August 17, 2007

Restaurant at the Center of the Universe

A year ago, under the headline "Eatin' Good Outside the Hood," we wrote about dinner at Union Bay Café in Laurelhurst. Couple of months later, owner-chef Mark Manley announced he's closing down: "After 21 years, it's time to move on." Gulp.


Fortunately, the concept of an enlightened yet unpretentious neighborhood restaurant is alive and well in other nabes and hoods. In Fremont, that self-described Center of the Universe, for example, we have a perfect example: the 35th Street Bistro.

How's this for an ideal Seattle evening: Bellinis (prosecco and peach purée) on the sidewalk patio, an appetizer of sweetbreads on a bed of frisée or crab croquettes with an arugula orange salad; then Alaska king salmon on a bed of lentils or a plate of seared ahi tuna, perhaps some artisan cheese to follow, then a tatin of fresh plums. You may be sitting in the shadow of Lenin's statue but you're far from Soviet-style penury; this is no longer your uncle's funky Fremont. We're in the world of educated European travelers now, of international visitors, of Slow Food.

Like many novice restaurateurs, owners Bob and Phoebe Day (who bought the place five years ago) wanted something that resembled the comfortable eateries they remembered from their European travels. To that end, the Days turned away from the fashionable, chef-driven restaurant concept while maintaining a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The current chef, Frank Wielgosiek, on hand in a supporting role since 2005, stepped into the top spot when Steve Smrstik moved to the Pink Door earlier this year. His food seems just a shade self-conscious and striving; there's no need, really, to offset the perfectly seared tuna with a half-plate of tuna tartare. We're supposed to be in the southern European countryside, remember, where they know instinctively that simpler would be better.

While the high-ceilinged, pale-walled dining room feels a bit mismatched (some tables draped in white, some bare), it's certainly a lively spot. The international wine list is impressive, and prices, for food and drink, are well below what you'd pay at similar places in the high-rent district. The Days are clearly doing a lot of things right; they just doesn't need to try quite so hard.

35th Street Bistro, 709 N. 35th St., 206-547-9850 35th Street Bistro in Seattle

Posted by Ronald Holden at August 17, 2007 11:04 AM | TrackBack

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