Image: Brimmer & Heeltap
We love helping our guests find great restaurants in the Seattle area, and when a recent guest said she and her husband were looking for a more-intimate place for just the two of them, we had fun putting together our thoughts of smaller restaurants that don’t stand out in the crowd, but which consistently offer delicious meals in charming surroundings. In short, any of these are ideal for a couple or foursome who are looking forward to an evening of good conversation accompanied by fine wine or cocktails and a memorable meal. Enjoy!
Brimmer and Heeltap
On a street corner about 10 blocks from the excitement of Old Ballard, Brimmer & Heeltap is an absolutely charming restaurant both in terms of food and design. Set in an old brick building, B&H has an attractive, retro appeal, with white walls, teal seating and old-school light fixtures. It also has an absolutely sweet private courtyard surrounded by greenery where string lights flicker on at night, giving the feel of an outdoor dinner party.
The menu is brief, a sign that a lot of attention is paid to each item. Vegetables have a starring role in dishes such as radicchio salad with anchovy, hazelnut, breadcrumbs and aged Cheddar or beets with black currants and onion flowers. Among the current entrees are fried wild rice with lamb sausage, Manila clams with spring garlic and hard cider broth, and petrale sole with pea shoots, sea plants and lemon brown butter. Each dish is intricately fashioned, much like the entire experience here. BALLARD
Helmed by chef Maximillian Petty, Eden Hill is a neighborhood restaurant with only 24 seats that turns out utterly delicious entrees with unusual ingredients and creative flair. Petty goes the extra mile to treat ingredients with great care, including garlic, which he roasts for literally a month in a homebuilt oven. Even something as seemingly simple as bread service is elevated with slices of malted barley loaf, whipped herb butter and foie syrup.
The menu is small and ideal for sharing. On the early summer menu: fiddlehead ferns with spring onion relish, cherries, radicchio and a red-wine vinaigrette, a red pepper pappardelle with sauce peperonata, ricotta and pistachio breadcrumbs and roasted rack of lamb with spiced Thumbelina carrots, seabuckthorn and garlic scapes.
With a blue-and-white chintz wall and amber-hued lighting at night, the setting is really lovely. You might think a place like this has a hushed air to it, but that’s not at all the case. There’s a buzz of conversation that lends a convivial feel. For a chance to chat with the chef and sous chef and watch as food is prepared, make reservations for the bar. Cocktails here, by the way, are unfailingly fantastic! QUEEN ANNE
We eat at Fins Bistro so often the staff recognizes us the moment we walk in the door. We can always rely on top-notch food and friendly, attentive service. Fins’ specialty is fresh Northwest fish and shellfish. Whatever’s in season is what to order here, though their black cod with kimchi rice (one of my favorites) is always on the menu. In spring and into early summer, Copper River salmon is likely the best salmon you’ll ever have. Its an intense red color and you can actually taste the richness. One more note—Fins’ hearts of romaine and treviso salad is a crave-worthy twist on a Caesar.
The restaurant is in a wood building next door to Village Theatre, a beloved local institution that puts on highly respected musicals. Maybe because of this, the setting has a bit of a theatrical feel, with high ceilings and dark wood accents. At an appointed time when plays are happening, a section of wall slides open that separates the restaurant from the theater and dinner guests stream out for their evening entertainment. Plan ahead and you, too, can enjoy an evening of dinner and theater. ISSAQUAH
Across the street from Green Lake (Seattle’s recreational lake north of downtown), Nell’s is what comes to mind when you think of an intimate restaurant in France. The ambiance, with cushy banquets, white tablecloths, low lighting and soft jazz playing, sets the scene for absolutely superlative meals—and some truly fine wines. The cuisine melds European style with Northwest ingredients in dishes such as pan-roasted duck breast with farro, asparagus, roasted carrots and rosemary jus, or wild nettle risotto with thyme and Parmesan Reggiano.
Every course, from appetizers (we can never resist the buttery, flaky onion tart) to desserts here is among the best we’ve ever had. Save room for dessert—whether the unparalleled chocolate pot de crème or the seasonal fruit creation of the night.
