There is no Betty.
"They just thought it sounded cool," says the waiter.
"They" are the owners of Crow, lower Queen Anne's favorite neighborhood restaurant. Betty is the name of their new neighborhood restaurant on upper Queen Anne, in the ground-floor-condo-retail space that briefly housed a branch of Gordito's taqueria. Gordito's arguably makes Seattle's best burrito; any neighborhood in the city should be overjoyed to have Gordito's, but upper Queen Anne rejected it. Upper Queen Anne's kind of a bitch. Upper Queen Anne wants wine bars with Italian names—on Friday night at 8:30, a few doors away, pretty, upscale Bricco della Regina Anna is packed with pretty, upscale drinkers of wine. And upper Queen Anne wants Betty—it's full, too.
If you bother to think about the name, which upper Queen Anne won't—"Betty" will be untethered from associations, like the Nikes that upper Queen Anne wears to the gym—you might think of someone's great-aunt's dessert, or Betty Boop/Betty and Veronica/Bettie Page/Bette Davis, or Betty as the term for a female snowboarder. You might then develop an expectation that Betty-the-restaurant would be all about comfort food, or sexy/cartoonish/retro, or ski-lodge-esque with beer and burgers served by tattooed chicks in baggy clothing.
But Betty-the-restaurant is your basic, pleasant, contemporary neighborhood restaurant. The walls are medium blue, the art is profoundly ainoffensive, the kitchen openish, the pendant light fixtures utilitarian. Booths and banquettes of hard-as-hell wood—like pews—are echoed by the only other significant design element, a couple stained-glass windows in the back, salvaged from the remodeling of Seattle First Christian Church. Betty might've been called, more sensibly, Marta (patron saint of cooks/entertaining) or St. Urban (saint of the vine; Betty's wine list and wine service are both above par).
I happened to dine at Betty with an advertising executive from Portland, home of Nike. Afterward she said, via e-mail: "From an experiential standpoint, Betty doesn't have a single brand POV. The name, minimalist furnishings, uncomfortable benches, stained glass, etc., aren't a cohesive reflection of one concept—more a jumble of things pulled together to get to the 'Copper River salmon and wine' feel... like 'neighborhood restaurant in a box' or something."
But despite this merciless conceptual critique and the suboptimal seating, the ad executive said she'd eat at Betty—a lot—if it were in her neighborhood. The idea may be confused or confusing, but the food is not. Crow's known for simply prepared, very tasty dishes, and Betty admirably follows suit. Upper Queen Anne is lucky to have Betty, by whatever name she goes.
Betty's menu is unsurprising, except in its brevity: limited selections, few descriptors, almost zero information about ingredients. Maybe you'd like to know more, but it's relaxing to not be faced with a tome. For first courses, there's the currently ubiquitous beet salad, oysters on the half shell, crostini. The calamari preparation ($10) stands out: exactingly tender, sautéed in lemon/garlic deliciousness with artichokes, niçoise olives, a few cherry tomatoes on top. It's uncomplicated, lovely, evocative of the Mediterranean. Less pleasing: deep-fried Spanish ham and potato croquettes ($8), ungreasy but bland, with an unsettling premasticated texture and a pool of superfluous green oil.
Ordering chicken in a restaurant usually seems like a wasted opportunity to eat something more exciting, but Betty's pan-roasted version ($17) is extraordinary. Among a mere five entrée choices, it's the unexpected star—fresh herbs used to great advantage, including in pesto stuffed under the perfect skin; surpassingly moist meat; almost too much black pepper; savory pan sauces coating asparagus tips and corona beans. Betty's steak frites ($19), also unremarkable sounding, is remarkably good, a nine-ounce rib eye that's big but not thick, yet as juicy as you could wish, the fries handled with commendable care. Betty's morel risotto ($18) is deeply mushroom flavored, with criminis as well, tender peas, again nearly a surfeit of black pepper, maybe shallots; the rice is just right, not too soupy or too gluey. The current entrée special—unsurprisingly, Copper River salmon ($24)—looks lovely.
For dessert, the strawberry shortcake ($7) is exemplary, with a restrained amount of whipped cream and a tender biscuit, but you might want to ask if there's any pie. It's nothing fancy, and it's not on the menu, but the rhubarb version ($7) is expert—not too sweet, not too sour, tasting like it was maybe made by someone's great-aunt, possibly named Betty.