Sweet success: Dulces' 10 years in Madrona

In Madrona is one of Seattle's most celebrated restaurants: Dulces Latin Bistro. Pronounced "dool-says," the word means "something sweet" in Spanish, and a sweet, small treasure it is - well-loved and frequented by its loyal patrons.

The menu is astonishing in depth and flair, and the 1,400-label international wine list boasts a long record of awards including Best of Award of Excellence, given to only nine restaurants in Seattle and 400 in the world.

Wine Enthusiast magazine gave Dulces its Award of Ultimate Distinction last February. Then there's Top Ten Restaurants in Seattle, and the list goes on.

In a world where only a small percentage of restaurants succeed, what is the magic ingredient that keeps Dulces winning coveted awards year after year? As always, success boils down to the people who run the business - their dedication and joy in what they do, which is truly the case with Dulces.

The husband-and-wife team of Carlos Kainz and Julie Guerrero is a combination of opposites that works in perfect union. By Julie's admission, Carlos is the extrovert (with a large dose of Latin suave) and she the introvert. Both are always there: Julie is the hands-on chef, and Carlos is the wine sage who loves to mingle and educate guests in selecting the perfect wine match to their meal.

When they started the restaurant, Carlos sold his wine cellar for seed money, and now he owns one of the most impressive wine cellars in the Pacific Northwest.

Their love affair with Madrona began 10 years ago this month, but in spite of mounting accolades, Dulces remains what it has always been, a neighborhood bistro: a warm, inviting and romantic escape from the rush and hurry of the outside world. Dining is an "experience to be savored, not rushed," Julie said.

Comfort comes first, reflected in the menu, which Julie calls, "European comfort food, flavors from all countries." Menu items include cassolet, beef bourguignon, paella and sopa verde, a traditional stew from the Northern coast of Mexico that combines fresh fish, scallops, prawns and mussels in a tomatillo and cilantro broth.

Along with a seasonal menu, there's a fixed-price dinner that changes monthly. Guests can choose from three appetizers, three entrees and a dessert tray (including Julie's signature pecan pie), but even those choices can be custom-tailored.

Accommodating individual tastes is No. 1 with Carlos and Julie. Carlos visits each table, pairing wines with each course, while paying particular attention to unique preferences when choosing.

Comfort is likewise reflected in Dulces' ambiance, with candlelight bouncing off sienna-painted walls and a velvet curtain framing the performance stage of an open kitchen.

A baby grand piano adds to the elegance and provides a welcome source of primo classical music on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Service is unobtrusive, a tribute to its waiters, Manuel and Octavio - both five-year veterans of Dulces. "Manny" has the distinction of having been voted the city's second-best waiter by Seattle magazine.

And, of course, there's the wine room for private parties, where guests can browse floor-to-ceiling cases of wines from around the world. Offerings include 140 cabernets, 45 ports, wines from Italy, Spain, Australia and Portugal - all of which Carlos has tasted (though he's a self-professed light drinker).

Plus, there's a long list of premium Northwest and California wines.

Carlos calls the room his "map to madness," for many of the wines were found during his travels.

While Carlos is proud to say, "We know most of our clientele by name," Julie likes to ask, "How do you say 'thank you'?" Their patrons will agree: They already have.

For more imformation about Dulces Latin Bistro, 1430 34th Ave., call 322-5453, or visit the website at www.dulceslatinbistro.com.

Kathryn Hack is a former Madison Valley resident. To reach her, e-mail mptimes@nwlink.com.

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