April 18, 2007

Eatin' in the 'hood

nue_logo.gif Kevin Davis w vegetarian lasagna.JPG

What fun! Another restaurant promotion! This one's called New Urban Eats, and it features 20 relatively new places offering three-course dinners for thirty bucks. Sunday through Thursday, throughout May except (wonder why?) Mother's Day...the one day nobody should eat out but everybody does.

Sure, there are plenty of perfectly lovely places that serve dinner for less than $30. But the NUE restaurants are kinda fancy, kinda pricey, kinda hot. In some cases, very fancy, very hot. Predictable names (Steelhead Diner (that's Chef Kevin Davis, showing off his vegetarian meatloaf, above), Qube), geographically diverse (Sip and Iris in Issaquah! Who knew?), and what I call the "CR3 crew" (Crow, Crush, Crémant).

The long-established, March & November "25 for $25" promotion set the standard. Cooked up by Rich Malia (Ponti), Chris Keff (Flying Fish), Allan Aquila (Yarrow Bay Grill), Maureen Shaw (Ray's Boathouse) and PR guru Lissa Gruman, they faced enormous odds recruiting participants. "Can't make money, not our customer, don't want to play with those guys, etc." Early players took a leap of faith; Seattle restaurants hadn't tried anything collaborative like this before.

"We didn't really expect 25-for-25 to grow as successfully as it has," Gruman recalls. As for the magic "25" number? That was all the original group could round up.

Wasn't until later that you'd hear periodic grumblings from newcomers like Ethan Stowell, who wasn't around at the start and considered himself locked out of the club. For all that, neither of Stowell's restaurants, Union nor his controversial new spot, Tavolata, is on the NUE list, either.

NUE is giving newer, smaller, independent restaurants a chance to shine, but they still had to be well-reviewed by the dailies. Sounds fair, and we know how fickle they can be.

(Parenthetically, it's no accident that this year's Pulitzer for criticism went, for the first time, to a restaurant writer...not for a daily (Ruth Reichl never won when she was at the Los Angeles Times) but for the scruffy, wildly talented critic at an alternative urban rag, Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly.)

Nice touch on the NUE website: menus for all participating restaurants. Scallop sashimi at O/8, duck liver flan at Crémant, the unctuous lamb shank at Crow, Olympic Mountain ice cream at 94 Stewart. Hardly know where to start.

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Posted by Ronald Holden at April 18, 2007 10:33 AM

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