When the time comes, as it often does, for a pressure valve to release the daily demands and to-do lists, we all have tried-and-true places to slip into and — figuratively, please — put up our feet while being waited on by capable staff.
Hi-Life in Ballard (5425 Russell Ave. NW; 784-7272; www.chowfoods.com/hi-life), one of Chow Foods’ four locally owned and locally oriented establishments, serves as a great neighborhood hangout when the pressure is off. Located just south of Market Street in downtown Ballard, in a firehouse more than 100 years old, Hi-Life features seasonal menus that take advantage of fresh produce and local ingredients. The bar also has seasonal specialties. Kick back and spend some time sampling the variety.
We went for weekend brunch and sampled the “Cleanup on Aisle 12,” a flavorful, mixed-vegetable hash served over polenta and poached eggs. We also enjoyed the “Croque Madame” — a baked sandwich with ham, gruyere and eggs that arrived in its hot, cast-iron skillet. This was quite tasty and very rich. We would order each again, except there are so many other items we want to try, including the “Enchilada Stack,” the chiaquiles and the corned beef hash.
The environment is friendly and attentive, but the staff did not rush us at all. The only pressure to leave comes from the empathy of watching the line build up at the door. Hi-Life takes reservations for most dining times, including its Sunday night, fried chicken special, but not during the weekend brunch. The atmosphere is family oriented, but one television screen in the bar would allow you to while away your time watching sports.
Low-pressure dining often starts with a stress-relieving walk to your local eatery. Every neighborhood should have its own restaurant and the luckiest neighborhoods have a genuine Italian restaurant to call their own. Café Lago in Montlake (2305 24th Ave. E.; 329-8005; cafelago.com/) is a major gathering spot for the neighborhood, especially for families on Sunday night. Picture windows that look onto the street are an appealing draw, as is the glowing pizza oven in the back of the dining room. When you’re done in by the daily hustle and bustle, with no energy to take on traffic, a 10-block walk to perfect pasta is a marvelous cure.
Café Lago has graced the corner of 24th Avenue and Lynn Street for almost 25 years. The menu is solidly Italian; the thin-crust pizzas appeal to all ages. The margherita pizza with simple mozzarella, basil and tomato is a perennial favorite and can be eaten in its entirety by one teenage boy. The antipasti — from Caesar salad to roasted tomatoes — are all excellent choices, while the family favorite is a combination of simple, but delectable, tastes: bleu cheese with romaine, a shower of thin red onions, carrot matchsticks, and a balsamic reduction. A candid moment among friends might lead to the confession that the salad is ordered only to savor the tasty balsamic dressing.
Handmade pasta highlights the linguine con vongole — small, tender clams, steamed open, resting atop fresh linguine flavored with adequate garlic and a touch of chili. When the puttanesca is offered as a special, do not miss it: It is “tomatoey” with a touch of brine, and a bit of a bite. The iconic dish is lasagna; not the typical dense, layered square of pasta and sauce, but a pillow of delicate, filled pasta, which arrives in a white, shallow bowl, each bite melting as one savors it.
Good news: Owner Carla Leonardi is opening a market and deli in the recently shuttered Canal Market on Portage Bay a few miles away. We’ll be sure to visit for low-pressure, high-quality shopping!
Marjorie (1412 E. Union, Seattle; 441-9842; marjorierestaurant.com) is consistently referred to in media reviews as comfortable, cozy and romantic. Marjorie has one of the prettiest little patios in the city. Think spring dining and relaxing. Owned by Donna Moodie, the restaurant is named in honor of her Jamaican mother. In the tradition of her mother, Moodie serves as a welcoming and warm hostess for each and every guest.
Recently, we were on our way to the Moore Theatre to hear gritty blues guitarist Gary Clark, Jr., when we stopped in at Marjorie to begin the evening on a relaxed note. Our younger concert companions later described Clark’s performance as “effortless swag.” So, too, was Marjorie.
We were seated at our favorite bar stools, in the corner by the window. Most people rightfully begin with “Miss Marjorie’s Steel Drum Plantain Chips,” now being marketed and sold at a wide range of specialty food stores and recently mentioned in The New York Times. These arrive with guacamole topped with chunks of pineapple. They are delicious. But as we were looking for a light and simple meal, we skipped that treat and went right to the menu.
While there are several tempting options on the starter menu, we passed over our steamed clams standby and shared the tender baby lettuce salad, which is lightly dressed with a perfectly balanced vinaigrette and topped with thinly sliced radishes and the best hazelnuts we have ever tasted. The salad was followed by pizza built on house-made dough, with a layer of béchamel, thinly sliced potato, thyme, arugula and prosciutto. And that was dinner. Perfect and with a slice of pizza left over for lunch the next day.
Some of our entrée favorites on other nights are the halibut (when in season), the pork chop (try not to pick up the bone) and the true burger (not to be eaten without the pomme frites). Do not fail to try the brioche bread pudding for dessert. You will order it each time you return, guaranteed.
Marjorie is as comfortable to us as our own dining room table, although the service is much better than at home. It is definitely a first choice for comfortable ambience.
For those experiencing stress in downtown Seattle, we offer this wisdom: Pressure decreases with increasing altitude. Towering above Seattle, the 40th-floor Starbucks in the Columbia Tower (701 Fifth Ave.; 264-0152) is therefore the lowest-pressure coffee shop in the Pacific Northwest. This location is also low pressure as a result of its familiar menu.
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