Cafe Soleil

1400 34th Ave at Union St (Madrona), 325-1126. Breakfast and lunch Wed-Fri 11 am-3 pm, Sat-Sun 9 am-2 pm; dinner Wed-Sat only 5-9 pm. $$.

Upscale Ethiopian by night, classic brunch by day, Cafe Soleil is one of a strip of three restaurants that make Madrona the brunch neighborhood of Seattle. The homey living-room atmosphere and sunny southern exposure (when there is sun) keep this small place crowded on weekends, especially with Teva-and-fleece geeks. Frittatas here are not really frittatas ($6-$7), just omelets laden with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, fresh parmesan, olives, etc. Ethiopia was once occupied by Italy, and this influence extends to Soleil's pastas and mozzarella sandwiches. At night it's strictly Ethiopian, with a better quality than you'll find at more traditional places nearby: Ethiopian-style shrimp, salmon, and lamb won't be found elsewhere. The vegetarian combination ($21) is about twice the price of other Ethiopian places, but it feeds three, and the flavors are fresh and sophisticated, ultimately making it a very good deal. CHARLES ROSENBERG


Sunfish

2800 Alki Avenue SW (West Seattle), 938-4112. Tues-Sun 11 am-9 pm; closed Mondays. $.

What makes Sunfish fish fillets, oysters, squid, and shrimp so special is the pleasingly non-greasy, light, and crispy breading (a Greek secret?). These tender ocean gems only visit the deep fat fryer--they don't live there. Fish choices include Halibut or Salmon ($6.75), or Cod ($6.25), and the Fried Calamari ($6.95)--a tempting pile of tentacles and tubules--appears to be made from the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After starting with a crisp, topnotch Greek Salad ($4.85) or some Sunfish Clam Chowder ($3 large/$2 small), try the hard-charging Sunfish Special ($8.75), a knockout "fish kebab" of grilled chunks of halibut and prawns interspersed with seared green peppers and onions. Vegetables in a fish and chips joint must be illegal, yet Sunfish expertly showcases them. While beer would be a welcome addition (is there anything finer than frosty, cold beer washing down a sizzling piece of halibut?), the pleasant staff makes up for the lack of liquid spirits. JIM ANDERSON


Canlis

2576 Aurora Ave N (North Queen Anne), 283-3313. Mon-Sat 5:30 pm-10 pm; closed Sun. (Jacket recommended; no jeans, shorts, sneakers, athletic wear.) $$$.

On the cusp of the Aurora Bridge, dangling over Lake Union, Canlis looms over Seattle like a benevolent patriarch. The ambiance is modern-classic, designed to give every table an advantageous aspect to the walls of windows. The impeccable staff, the decor, and even the food exist in quiet perfection, allowing diners to enjoy their company and the view unfettered. Waitstaff describe the origin and preparation of your dish as you order it--no verbose descriptions of items you're not interested in--and then disappear. The menu and presentations are not elaborate, but the food is superb. Grilled Alaskan Weathervane Scallops ($26) and Peter Canlis Prawns ($28) are prepared with restraint and simplicity, as to highlight their freshness. Filet Mignon ($35) and Wasyugyu Steak, a Kobe-style, New-York cut of Washington Beef ($49) also avoid the pomp-and-circumstance vulgarity so common to the presentation of premium meats. Nothing at Canlis boasts; instead, dishes arrive with confidence. That's the secret of true class: The best of everything should be assumed, not flaunted. ERIN FRANZMAN


Dixie's BBQ

11522 Northup Way (Bellevue), 425-828-2460. Mon-Sat 11:30 am-4:30 pm; closed Sundays. $.

Squirreled away between two mammoth freeway overpasses, the tiny parking lot of Porter's Automotive Service and RV is easy to miss. It is not so easy to avoid meeting "The Man," but I heartily recommend sidestepping this wicked, sadistic ritual, where Mr. Porter strolls around shouting, "Have you met the Man?!"--which in turn brands Nietzche's glib "that which doesn't kill me only makes me stronger" across diners' tongues. "The Man" is hydrochloric acid disguised as hot sauce; it will destroy the succulent barbecue it touches. Shticks aside, it's nice to eat someplace where the chef/owner presides. The pulled Pork and Beef Brisket ($6.50) are the first meats Dixie's usually runs out of, so if you can't eat these, try the chicken or ribs, but avoid the uninspired hot links. Dixie's deep and complex red beans, however, are a pleasant surprise: A number of chilies and peppers pile up and let loose their myriad of flavors. But you don't care about that. Go there. Eat some meat. RACHEL KESSLER


Gyorgo's Gyros

608 N 105th (Aurora/Greenwood), 781-5514. Mon-Sat 11:30 am-8 pm, closed Sun. $.

It was the sign that attracted me to Gyorgo's Gyros, lit up like an old movie theater marquee, as my date and I scudded by hungry on a Saturday afternoon. Inside, Gyorgo's lobby features a ceiling lit like an upside-down swimming pool, and provides both couch-style seating and a soda fountain-type bar. All of which may sound confusing--but when it comes to the food, Gyorgo's identity is anything but. Gyros (beef, chicken, and falafel: all $4.90), Horiatiki Salad (huge! $5.99), shish kebabs, and generous helpings of feta are ready to wrap your tongue around their delightful selves. Order at the counter, take a seat at a couch, and await your Bacchanalia while gazing bemusedly at the weird Odyssey-themed mural. This is Greek food at its simplest, cheapest, and arguably best. TRACI VOGEL

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-$20; $$$ = $20 and up.



Le Fournil

3230 Eastlake E, 328-6523

On my way to work, 6:45 am, hair icicling under my bike helmet, I sail by Le Fournil. The best bakers and pastry makers in Seattle are winding up their shift, and I can see impeccable croissants and brioche, warm and golden in brown baskets. I have sampled every variety of croissant ($1.25-$2), and although I am hopelessly addicted to the almond brioche--sweet, light brioche filled with marzipan, dipped in buttery egg batter and dusted with sliced almonds and powdered sugar--I have found each and every Le Fournil croissant quite heavenly. Tarts, cakes, mousses, and other confections enchant with details like a tiny chocolate mouse curling on top of a chocolate gteau, or a miniature green frog ($1), his mouth open to reveal exquisite raspberry mousse inside, layered on top of chocolate cake. As tasty as they are beautiful, I have never come close to anything quite as ethereal as their seasonal green plum tarts, tantalizing pumpkin tarts, cheese with fresh pears, and baked pear tarts, all constructed from pure ingredients.

Behind the croissant case are baskets of baguettes. Buy one. A handsome French baker with strong hands makes them for you every night. For a mere $6, that handsome French baker will make you an espresso, slit open a baguette, and spread on liver pté, Camembert, or some of the best tuna you've had (chopped up with fresh chives, tarragon, and rosemary); and you get your choice of pastry, too. An incredible lunch bargain and a damn satisfying sandwich--simple and fresh, crafted skillfully and with passion. RACHEL KESSLER

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