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Andrew Fenton

one fancy dinner in Seattle

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In October, I'll be out in Seattle visiting my parents. The wife and I are planning a dinner out; because it'll be a rare dinner alone without our new baby (hooray for the grandparents' sitting service!) and our anniversary, we're looking to splurge a little.

Back in December, we had a really terrific dinner at Rover's; this time around, I was thinking of three Seattle restaurants I've never tried: Lampreia, Mistral and Union. I'd love to hear any thoughts comparing these places... which should I choose?

EDITED TO ADD: I'm leaning towards Lampreia or Mistral, as their menus look a little more interesting. But I've heard that the thing to do at Union is get a tasting menu; true?


Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)

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I'm sure you weren't expecting a reply from a fellow Philadelphian, Andrew, but as this popped up on the home page with a title suspiciously close to that of my trip report, I thought I'd check it out.

I would highly recommend Union to you. There's a bunch of other stuff in that trip report, but eventually, I do get to the dinner I had there with a great bunch of Seattleites. We didn't order the tasting menu; there were enough of us to put together a good sampling just ordering off the regular menu. I realize that won't be possible for you, though, so the tasting menu might be the better option there.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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My personal recommendations would be between Harvest Vine or Lark. These two restaurants have made the biggest impressions on me, by far.

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I love Union and use to parttake in the tasting menus but Ethan changed that and I don't think they are available anymore. The menu is designed however that you can make your own tasting menu. someone correct me if this isn't right (rocky??)

Union and Lark are my 2 fav restaurants in Seattle, we always take out of towners to at least one and they are always thrilled. Crush is up next for me.

I haven't been to Lampria or Mistral as of yet so I can't compare how my favs stack up.

Have fun! and I highly recommend a nice "baby free" cocktail at either Vessel or Zig Zag (or both!) during your date night!

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Mistral is a splurge but offers an amazing tasting menu.

Lampreia is less expensive but also wonderfully creative food and terrific service.

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Hiromi and I haven't generally gone out for truly extravagant meals very often, but Lampreia made both of us very happy.

I love Lark, and highly recommend it, but the two restaurants are in a different category. Lark is about elegant simplicity. Every one of their dishes you could make at home without much struggle, but probably won't.

Lampreia has some of that, but also things that you'd never really imagine, or at least are unlikely to take the time to produce at home. Also the service at Lampreia is in a completely different league... I think we were slightly intimidated at first, but were made as comfortable as possible and the staff was incredibly adept at anticipating small needs.

The only problem for me is that my (reasonably flexible) vegetarian habits aren't really given much consideration at Lampreia, but we did ok.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I've been to Lark (a year or two ago) and very much liked it. But I'm looking for something that's a little fancier (cuz it's a special occasion) and more innovative. Leaning farther towards Lampreia...

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Wow, I thought Lark was one of the most romantic places we've been to in Seattle. It must have been the sharing aspect of Lark, but it was a quite romantic evening and there were four of us!

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You won't go wrong with either Mistral or Lampreia (or Union for that matter). The quality/consistency of the cooking is better at Mistral and Lampreia offers a more cutting-edge approach.

FWIW, the volume at Lark (and Crush and Harvest Vine) preclude any notion of being 'romantic' for me.


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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If you decide on Lampreia, consider ordering everything but the entrees. There is a great deal of interesting fare, but not in that course.

I still haven't been to Mistral, so I can't weigh in.

Union has some great food.

You might consider Cafe Juanita - though maybe not the same food experience.

I know I will get roasted, but I love Tilth - you can get some fabulous food there - but it isn't all that fancy.

Veil? Anyone been lately?

Ask for the corner table facing the sound at Steelhead Diner, and ask Kevin to make you a special dinner. It's not perfect, but they really try to please and I love the appetizers and desserts.


Edited by tsquare (log)

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Hmm, that's interesting about the entrees at Lampreia, tsquare; I'd never heard that.

For what it's worth, I've been to Tilth (back in December); it was fine, but not really what I'm looking for this time around.

