Is Queen Anne the new hotspot for dining out? So it would appear - particularly upper Queen Anne, where restaurants are opening and closing their doors at such a rate that it's almost as if there's a gigantic game of musical chairs being played, and while some of the players are switching their seats, others are new to the game, and some have simply packed up their bags and gone home.
In the midst of local concerns about ongoing reconstruction and its effects on small businesses and the greater community, there's no reason that we shouldn't celebrate the coinciding appearance of a vibrant, growing restaurant community on top of the hill.
That said, sometimes the hardest part of change is letting go of the people and places to which we've grown attached. Over the past several months, Queen Anne has said goodbye to several eateries, such as Pat's on the Ave, the much-loved coffee and lunch spot with a sidewalk window counter where you'd frequently find locals sipping something hot and gossiping about news on the Hill. More recently we lost sentimental favorite Pizza Pete's, a cozy neighborhood institution that was family friendly, always a little loud, and boasted calzones that were worth the trip no matter where you lived in Seattle. Other closings include Barbacoa (a great barbecue joint that made fantastic margaritas); Gorditos (ditto on the margaritas, home of the mammoth burrito and a short run despite a beautifully renovated space); Lumette (which never quite took off but offered better-than-decent pizza and, for a while, live jazz on Thursdays); Q (a good menu at a restaurant that felt like it wanted to be a nightclub that wanted to be a restaurant); O Lounge (a small bar located right around the corner from big sister, Orrapin, offering music, cocktails and a few noodle dishes); and Banjara Cuisine of India (serving respectable Indian food with the added bonus of a warm, gracious staff).
Of course, the departure of these restaurants left spaces to be filled. And, as a testament to the future of the local restaurant scene, almost before you knew that any one of these establishments was gone, another had taken its place - ready to vie for your attention, waving its arms in an effort to get noticed. However, in the wake of all these closings, Queen Anne's current popularity among restaurateurs begs the question: Why? If so many eateries are closing their doors, what is it about these new places that make their owners think that they will survive? Could it be true, as Rob Smith (one of Q's former owners) told Nancy Leeson in The Seattle Times, that "Queen Anne is a very finicky neighborhood"? Maybe it was the restaurants themselves that under- performed? Or, were they simply victims of an industry known for having a low success rate? Most likely, the answer is all of the above, and more.
When I asked the proprietors why they chose upper Queen Anne for their new restaurants, several cited qualities of the neighborhood, such as its "great feel" and the fact that it's growing. Others acknowledged that there is sufficient community affluence to support the increasing number of restaurant options. Others simply found a space that suited their needs and suggested that the current boom is more attributable to availability than anything else. Regardless of the reasons, Queen Anne locals are the primary beneficiaries and, by the end of spring, your choice of where to dine out will have multiplied.
The following is an overview (in order of opening date) of some of Queen Anne's most recent additions and coming attractions.
2209 Queen Anne Ave. N., 352-6213 (formerly Barbacoa)
Open: Monday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
I can't say enough about this small but terrific restaurant. White linen tablecloths, amber candlelight, murmuring voices and an excellent waitstaff might imply imperiousness, but there's a wonderful comfort about the space that makes it entirely inviting.
The menu changes monthly, and although Portage bills itself as French, the delicious food actually feels a little more like French bistro-meets-Northwest cuisine, with good, often local ingredients dressed in elegant and classically simple French attire.
Having already been touted by local critics, the popularity of Portage extends outside of the neighborhood. Even so, owners Tricia and (chef) Vuong Loc have a special place in their hearts for Queen Anne residents, several of whom have become regulars since the restaurant's late summer opening.
Bear in mind that if you come on the weekend, you'll likely need a reservation.
2128 Queen Anne Ave. N.
Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. lunch, 5-10 p.m. dinner
(Friday-Saturday to 11 p.m.)
There's a real excitement about this new Italian restaurant, owned and operated by Fabio Bonjarda and his mom, Enza Sorrentino, both of whom migrated from Palermo, Italy, within the past 10 years. The menu (heavy on Sicilian dishes) is making a serious impression on local diners, but it's the owners' friendliness that'll have you wanting to return before you take your first bite. Sorrentino is head chef and responsible for all of the recipes and homemade pastas, including the mouthwatering ravioli stuffed with fresh crabmeat. Pizzas are also very good, and there's a range of meat and fish dishes. The location has literally been full each of the three times I've visited and is garnering a following throughout Seattle. It seems Queen Anne has been starving for the right Italian restaurant, and this might just be it.
