Recently, while working my way through a plate of crispy chicken wings ($13) at Quality Athletics (121 S King St, 420-3015) in Pioneer Square, my eight-month-old daughter began voicing displeasure from her end of the table. I couldn't blame her. As my husband and I sucked tender meat off of bones and dragged our fingers through the fantastic black garlic ranch sauce that lined the plate—rich, putty-colored, and deeply savory—all the while mmming in pleasure, she was stuck in a high chair watching, with only a piece of steamed broccoli in her hand. I handed her a drumette and told her to get to work.

As my daughter begins to explore solid foods, I want her to experience as many flavors, textures, and types of food as possible. That includes the all-important joy of eating wings: holding the bones between her fingers, slurping sauce from the skin, and pulling the meat free with her teeth. (I also want her to learn that if you're going to eat meat, the least you can do is eat meat that actually looks like it came from an animal.)

That afternoon, my baby enjoyed the same wings that I did—the sweet-and-spicy deliciousness of the sauce, the crispness of the skin, the smokiness of the meat. The wings at Quality Athletics resemble the popular buffalo chicken wing mostly just in name. Although, like typical wings, they are deep-fried, they're also grilled and charred, which gives them a powerful boost of flavor. Slices of pickled celery—sour and still crunchy—and fennel fronds add much-needed brightness.

More importantly, the wings are served whole—not broken up into smaller drumettes and midsections—complete with the often-discarded, luscious, ultra-fatty tips. More and more restaurants these days are serving complete wings and cooking them in new ways. If this is the beginning of a trend, it is one I wholeheartedly support.

At Ballard's Essex (1421 NW 70th St, 724-0471), the wood-fired pizza oven it shares with its pathologically popular sister restaurant, Delancey, is used to great effect to cook crispy ranch wings ($12). These wings are tasty and, more significantly, downright juicy. (I was told they are brined first—genius.) The skin, delightfully crispy on the edges—though when I visited it was only crispy on the edges; there were swaths of flaccid skin in other parts—is dusted with a ranch seasoning that's tangy like buttermilk and bright with dill, and topped with a generous amount of salty Parmesan shavings. The pale yellow crème fraîche underneath looks and tastes, weirdly, exactly like margarine. A generous squeeze of lemon juice dramatically improves the situation.

It would be a crime in any discussion of chicken wings to not mention those at downtown's Palace Kitchen (2030 Fifth Ave, 448-2001), which have been on the menu for years and must never, ever go away. Here, whole chicken wings ($12.50) are first soaked in a distinctly vinegary, hot, and tangy marinade (I believe there's Tabasco in there, and some soy sauce, too). Then, they're grilled over applewood—not once, but twice—first at low heat, to render the fat, and then to order, over hotter flames, when they acquire just the right amount of blackened, blistered, caramelized, and crispy bits.

While the wings are fantastic, it's the coriander cream that's served underneath—thick, sour, cooling, and herbaceous—that really makes Palace's wings. Long after the bones have been licked clean and the wing tips sucked dry, you'll be running your fingers on the plate for the last traces of the stuff. (Later in the day you may even find yourself sniffing underneath your fingernails to recall the pleasure of eating these wings.)

Applewood is also used in the preparation of the duck wings ($14) at Capitol Hill's the Old Sage (1410 12th Ave, 557-7430), though here the wood is used to smoke them. The wings are served atop a funky cloud of Roquefort crème fraîche and topped with a salad of fresh cherries and celery, tossed in an unexpected and lovely coriander vinaigrette. The flavors play well together, but it's the texture of the duck meat—unbelievably tender, as though it might fall off the bones if you look at it wrong—that makes these wings so good. When I asked the server how they were prepared, he told me they were smoked, sous vide, and braised. Well then.

Speaking of bones, after so much careful cooking, the duck bones become so wonderfully soft that you can easily break through them with your teeth to suck out the musky marrow within. You'll want to do that with every single one.

A week after eating them, I kept thinking about those wings and how they were prepared in an entirely new way. I realized that I had eaten them in the very same way my daughter would have: with curiosity and abandon, every bite a discovery. recommended