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If you decide on Lampreia, consider ordering everything but the entrees. There is a great deal of interesting fare, but not in that course.

I still haven't been to Mistral, so I can't weigh in.

Union has some great food.

You might consider Cafe Juanita - though maybe not the same food experience.

I know I will get roasted, but I love Tilth - you can get some fabulous food there - but it isn't all that fancy.

Veil? Anyone been lately?

Ask for the corner table facing the sound at Steelhead Diner, and ask Kevin to make you a special dinner. It's not perfect, but they really try to please and I love the appetizers and desserts.

***Veil is one of our 'pre theatre' restaurants so we never really have the time for a long dinner. But, every meal has been wonderful.


Edited by Foodie-Girl (log)

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I've only been to Mistral and Union, and although I enjoy the food at both restaurants, I definitely prefer Mistral. Union makes good NW fare--lots of seafood on the menu. It's like a step up from Clarklewis in Portland, if you've eaten there. I find the dishes at Mistral more creative and refined, and the room is more quiet (far smaller restaurant than Union) and more romantic. Henry has eaten at Lampreia twice and wasn't impressed, but I've never eaten there so can't comment.

There is a new chef de cuisine at Veil, who did stints at Jean Georges and Alinea. Right now they're running some experimental specials, but I heard he will be revamping Shannon's menu very soon. Should be worth checking out!

ETA: If you can't decide between Union and Mistral, you could always order a bunch of things off Union's Happy Hour menu with cocktails, then head over to Mistral for dinner.


Edited by Ling (log)

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Out of curiosity, how does The Herb Farm figure in all of this. We'll be out there early next month and have Friday evening reservations. Can we do better at any of the other three restaurants mentioned in the thread?

Jim


Edited by marinade (log)

Jim Tarantino

Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures, & Glazes

Ten Speed Press

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I agree with tsquare on this: that's actually how we ordered at Lampreia; we skipped the mains. Though part of that has to do with my vegetarian habits--it was easier to accommodate me that way, and Hiromi still got her crab in apple thing.

If you decide on Lampreia, consider ordering everything but the entrees. There is a great deal of interesting fare, but not in that course.

I still haven't been to Mistral, so I can't weigh in.

Union has some great food.

You might consider Cafe Juanita - though maybe not the same food experience.

I know I will get roasted, but I love Tilth - you can get some fabulous food there - but it isn't all that fancy.

Veil? Anyone been lately?

Ask for the corner table facing the sound at Steelhead Diner, and ask Kevin to make you a special dinner. It's not perfect, but they really try to please and I love the appetizers and desserts.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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Out of curiosity, how does The Herb Farm figure in all of this. We'll be out there early next month and have Friday evening reservations. Can we do better at any of the other three restaurants mentioned in the thread?

If you've read the threads on the Herbfarm, you'll have seen that opinions are divided on the place. But I went in the summer of 2005, and really enjoyed it. The food and wine were excellent, and I liked the spiel and tour that went along with dinner. It's not a dining-alone-with-yer-honey kind of romantic place, but it's well worth eating there, IMO.

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Mistral creates a great tasting menu. After several run-ins with Scott, I can't recommend Lampreia. The Herbfarm is a different experience, but it's 'communal dining' done on a scale not seen in many restaurants (disclaimer: I am an investor).

Lark is fabulous if you like the small plates meme. The Harvest Vine is also great, and does the 'plates' in the Spanish style, which some would say is where it all began.

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Union, definitely.


If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

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My least favorite thing about Lampreia was the room itself...not romantic or even especially inviting. There was an element of stuffiness, or boring reverence, or something that just wasn't fun. Fine food. Not sure I'd go back (on a date) given Seattle's other options.

+++


Edited by markemorse (log)

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I think I had that impression too, for a few minutes, probably because it was so strangely quiet (not to mention not very full) when we went. However, we settled in quickly. The formality is somewhat incongruous for Seattle. And yet I can't fault them for service in the least, even the initial (gentle) olive oil sales pitch. The interior does seem a bit sterile, perhaps, but I suppose you'd expect it to be immaculate considering the cost, even if it is a bit bland.