1905 Queen Anne Ave. N.
(formerly Pat's on the Ave)
Opening: late February
This small restaurant, whose name encompasses its owner corporation ("Va"), will offer Chinese and Japanese food - including a six-seat sushi bar - and wine and beer. Manager Valentino Chen informed me that they will offer takeout and, potentially, delivery. As the only Chinese restaurant on top of the Hill, it won't have any immediate competition in that arena, but the fish at nearby Ototo Sushi remains hard to beat. Give me a decent plate of Kung Pao chicken or pot stickers good enough to plan a meal around, and I'll be more than happy with this newcomer.
JULIA'S ON QUEEN ANNE
1825 Queen Anne Ave. N.
Opening: early March
If you're familiar with the menu at the other Julia's restaurants, you can expect pretty much of the same at this new outpost: a popular breakfast spot that also serves lunch and dinner, with a full bar and a bent for natural foods. The only significant difference will be the dinner menu, which varies at each location based on the tastes of the neighborhood itself. Julia's will be located in a two-story Victorian home that originally housed a law office: the first floor for diners and the second for private parties and cooking classes. Owners Eladio Preciado and Karsten Betd (who was, incidentally, a waiter at Julia's in Wallingford before purchasing the business several years ago) believe that many people who live on Queen Anne prefer to dine here as well, and they intend to cater to locals. As a plus, your meal may be accompanied by live harp or piano music.
2 Boston St. (formerly Banjara)
Opening: first week of April
Orrapin Chancharu, owner of Orrapin Thai Cuisine (and, formerly, O Lounge), is launching this new, high-end restaurant offering "world cuisine," with an eclectic menu that will feature food from ... all over the globe, including dishes from France, South Africa, Morocco and Burma. Chanchuru travels extensively and has been collecting and gathering her favorite recipes for years for this purpose. The space is undergoing major renovation and is promised to be "beautiful and sophisticated," with dishes priced from $15 to $28, and a full bar and comprehensive wine list. Bonus point: valet parking likely.
317 W. Galer St.
Like the original on Capitol Hill, this pizzeria will offer Neapolitan-style pies and share a slavish commitment to all things Italian, including every ingredient, an Italian-language menu and the pizza maker himself, a Napoli-native. Principle owner Mike McConnell commissioned a wood-burning oven for the space (constructed, of course, by visiting Neapolitans) in order to produce the ultra-thin, slightly charred crust for which the pies are known. The Queen Anne location is slightly smaller than the original, which is often packed with devotees to the authentic pizza, and promises to be equally popular. Expect loads of ambience, a full bar, an extensive Italian wine list, and great pizza, but don't expect to substitute toppings: the menu is taken very seriously and the pizzas are considered perfect, as offered. Takeout is available.
1507 Queen Anne Ave. N. (formerly Gorditos)
Opening: May 1
This is the second restaurant for Craig Serbousek and Jesse Thomas, who also own the highly acclaimed Crow in Lower Queen Anne. The restaurants' menus will differ but will share a sensibility for straightforward, excellent dishes prepared with fresh ingredients. Betty will include a chef's counter, a good-sized lounge and (hopefully but not yet certain) a rear deck. Because Crow's popularity means that reservations are sometimes turned away, there's little concern about splitting the restaurants' customer base. Thomas, a longtime Queen Anne resident, believes that there's more than enough room for another high-quality restaurant in the area and is thrilled to have one so close to home. Additional benefit: Betty will be open for lunch.
MYSTERY RESTAURANT 2208 Queen Anne Ave. N. (formerly O Lounge)
Opening: sometime within the next 2-3 months
I'm sworn to secrecy regarding the new lessees of this tiny location, as they haven't completely ironed out the details of what will become their second bar/restaurant in Seattle. However, I can tell you that, akin to their first, the menu will likely include small plates and specialty cocktails and the atmosphere will be intimate and low key.