Jennifer Richard

Quinn's opened to unseemly excitement on my part at the end of October. The menu, I said on Slog, The Stranger's blog, "will make you want to scream." I hadn't even been there yet. But Quinn's pedigree held promise, even (or especially) among all the new places in this little part of Capitol Hill—transplants Stellina and La Spiga; Boom Noodle, from the Blue C Sushi company; and, coming soon, Barrio from the Purple people, and a rumored establishment from the notorious Michael Hebberoy. Quinn's is the sibling of Restaurant Zoë in Belltown—Zoë is named after the owners' daughter, Quinn's, their son. Zoë's an upscale Seattle staple. It lodges in the mind with a little glow. "I should go there again!" you think, but then you succumb to the new over the tried-and-true (or just the protest of your wallet).

Quinn's is a less expensive gastropub, serving thoughtful, prettied-up versions of country foods people have been eating forever. Some castigated Quinn's for displacing the old-school Mexican restaurant La Puerta with pretentious yuppie food. While the displacement ship has clearly sailed—at least in this three-block radius—La Puerta moved to the nearby Broadway Market (see this week's Bar Exam).

And Quinn's, as predicted, has been mobbed. They don't take reservations, and no one seems to care; plentiful beer and whiskey choices ease the waiting pain. People are crazy about the burger ($12, eight-ounce Wagyu beef; cf., La Puerta's carne asada burrito, $12.95). Meanwhile, Zoë's popularity continues unabated in Belltown (albeit in a more orderly fashion; they do take reservations). It's not really fair to pit the two siblings against each other. They're not trying to do the same thing—except, in the most basic sense, they are. And, as is frequently noted, life isn't fair.

The best thing about Quinn's might be the bouquet-of-lightbulbs chandeliers, like a collection of good ideas glowing together. Or the dark, plain furnishings set against the enormous windows, anchoring the bounty of space, leaving the limelight to the building's bones. Upstairs is like the hold of an old ship, with the captain's table on one side and seating for shipmates on the other. Framed pieces of farm art avoid cuteness or even, sometimes, notice. Looking down on the crowded bar, you might see chef/owner Scott Staples' bald head: He's escaped from the kitchen to have a glass of wine. Quinn's surroundings are, perversely, kind of thrilling when you notice them and recede, entirely appropriately, when you don't.

The server's T-shirt reads "TRUST ME." He immediately earns it by recommending the "duck! duck! mousse!" ($12), an exploration of fowl: pleasingly gamey, rough-chopped duck rillette with cherry compote; foie gras/chicken mousse, like poultry frosting; and a deviled duck egg. Bread salad's ($8) crisped up with crescents of fennel, and the tomatoes are replumped sun-dried ones, a simple wintertime stroke of genius. TRUST ME appears to actually love being asked questions, responding conspiratorially. A spectacular pork belly roulade ($17)—a rich meat-wheel with pretty orange squash-cubes, chestnuts, and a chestnut jus—was spiraled up with garlic and confited in duck fat, he reports back from the kitchen; the sage flavor comes from the squash risotto. Tuna ($19) with a perfect one-eighth-inch sear, bacon, chanterelles, and foie gras sauce makes for a deep, earthy, marvelous surf-and-turf.

It's the kind of food that can make you giddy. Desserts are more than mere sugar pills: bread pudding ($6) built with lots of unsoggy fruit and candied hazelnuts; superfresh goat-cheese panna cotta ($6), dense but fluffy, what cheesecake wishes it were, with also just-in-season rhubarb compote (and for good measure, a burgundy poached pear, with sour instead of sweet whipped cream). A live band at Sole Repair next door starts thumping through the wall at 10:00 p.m. No one even seems to notice.

Zoë's finest feature might be just a wall. It's painted in the most pleasing possible green and has an off-center gilded grate, the irregularity that makes beauty truly beautiful. Zoë also has gorgeous sweeping windows (here with pushed-back gauzy drapes), and spare and dark tables and chairs. It's quieter, more spacious, but it also feels dated: another accent-color wall, sponge-painted; riveted mod-corporate ceiling panels; curlicued ironwork. A large, busy abstract painting contains bird-shapes that appear poised to attack the diners sitting below. The Air soundtrack is dated, from 2000, the year Zoë opened.

A roulade à la Zoë ($15.50), veal sweetbreads and chicken mousse, turns out to be a sort of cake, the elements pressed together to neither's advantage. Grilled octopus ($11) has the tenderness of chicken breast; it's good, but the watermelon radish salad with blood-orange vinaigrette underneath is too vinegary, an issue that recurs with the pickled cabbage under the roasted pork loin ($22). The cabbage fights with figs and bacon and a wet polenta, but the pork—served barely seared, like Quinn's tuna—has big, beautiful hammy flavor. The server promises to check where it's from but doesn't. She doesn't quite connect, which at these prices, feels like a betrayal. Scallops ($27), jellylike inside, need maybe a minute more sear, and hard, undercooked lentils are among their pretty orange squash-cubes, oyster mushrooms, and bacon. And squishy bread pudding ($8) and chocolate torte ($8) are merely fine, what they are instead of what they aspire to.

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Revisiting both, I expected to love them equally, for different reasons, just like their parents would doubtless say they do. But all things considered, Quinn's outshone lovely Zoë. Sorry, sister. recommended