When Black Bottle is full, it's noisy as hell. The din can be off-putting until you realize that though you are in Belltown (way at one end, in the former home of the mysterious Two Dagos), it's not made up of mating-call squeals nor the bellowing of the quest for dominance.

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It's loud because it's a big box of a room with an exposed brick wall. (The airspace is punctuated with bare lights hanging by long wires from the ceiling, some like test tubes and others the traditional bulb shape, like inverted bright ideas over patrons' heads.) It's additionally loud because the back wall is made of nonshiny metal. (Up high it holds the room's one big-but-subtle design element, a kinetic cutout of, probably, an eyeball.) If architecture firms—in London, say—have cafeterias, they've got to be like this, and actually everyone here looks like an architect, tidy and thoughtful if maybe a little rumpled. Some women wear glasses, and some guys have genuinely unstudied, shrubbery-like productless hair.

People are here to hang out rather than hit on each other relentlessly. And they're here to eat. The menu offers a couple dozen not-so-small plates, and everything is $8. In August, right after they opened, I tried the seven-spice shrimp (a little dry); fresh salmon and fontina cheese balls (unexpectedly deep-fried, cooking the salmon and rendering the fontina kind of gluey); and proscuitto and béchamel flatbread (large and yummy, if extremely rich). I loved the simplicity of the space, and the fact that you could get a lot of food and not spend a ton (likewise with the wines, which are "hard-working wines, priced to sell," according to www.blackbottleseattle.com). But the dishes I tried—eh.

After giving the place a belated second chance, I hereby declare it the best $24 dinner for two in town. A heaped platter of blasted broccoli—florets roasted at high heat until singed crisp around the edges but still al dente, salted and peppered without timidity—came out first, randomly, but made a strangely great appetizer. A friend who happened to be sitting at the bar recommended the hanger steak, as did the waitress, and it had a tiny footnote about food-borne illness, which I always perversely consider a good sign. Asking that the kitchen cook it as they saw fit resulted in a row of seared medium-rare slices, very tender for hanger steak, on top of spicy shredded daikon with a pile of shiso salad. This mean version of mint, with its sandpapery texture and serrated edges, made a pungent and fresh wrap for bites of meat. Dish number three, rounds of not-too-mashed potatoes wound up in proscuitto resting in a potent balsamic vinegar sauce, wasn't my favorite, but it was tasty and filling.

The giant crazy-goodness of the chocolate cake ($7) has to be seen to be believed. Just avoid the cheese balls. recommended

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Black Bottle (2600 First Ave, 441-1500) is open from 4-ish pm to 1:30 am (Sundays until midnight).


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