Dine Around Seattle

It’s that time of year again, folks. Sure, time for holidays, nesting, hot cocoa, and all kinds of cold weather behavior. But it’s time again for Seattle’s biggest restaurant promotion. You knew it last march as “25 for 25″, but things have changed a bit.

For starters, the promotion is now being referred to by the public relations company that hosts it as “dine around Seattle”. (It may take me a while to stop saying 25 for 25). But the spirit of the promotion is the same, a cheap 3 course menu in Seattle’s favorite restaurants.

The numbers now total to 30 restaurants, and the 3 course menu is now 30 dollars, making it “30 for 30.” In addition to last years restaurants diners can now enjoy this promotion with the “bold original kitchen artistry” at BOKA in downtown Seattle, the Andean cuisine of Mixtura on the Eastside, old world Italian at Barolo, neighborhood dining at the 35th street bistro in Fremont, and visit little old me Veil.

The best change for me is their independent website. Now fully managed by the PR firm that runs it, I can fianlly use more than 50 characters to describe my desserts, and have the capability of changing them online during the month long event. In the past, a truncated description was given 3 months before the event. With no flexibility, the online menu often didn’t reflect what we were actually serving, as we changed things seasonally or according to our own whims.

You can guess that much of the kitchen banter has centered around this promotion. One topic has been Seattle’s “dine around” being born of Manhattan’s “restaurant week.” Our chef de cuisine spent 4 years with Jean George, and participated in the promotion there. Much like here, it becomes a balancing act of cost effective but delicious and impressive cuisine. Each dish must be quick to cook and plate to accommodate the high volume of orders, but look polished and beautiful as though the kitchen is cooking just for you. Each customer must be given extensive service, but not so much that it denies the very full dining room any attention. They must stay long enough to have a completely enjoyable meal, but finish and leave in time for the two other parties that have booked the table later in the evening. It’s a true exercise in efficiency. While many restaurants experience this kind of volume year round, it brings a flood of business to the rest of us on traditionally slow nights, sunday through thursday.

The irony, we all joked, is that this is the only time of the year when the cooks can actually afford to eat in many of these restaurants. Let me remind you that well paid cooks made about twelve dollars an hour, the starting wage is nine. If you are making fifteen dollars an hour you are either in a large corporate chain, or in a position of management, (or very lucky.) So the cooks at a fine dining establishment, where the average diner spends one hundred and fifty dollars per person for food and wine, simply can’t afford to eat there. After taxes, a meal at the restaurant we work at will cost us roughly two days pay. So you can bet we take advantage of this sweet deal.

Last year I had a meal at Nishino, a japanese restaurant way out of my price range, and at Yarrow Bay Grill, where the entire promotional menu was less expensive than a single entre from their dinner menu. This year I am planning on checking out Cascadia, a high priced establishment in Belltown that I have been curious about for some time now.

There has been some controversy over this promotion, voiced publicly by local restaurateur and chef Ethan Stowell. While the promotion brings large crowds to the participating restaurants during otherwise slow months, it leaves those restaurants not participating even slower. While I have seen some restaurants not officially participating in the event offer the same menu at the same price, they don’t benefit from any of the p.r. efforts which direct would be diners to those featured in printed and online publicity.

Veil is participating for the first time this year, and we have been tweaking the menu all month. I have just finished the development of a rosemary marshmallow enriched with brown butter for our celery root soup, and finally set my warm almond soup, a dish I had been struggling with as it was not born of my own conception.

Our menu offerings for the first 2 weeks follow. In two weeks time we will likely change things a bit, offering a few new dishes. In particular, a butternut chiffon will be entering the dessert menu. A chic version of pumpkin pie, a butternut custard is lightened with whipped cream, and set over a chocoalte hazelnut crust. It’s light and creamy, and lacks the slight bitterness I associate with pumpkin itself.

Celery Root Soup, sage marshmallow and balsamic vinegar
Roasted Beet Salad, hazelnut, herbs, and grapefruit confit
Hard Shell Squash Risotto, mascarpone and parmesan cheeses, chive oil

Drake Duck Confit , root vegetable hash, sherry vinegar and caramelized vegetable sauce
Ruby Trout, roasted yams, green apple, bacon, apple cider puree
Roasted Abalone Mushroom, curry potato pave and wild mushroom puree

Salted Peanut Butter Ice Cream, cocoa nib crunch, milk chocolate cremeux
Chocolate Fondant Cake, bittersweet caramel truffle, Cracker Jack
Warm Cream of Almond Soup, ceylon cinnamon, roasted pears, orange blossom cream

6 Responses to “Dine Around Seattle”

  1. Tom says:

    Here’s why my wife and I like the 25 for 25 promotions in the past – portion sizes! We like dessert, but at most restaurants, we never make it there unless we split an entree.

    I know we’re in the minority, but we don’t mind having less if it means we don’t waste food, or over stuff ourselves.

  2. dana says:

    I agree. I never have room for dessert either. Although I do force myself to order it out of “professional curiosity”. It’s nearly impossible to serve people portions appropriate to what they can actually eat. There is a deep tie in this country between value and large portions, and restaurants must accomodate that perception for their diners.

  3. Peter says:

    Hi. I just wanted to say that I love the website here and I have a quick question as well. I arrived in Seattle last night actually and I just made my set of dinner reservations: Lampreia, Mistral, Lark (we’ll walk in), Cafe Juanita and Harvest Vine. I wanted to try Nishino but my father does not want to have that style of cuisine. Should I swap my reservations for a place you think I am sorely missing? Thanks


  4. dana says:

    Hi Peter-

    You should try Veil, where I work, at least for dessert!

  5. Mike says:

    I always thought people that work at restaurants hate these promotions. Sounds like you get a bunch of people who nothing about food or fine dining looking for a deal. I’ve been to these in Portland and Seattle and that was my impression at least. The atmosphere and food quality is more like being at a big wedding than anything else. Not for me.

  6. dana says:

    I suppose it’s part of our nature to love to hate things like these promotions. Which do bring in diners looking for a deal along with a larger segment of the dining population. My admission I am one of those that jumps on the chance for a cheap meal at an amazing restaurant. The restaurants I have worked at make a strong point to create great food in part to avoid perpetuating the thought that the restaurants cheap out on the guests. Yes, some of the bigger restaurants, who are already more concerned with bottom lines will give you a wedding like meal, bringing in cheaper products, slinging it all together. But it seems that a fair number of the seattle restaurants participating are smaller chef run affairs that show true pride through out every night of service, promotional or not. Me, I love the challenge of an intense month, and the fact that every customer will be having dessert.

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