1900 W Nickerson St, 283-4665
Mon–Thurs 11 am–10 pm; Fri 11 am–11 pm; Sat 7:30 am–11 pm; Sun 7:30 am–10 pm.
Apple pie, it is said, is everybody's second-favorite pie, which accounts for its popularity at family gatherings. Most everyone likes it, and no one hates it, unless it is made with so much cornstarch that you can grout tiles with it, but that's another story.
It's not easy to find a restaurant that can fill this rather necessary function. To find a place that pleases everyone—an "apple-pie restaurant"—you need to discover a place with enough character and good food to please food snobs like me, but that is still comfortable enough for older out-of-town relatives who may find themselves addled by Pacific Rim flavors, or small plates, or waiters who are even the slightest bit sullen. Preferably such a restaurant should have a view, since out-of-town guests seem to always want to dine by the water.
Chinook's, a casual member of the local Anthony's chain, meets all of these criteria. It's a pretty good slice of apple pie.
I wasn't so sure at first: I grimaced as I walked under a giant neon salmon outside of the restaurant—where is the gallery that sells all this bad salmon art to restaurants, hotels, and airports anyway?—but in fact the interior of Chinook's is light on salmonalia. With white tiled floors and a nifty wrap-around bar, the place is clean and bright, avoiding the cedar-y northwest cliché. Even its water view is distinctive. While other seafood emporiums overlook the incontestable beauty of the Olympics and Puget Sound, Chinook's looks out onto the more industrial waters of Fisherman's Terminal, where colorful, battle-scarred fishing boats come home to rest. The boats you can see through the windows float peacefully in their slips, but there are reminders of the hard knocks of fishing life all around—photos in the corridors show brawny fisher-men wrestling with nets amid angry seas.
Another apple-pie restaurant criterion: It can't be too noisy, as noise plays havoc with grandma's hearing aid. Chinook's has reached a certain level of audible perfection—a cheery level of babble that can keep conversational lapses from seeming awkward. But it's not too loud—even the old woman at the next table over, the one with the foot-high silver bouffant, seemed to have no problem hearing her daughter above the commotion.
As for the food, well, the seafood is super fresh, and the menu does get you out of the halibut-or-salmon rut. Try some sturgeon ($17.95)—sure it could be grilled for a moment less, but it is a scrumptious firm fish, and a little bit of butter sauce doesn't hurt either. This retro affinity for butter is the common denominator at Chinook's; the menu is soaked in winey beurre blanc sauces and pools of garlic butter. There's even something reassuring about the way the sturgeon, and most other entrées, is flanked by herbed potatoes and just-barely cooked broccoli as a sort of healthy penance against all that butter.
Lingcod, a fish that needs a good publicist if ever there was one, is a surprise favorite ($15.95). Served with a cap of fluffy dill sauce, it's lovely—both old-fashioned and unexpected. Speaking of old-fashioned, I had a shrimp (and crab) Louie salad ($17.95) for the first time in ages. Until I get the carbon-dating results back, I won't know how old its iceberg lettuce was, but the kitchen was so generous with its pile of fresh sweet Dungeness crab meat and tiny shrimp that it seems downright unfriendly to complain about old lettuce. And while "there are no good crab cakes to be had in Seattle" is a good rule of thumb while dining out—this despite the fact that they show up on every menu in town—at Chinook's they're good ($16.95).
Still, if you're looking for culinary splendor, you won't find it here. But it is a handy restaurant to have in your arsenal should guests drop in from one of those red states. Every now and then you might even want to play tourist in your own town and stare out at the fishing boats. As you dip Chinook's fried razor clams into some tartar sauce, you can dream about husky fishermen in yellow overalls.