I've felt more uncomfortable when confronted with the judgmental waitstaff of the average hipper-than-thou Capitol Hill establishment, who seem so impressed by their restaurant's mediocre offerings (and themselves, perhaps) that they just didn't understand why they deserve to be bothered by inadequately reverent riffraff/customers.

My least favorite thing about Lampreia was the room itself...not romantic or even especially inviting. There was an element of stuffiness, or boring reverence, or something that just wasn't fun


Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I think I had that impression too, for a few minutes, probably because it was so strangely quiet (not to mention not very full) when we went.

Yeah, I think this was the case when I was there too...quiet and kinda empty. But as Jason said, the service was perfect. And the food was sophisticated and well-executed. And I didn't mean to imply any sort of correlation between hipness and fun, or discomfort and reverence...I just didn't really like the feel of the place. :wink:


Edited by markemorse (log)

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Andrew -

Like you, I have loved my meals Rover's and think the differences between it and Lampreia might be instructive. At Rover's, the service is much more discreet (and I think, polished) - you always have your full complement of silverware, but I never seem to notice it being replenished. At Lampreia, an army of young men come in with trays and change you out. At Rover's they gauge you and will offer you a beautiful Burgundy, but will also recommend a Morgon, if that is your taste (or pocketbook). At Lampreia I was told 'the chef recommends a white Burgundy', even as we were leaning towards red as a second bottle. All in all, much more personable and accomodating.

I have followed Carsburg for years, and have commented that I think his food is the most serious in the city; he is a zealot and his food demands focus. It is a matter of style, but I don't find it to be romantic. It also depends on how much emphasis you place on wine as a part of the meal, as it certainly takes a back seat to the food.

It has been a while since we left the kids and tried to have a romantic meal; I would recommend the HerbFarm if the grandparents will let you stay the night over there or a cozy place in the Market - Campagne has always been good to us. I also find the sharing at Lark to be conducive, but that is also a matter of style.

I don't want to divert you from Lampreia, because I do think that it is unique within the Seattle dining scene. At the same time, I am appending an excerpt from an email I sent to a colleague (an acquaintance of Carsburg's) after he set us up there for dinner late last December. We took another couple to liven things up.

Good luck.

December 31 2006

Was a memorable affair, if not entirely successful, and I want to thank you for facilitating. Here is a summary:

Perhaps my first error was in requesting 7:30 after they offered 7:00. We were there on the dot - there were three other tables, but were sat at a drafty table by the door. We were the last reservation of the evening.

Our second error may have been accepting the offer of a cocktail to start. I had a champagne cocktail, but apparently the maitre d' and the chef were on different schedules, for our first course (no amuse-bouche) arrived on the heels of the drinks. It was a lovely roll of Dungeness crab encased in translucent apple. A highlight of the meal, but one that would have been more appropriate after settling in and starting a glass of wine.

The pace was similarly breakneck from this point on, though I tried every trick that I had to slow it down. While they noted K's gluten allergy when we arrived, the second course of chocolate covered foie gras included brioche on her plate also. This dish worked very nicely when all of the components were intergrated into one bite - an orange marmalade was very nice. Ended up tasting a little like a foie gras Reese's peanut butter cup, but well within current trends (see foie gras peanut butter and jelly at Veil or foie gras bon bons at Licorous).

Highlights -

Poached truffled duck egg

Tyrolese sausage (stuffed with foie gras) was absolutely tremendous

seared sea bass with (ample) truffles and butter; the truffles from the largest black truffle I have ever seen

Missteps -

Carrot soup with tapioca had little to redeem it

Kobe beef carpaccio with eggplant puree and odd little flavored gelatin bits

We started with a recommended bottle of Chablis which was very clean and whose greatest strength may have been that it did not compete with the food. Our second bottle was a Nuits St. George that I found to be superb, but that others found to be short on the finish. I thought a very good food wine.

All in all, I felt that they never took us seriously as diners, and I am not sure why. I suppose with Scott it could be anything. He paid us absolutely no attention, except to glare at us from the pass window.

...

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