. If Charlie Trotter's and some French Michelin one-stars I've been to get a high 9 or 10, I'd give Rovers a 9.3 or 9.5. It's the only place in town that I'd put in that world class (though there are several that I haven't been to). Brasa is darned close, but it doesn't have that over-the-top feeling of the great places, with multiple courses orchestrated, etc.; it's just great food and a great wine list (though--I'm not really complaining--Tamara seems to have spilled Cabrales all over the menu ).

That said, when I'm in France I often find myself thinking, even in a very nice restaurant, "geez, these guys don't really compare to Cafe Campagne." I'm talking a Seattle bistro that beats out white-tablecloth Parisian and Provencal outfits.

If we're not talking top-notch, world-class, but just very good food, well-prepared and nicely served, there's Nell's, Le Gourmand, Harvest Vine, Dahlia, Palace Kitchen, le Pichet, Nishino's, Cafe Campagne, Max in the Market, Bungalow, hell, far more than I have time for. Gotta love that....

I agree that Grand Central makes great bread (*love* their Rustic Baugette). Right up there with French boulangeries.

Steve

p.s. I've been in WA since '77 and Seattle since '87 (following a four-year stint in Manhattan). Yes, things are better now.

p.p.s If you're going to Rover's (a rare experience for me, at least), why miss the fun of dressing up?

"Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon." --Dalai Lama

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Can you really wear jeans to Rover's?

yes. Rover's does not have a dress code. Most people do dress nicely though.. but I have seen jeans in there. Not jeans and a tshirt & sneakers, mind you, but jeans with a nice pair of shoes and a nice pressed white shirt, yes.

Born Free, Now Expensive

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I've lived here for 17 years.

When I moved here, I was broke. Thankful for the plethora of rice palaces - anyplace you get a bowl/plate of rice with some decent toppings - chicken teriyaki, bim bam bop (do I remember that correctly?) stir fries...

In recent years, I've sampled some of the best places, though not a number of the leaders. In comparison to places like Southern California (south of LA) - we rock. They have lots of money, but few places to eat well. When friends and associates leave to visit family in the heartland, southwest, and east coast (outside the metropolitan cities of NY and DC), it becomes readily apparent to them that we are very lucky to have the choices we do, especially if you look at everyday eating habits/preferences. Try getting vegan cuisine in NH, or a soy latte in Orlando. Fresh pasta sauces, salads that don't come dressed in preservatives, artisan breads...the Northwest may not compete well in the ethereal, but for day-to-day living, we do quite well.

sfroth - did you mean Max in the Market or Matt's in the Market (the egullet fav)?

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sfroth - did you mean Max in the Market or Matt's in the Market (the egullet fav)?

Thanks, yes, Matt's is what I meant. And I agree that we're awful darn lucky to have all the good food we have.

Was just talking about this to a food friend today who spent decades in SF. Moved here ten or twelve years ago. The contrast she made was that in her opinion, pretty much *every* neighborhood in SF has a selection of good restaurants. Not so in Seattle.

Now of course she lived in Ballard for a long time--one of my favorite places, but inexplicably to me, something of a restaurant black hole.

"Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon." --Dalai Lama

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The contrast she made was that in her opinion, pretty much *every* neighborhood in SF has a selection of good restaurants. Not so in Seattle.

Now of course she lived in Ballard for a long time--one of my favorite places, but inexplicably to me, something of a restaurant black hole.

I think SF may be another city that has good neighborhood dining, but I still insist that Seattle is way ahead of the curve by this measure compared to most cities in the US.

With Le Gourmand, Ray's and Hiram's (thank God they got rid of that abomination that was there before) along with some fun/tasty mid to lower end (price-wise) places, I can't say that I think Ballard is really lacking. What they really need in Ballard is a high-end Scandanavian place like Aquavit in NYC. Besides, its not really that long of a drive from Ballard to Green Lake...

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Ballard also has India Bistro, Thaiku, Burk's, and Market Street Grill. Used to sport Andres pizza (anyone know what he is doing these days?). Also, Sam's Sushi (I havent tried it), a couple of good take-out delis, Cafe Besalu, and a bunch of taverns that seem to be favorably reviewed. Not bad for a "black hole".

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  • 5 months later...
I am not calling for stuffy service, nor am I necessarily even calling for formal service. But I am often annoyed that many Seattle servers are content with going through the motions to get a paycheck, not caring if they are doing their job properly (one of the reasons that Le Gourmand, on the other hand, is exciting to me).

Interesting that you should single out Le Gourmand in this regard. Matthew and I had dinner at Le Gourmand on Friday--a wedding anniversary gift from the Amster parents--and found the service lacking. One large error: I ordered a Kir Royale, which was on the aperitifs menu, my order was verbally acknowledged by the waiter, and it was never served. Following that, a few minor errors, and a general lack of attention due to the fact that two women were the entire front-of-house staff for a full restaurant. Our courses were served in a timely manner, and we were never actually neglected (we did refill wine and water glasses ourselves), but it was simply not possible for them to give the level of service that I expect from a restaurant of this caliber. I was also somewhat annoyed by the waiters' constant gushing about the chef, the restaurant, and the food. Actually, she did not gush about the mains that Matthew and I ordered, and they were not worth gushing about. One of us will probably write about the food; I just wanted to comment here about the service. I have never dined in a Seattle restaurant that had remarkable service (I haven't been to Rover's, Herbfarm, or Canlis), but I recall having good service at Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Cascadia, Cafe Campagne, and the bar at Brasa.

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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I just wanted to comment here about the service.  I have never dined in a Seattle restaurant that had remarkable service (I haven't been to Rover's, Herbfarm, or Canlis), but I recall having good service at Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Cascadia, Cafe Campagne, and the bar at Brasa.

In my experience Canlis has excellent service. I have found that the employees are happy to be working there and it shows in their attitudes. From the reservations to the host and wait staff and everyone down to the valet is determined to serve enthusiastically. It is obvious that seeking out the anticipated needs of their guests is a priority.

"If we don't find anything pleasant at least we shall find something new." Voltaire

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I just wanted to comment here about the service.  I have never dined in a Seattle restaurant that had remarkable service (I haven't been to Rover's, Herbfarm, or Canlis), but I recall having good service at Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Cascadia, Cafe Campagne, and the bar at Brasa.

In my experience Canlis has excellent service. I have found that the employees are happy to be working there and it shows in their attitudes. From the reservations to the host and wait staff and everyone down to the valet is determined to serve enthusiastically. It is obvious that seeking out the anticipated needs of their guests is a priority.

I agree. Best service I've had in Seattle. And the valet's are clairvoyant. :cool:

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