Seattle and its inhabitants are now engaged in our annual laborious climb out of the deep darkness of winter solstice. Most days are gloomy, moist affairs in which we rise, go to work and commute home all in the dark. But once in a rare while we are given the unexpected treat of a dazzlingly bright day, which we glimpse through our office windows.
Few of our readers want to be cooped up in a dark restaurant on one of our rare clear days; conversely, there's little point in going to a restaurant with lots of glass when it's pitch black and pouring outside.
Which Seattle restaurants are best for enjoying those rare bright days? And which restaurants make the most out of being dark? Most Schwabe reviewers expressed a preference for dark restaurants, perhaps to match their dark souls and even darker deeds. What follows are area restaurants notable for their brightness or darkness.
Downtown Bellevue has a growing number of excellent eateries, including Pearl Bar & Dining (700 Bellevue Way NE, Suite 50; 425-455-0181; pearlbellevue.com), located in Lincoln Square opposite the Westin and tucked under the valet entrance.
The limited sunlight that reaches into the aptly named Pearl filters through its stylish lounge before giving way to the soft, modern lighting in the dining areas. It's dark. But it's a warm, friendly, inviting kind of dark that seems pretty bright once you see what's inside.
The Pearl boasts fresh, locally produced, organic and sustainable ingredients for most of its food offerings, and its wine list is second to none when it comes to Northwest wines. Stop in for one of its two daily happy hours and choose from nearly two dozen excellent wines by the glass for half off.
If you like cocktails, then you will appreciate the Pearl's use of fresh fruits, herbs and top-shelf liquors. The Pearl's signature Cosmo and Manhattan are favorites, and unique offerings such as the "Quatro" (Grey Goose orange vodka, Campari, fresh grapefruit juice, soda water) are a nice complement to the small plates.
The steamed mussels and pan-seared prawns are exceptional - remember to ask for extra bread to dab up the rest of the garlic tapenade or spicy garlic butter. For dinner, one cannot miss with the Dungeness crab cake (yes, singular, but large and almost entirely crab) starter and the pan-seared scallops or merlot-braised boneless short ribs for the meal.
Just be sure to save room for some vanilla bread pudding or mocha crème brulee. The servers are accommodating and attentive, and the atmosphere is lively but not loud. Like its namesake, the Pearl is tucked away from view, but offers a nice reward to those who find it.
Il Bistro (93A Pike Street, Seattle; 682-3049; ilbistro.net), nestled into the foot of Pike Street where it meets the Market, is welcoming with soft, rose-colored - romantic - lighting. The bar is lovely with frosted, arched and paned windows, reflecting the gentle glow of street lamps, which served to camouflage the winter night that had fallen in Seattle with a dark thud by the time the 5 p.m. happy hour rolled around.
Il Bistro, serving Italian fare, has been a Seattle dinner favorite for decades. A recent reintroduction sold us on the happy hour as well. In addition to the subdued and calm ambience and arched doorways, the menu offers a varied selection with great prices, both tasty and satisfying.
The sauteed calamari was served in a puttanesca-reminiscent red sauce, perfect for sharing and for dipping the fresh bread. Combined with the lightly dressed Caesar salad, our after-work snack could easily suffice for dinner. The rye Manhattan was well balanced and the happy hour red wine blend was smooth.
A tip for those, like most of us, who visit for business rather than romance, the cell phone reception is solid and important calls will not be missed, unless intentionally so. Walking in the dark up Pike Street back to the office, returning from our brief transportation to Tuscany, we vowed we would return.
If you are tired of pretending to enjoy dainty meals served on oversized plates in dark basements reeking of mildew, try heading to one of the many respectable seafood restaurants on Puget Sound for a breath of fresh air. Take, for example, Anthony's in Edmonds (456 Admiral Way; 425-771-4400; anthonys.com/restaurants/detail/anthonys-homeport-edmonds).
We booked a table for brunch, around 1 p.m. on Sunday (brunch is served in the restaurant upstairs; lunch is served at the same time in the next-door Beach Cafe). The view of Puget Sound through the west-facing windows was gorgeous, with sailboats in the marina outside bobbing up and down like servile waiters.
As luck would have it, the sun came out just as we were seated. Although the sun was low on the horizon, the dining room was nevertheless so full of ambient light that one diner slipped his sunglasses on for comfort. The cheer around that sunny table was further enhanced by the realization that it was happy hour, including Bloody Marys for $3.95.
Oh yes, the food. Do not come here to dip your crudites in aioli or to order sweetbreads stewed in figs. The brunch menu is heavy on egg-and-hash-brown dishes, including some "Brunch Bowls" of staggering proportions. Salads were large and satisfyingly crispy, but otherwise unexceptional; we would recommend the Cobb over the almond chicken salad.
The fish and chips came with more chips than any normal human could consume in one sitting. The cheerful and attentive waiter showed up when needed, but was not intrusive. The food served here is not the center of attention; this is a place for convivial conversation and for gazing at the spectacular scenery outside the windows.
For years, those who could not bring themselves to stare out the windows at driving rain fled to the Fox Sports Grill. After descending the flights of stairs, they were treated to light therapy from the numerous screens displaying sports from around the globe. Alas, the Fox Sports Grill is no more.
Sports-loving mushrooms, do not despair. Edge Grill (1522 Sixth Ave., Seattle; 340-1369; edgegrillseattle.com) has taken its place. You can still descend below ground, watch your favorite team and enjoy casual American fare. The service is solid. The selection of beers on tap is impressive.
The menu includes something for just about everyone. While Michelin stars are not in the Edge Grill's future, the fish tacos and burgers do not disappoint. Rumor has it the fried pickles are a guilty pleasure for many. Until the Mariners again take the field and we catch a glimpse of the sun, Edge Grill is an option for a cold beer and a good game.
We visited Oliver's (405 Olive Way, Seattle; 623-8700; mayflowerpark.com/olivers.asp) located in the lobby level of the Mayflower Hotel for lunch on a rare, bright January day. Making the most of the unexpected sunshine, we sat at the bar so we could bask in it while looking out the enormous windows onto the corner of Fourth and Olive. Interestingly, the bar has seating areas ranging from light to dark, providing very confidential, even dark corners, in which to sit if you seek more privacy or less squint-inducing sunshine.
We ordered the $9 lunch specials (half sandwich with either soup or salad). A great value. The BLT and the club sandwiches, as well as the tomato soup that was featured that day, were impressive. The bread was fresh with a hint of sweetness. The salads were crisp and well dressed.
We completed our reviewing duties by checking out the abundant, and varied, cocktail list. A number of items with absinthe were featured, complemented by the gorgeous and impressive absinthe fountain, which holds a place of honor behind the bar. The Sazerac was quite good as was the "Paradigm Shift" (warning: it is shockingly pink), which won a best cocktail challenge award in 1999. Oliver's happy hour includes free (a vanishing species) hors d'oeuvres and drink specials, usually two seasonal cocktails, Monday to Saturday from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a multiservice, Northwest regional law firm with offices in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Bend. For comments on this article or to share your favorite places to eat or drink with the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt attorneys, contact Michael Herbst at 206-407-1570 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; see also www.schwabe.com/dining_out.aspx. Follow us on Twitter @schwabedinesout.