We could never understand how Nell’s stays such a secret (it doesn’t have a media presence at all) until one evening when chef/owner Philip Mihalski, who received his training in top restaurants in New York and France, dropped by our table for a chat. He explained that he prefers not to advertise and to offer limited seating, giving him a chance to do his best. We feel lucky to be in the know! GREEN LAKE
This narrow slice of a restaurant can be hard to find. While it’s in the popular Pike Place Market, Place Pigalle is off the beaten path. You have to sidle past Pike Place Fish Market, where they toss salmon back and forth, and then go down a set of stairs that clings to the side of the building. Stepping inside, you’ll feel as though you’re in a bistro in Paris, with black-and-white tile on the floor, antique woodwork and tall casement windows with views over Elliott Bay and The Great Wheel. Sunsets are gorgeous from this vantagepoint.
You can expect classic French fare, and you can also expect that it will be some of the best in the city. Their French onion soup and the bouillabaisse with prawns, clams, mussels, Dungeness crab and seasonal fish in a saffron-tomato broth are both umami bombs and true standard-setters.
The 1901 building has a colorful history—it was, during various epochs, a Klondike Gold Rush hotel, a bordello, a speakeasy and a jazz/blues venue. DOWNTOWN
I’ve always thought of Terra Plata as our own hidden gem; since it’s been around for a decade, it isn’t on the tip of most peoples’ tongues. Well, all that was dispelled with an absolutely fantastic recent story in The Seattle Times.
Terra Plata turns out some of the best Northwest cuisine in the city. Talented chef Tamara Murphy works her magic, giving each dish layers of complex flavors and textures. On your visit, you might encounter grilled whole branzino with grilled leek/caper remoulade and charred lemon or pan-roasted chicken with almond romesco, date-olive-preserved lemon compote and pistachio salsa verde. Brunch here (skillet-baked eggs with spinach, peas, mushrooms, fontina cheese and Parmesan cream, on a recent visit) is as deeply satisfying as dinner.
The wedge-shaped space has tall windows, drawing in light that turns the blonde wood interior a golden hue, but the best seat in the house is on the rooftop deck, where tables are surrounded by planters filled with a profusion of fragrant herbs and flowers. CAPITOL HILL
While I always write about restaurants I’ve experienced, I’m making an exception for The Peasant, a truly unique dining experience in Ballard, since it’s quite new—and so small it’s not always easy to wrangle a reservation. A couple who stayed at the lake recently highly recommended it.
This is essentially a pop-up restaurant inside Beast and Cleaver, a high-end, family-owned butcher shop that that offers locally produced meats such as dry-aged beef, charcuterie, sausages—and the absolutely best duck breast you’re likely to find—plus a pantheon of cuts you may well never have heard of. The butcher shop is so popular there’s often a line out the door.
Twice a week, after closing, the butcher shop transitions into an intimate restaurant with room for just 10-12 guests, who are given a close-up view of preparations for a multi-course ($180) dinner. On the night our guests dined there, they enjoyed pâté with aspic, a homemade pasta course and more, each course paired with wine. With so few diners and the chef right there, sharing comments and chatting, the experience is essentially an intimate dinner club. Sharon’s assessment: “It was all really well prepared and all really lovely.” BALLARD
Ballard’s Rupee Bar has gained national attention for its attractive decor, so it’s hardly under the radar, but given that it’s primarily known as a bar, with adults-only seating in a small space, it’s not the first place you might think of when contemplating dinner options. Both the delicious cocktails and the small plates are truly noteworthy, though, and we really enjoy dinner here. With Sri Lankan- and Indian- inspired dishes you’ll find options here that aren’t easily found elsewhere.
You have to try their renowned Kerala fried chicken, marinated in yogurt, fried and spiced with chiles; it has a crunchy, burnished crust and spicy kick. The black cod in a green curry sauce with cauliflower and sweet potato offers a soothing contrast, and the naan is unbelievably delicious, made with ghee, puffy and slightly charred. I love it so much, it sent me on the hunt for a recipe that would do this rendition justice. As good as the recipes I tried, they didn’t come close.
While enjoying your drinks and dinner, you’ll appreciate the beautiful setting that won a James Beard award for design. Intense teal walls, wonderfully intricate geometric tilework and a long walnut bar transport you to another time and place, in a most enjoyable way. BALLARD