So I shocked my friends when I decided to devote an entire column to hipster restaurants--places that normally give me full-on anxiety attacks; places mentioned frequently in the gossip column of this very paper. But I was curious: Was the food at these hotspots actually any good? Or just obligatory edibles served to keep the Liquor Board satisfied so booze can flow nightly?
Rock stars and local luminaries have come to depend on Bimbo's Bitchin' Burrito Kitchen (506 E Pine, 329-9978) for tasty Mexican favorites while knocking back cocktails next door in the Cha Cha Lounge. But Mexican comfort food can also be found now at the Green Room (1426 First Ave, 628-3151), where enchiladas, burgers, tamales, stuffed chilies, and Cabo-style fish tacos have earned a loyal following among GR regulars.
If you're considering dinner at Bada Lounge (2230 First Ave, 374-8717), Belltown's über-fashionable flavor of the month--complete with a line out the door, décor straight out of Wallpaper magazine, and hordes of slim, eager heterosexuals--I suggest you make a reservation and arrive meticulously groomed. Bada's food (which I ate at the bar, since I didn't reserve a table) reflects its polished surroundings: Entrées are ambitious, confident, stylized, and deliberate. Even sashimi ($12), conventionally served naked with condiments on the side, is dolled up with an aggressive ponzu sauce and wedges of avocado, and garnished with an elaborate, fluffy tower of daikon and carrot wisps. Maine lobster ($22) is delicious, presented out of its shell and perched atop sautéed baby bok choy, fresh peas (yay!), and buttery shiitakes, the tender lobster flesh doused with a rich demi-glace.
Foie gras and Niman Ranch organic pork chops also beckoned, but after overhearing lots of pickup lines and meat-market small talk, I left, slightly depressed and intimidated by the throng of pretty girls in complicated shoes. If this is what the "singles scene" is like, I don't think I'm ever getting laid again. But damn. That lobster was really good.
I ended my scenester safari with Cyclops (2421 First Ave, 441-1677), where Chef Matt Costello's versatile, modern menu--soothing classics (matzo ball soup, handmade ravioli) alongside clever combinations such as a quail appetizer with mushroom spring rolls ($7) or citrus-cured salmon and sublime crepes, flecked with sunflower seeds and filled with warm goat cheese ($7)--completely won me over.
It's obvious that Costello, who paid his kitchen dues at the Palace Kitchen and Dahlia Lounge, has fun playing with flavors: His free-range fried chicken ($11) is soaked in buttermilk and chilies overnight, dredged in cracker crumbs, deep-fried, and served with a refreshing sweet/sour apple slaw. Asparagus soup ($5) is more than just a creamy, flavorful purée--it's aromatherapy, enhanced with thyme and flawlessly grilled whole mushrooms, which add a woodsy depth to the vegetable stock.
Plump, fresh mussels ($9) are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with lime butter and hints of saffron, a perfect starter. And I promise that the duck salad ($7) with pistachios and a fragrant orange-flower vinaigrette will taste new and exciting: Cold, medium-rare slices of delicately spiced duck breast are fanned across curly carrot shavings, which--thanks to the orange flower--leave a sweet, lingering perfume on your tongue.
I even returned in the morning, anxious to try more. Soft a.m. sunlight streamed in as attractive couples enjoyed postcoital breakfasts: omelets, scrambles, corncakes, etc. I dove into the brunch special, a truly innovative pot pie ($9) with shredded chicken, seasonal vegetables (fresh corn and fava beans, wilted arugula, hunks of Yukon gold potatoes, all in light cream), and a feathery veil of golden cheese as its "crust."
I shoveled huge spoonfuls into my mouth, and looked out onto a quiet First Avenue. My friends weren't even awake at this hour, much less wide-eyed and alert and inhaling a pot pie for breakfast. I need to get out more.