The tea leaves seem to be telling us that we can expect more new restaurants and bars to open in Western Washington this spring, especially when the sun peeks out again. Already, we’ve had more than 50 new bar and restaurant openings this year, with another surge of ribbon cuttings to come. Where to even begin? Our roving restaurant critic Tan Vinh has already checked out many of the new bistros and bars that have recently opened. Check out his five favorite dishes he ate in recent weeks.
Lardo-wrapped pear ($12) at Bar Miriam
307 W. McGraw St. (Queen Anne), Seattle; barmiriam.com
Maybe the most ambitious bar food menu of any new drinking spot, the bites include duck confit cassoulet re-imagined as deep-fried orbs for finger food. Chef Cody Westerfield’s best bar play is a beige fruit plate, deceptively listed on the menu as “Asian Pear.” Look closer and you’ll see gossamer thin strips of Iberico lardo that have been Moleskine-ed onto each pear wedge with a blowtorch to bring out the rosemary scent and the nutty, smoky notes. A supporting cast of honey and anise hyssop plants round out the porky saltiness with floral and syrupy sweetness. It’s a wonderful medley of flavors and textures.
Squid ink baked rice ($23) at Vivienne’s Bistro
2441 76th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island; 206-829-9508; viviennesbistro.com
The hot new restaurant on the Eastside, this Mercer Island bistro is a showcase for executive chef Danna Hwang, who specializes in Cantonese and classic Chinese dishes. But her most creative entree is a fusion that borrows touches from Italy, Spain and Japan, a sea of squid ink rice studded with bacon and shrimp, with enough mozzarella floating on the surface to cover a medium-size pizza. It’s evil, just pure evil, the caloric intake equivalent of downing a jug of eggnog. Her fried rice gets simmered in heavy cream until the jasmine rice morphs into this clingy texture that’s a cross between risotto and dim sum sticky rice. The accompanied thatch of fresh thyme is an unintended misdirect that tricks your senses into thinking this is a refreshingly light and herbaceous casserole. It’s an unapologetic grease bomb that will taste better with a lager.
Seco de cordero ($28) at Señor Carbón
625 First Ave. (Pioneer Square), Seattle; 206-588-0046; facebook.com/SenorCarbonperuviancuisine
When they debuted their South American bistro in Pioneer Square in December, chef Joe Tuesta and his wife, Imelda Diez-Tipa, prepped only five lamb shanks a day, not thinking one of their priciest entrees would sell that well. Well, that lamb dish has sold out so fast that they now make 30 shanks on weekends, and they still often sell out. Your best bet is to have the kitchen hold an order when you make your dinner reservation online. The fall-off-the-bone tender meat is marinated with the fruity Peruvian pepper ají panca and bathed in fermented corn before it gets roasted in the oven. It’s a northern highlands dish but is served with the more southern Peruvian sides of rice and beans. It’s a hearty, peppery, cilantro-scented stew smoldered in dulcet onions. This dish holds up well as takeout if you’re still skittish about dining in.
Pork belly hand-pulled noodle ($16.99) at Fang’s Noodle House
12085 124th Ave. N.E., Kirkland; 425-608-1258; fangsnoodlehousewa.com
An under-the-radar story line during the pandemic is the wave of stellar Chinese restaurants that continue to pop up around Greater Seattle, especially in strip malls on the Eastside. This unheralded gem is hidden in Totem Square mall. The boiled, fried and steamed dumplings are what many customers order, but you see the name splattered across the storefront and you know what to order, right? The noodle master in the open kitchen stretches and twists the strings of dough as if mimicking a game of cat’s cradle. These hand-pulled noodles, with the texture of al dente pasta, get tossed in a medley of chili oil, vinegar and soy sauce till each strand glistens in a chili crimson hue with clinging specks of pork belly. The slick noodle is more mild than the chili color would lead to you to believe, more sweet and vinegary sour than spicy.
The focaccia ($9) at Volunteer Park Café & Pantry
1501 17th Ave. E. (Capitol Hill), Seattle; 206-822-6566; volunteerpark.cafe
If I’m a stone’s throw away from this bakery, I will always — I mean always — pull over. The bakery is managed by Canlis alums Crystal Chiu and Melissa Johnson. They offer some stellar baked goods and bodega-style egg sandwiches, but the focaccia square is one of my favorite meatless lunch orders on Capitol Hill. The bread dresses like a Roman pizza, with a bed of tomato-Calabrian-chili jam and topped with red onions, cremini mushroom and the acidic pop of cherry tomatoes. It’s milky with ricotta and Parm, peppery with arugula, but the magic is the crust — a crackly, eggshell-thin exterior that remains impossibly crunchy even after steaming for a half-hour in a takeout container. The bakery only makes a dozen slices on the weekend during lunch, and often sells out by 4 p.m.