FOOD MATTERS | Tasting the revolution

There are two ways we can approach 2015: One is to buy more lobster, New York steak and fine wine, dust off the good china, fire up the oven and eat at home. But, gee, one of the reasons we go to restaurants is for a change of scenery, right? So we can also resolve to eat out more often. A warm welcome by the owner of a neighborhood restaurant where they know you is soul-soothing. (But do me and your favorite restaurant a favor: Ditch the coupons. Restaurants go broke on coupons. Resolve not to use them in 2015, pretty-please!)

The end of 2014 found a couple dozen familiar restaurant names on the casualty list, but the new year is bringing a cascade of new choices, and some of them aren’t even that far away.

Just don’t book a table for lunch at Vespolina (96 Union St.). If you’ve been following this saga, the former Thoa space was taken over by whiz-kid Jason Stratton and his sidekick, Carrie Mashaney, and made its debut as Aragona, a “modern Spanish” spot. Within six months, they switched gears and returned to the more familiar, northern Italian fare that they pioneered at Cascina Spinasse and Artusi on Capitol Hill.

They’ve temporarily suspended lunch service at Vespolina until the weather gets better. Alas, these are not usually signs of a restaurant that’s doing well.

Meanwhile, in Belltown, in the former Cascadia space (2328 First Ave.) that was also home to high-end Spanish Taberna del Alabardero, a new tenant: Red King Crab. One wishes the new owners — a Korean family from Alaska — the best of luck, but early reports here are very discouraging: devoid of paying clients, totally empty at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.

You might feel more welcome at another Korean spot, Heong Soon Park’s impressive, new Tray Kitchen (4012 Leary Way N.W.). The menu here is a take on dim sum, the Asian “brunch” that’s so popular in Seattle’s International District, except that the plates aren’t steamed pork dumplings but clams, calamari, even a spicy plate of wings called “KFC” (Korean Fried Chicken).


No longer smoked-out

Did you hear about Cantina Leña (2101 Fifth Ave.)? It’s an authentic taqueria that opened a few weeks ago on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Lenora Street, in the new Martin Apartments, and got generally favorable reviews. The wood-fired oven (“leña” means wood in Spanish) was a big hit, which isn’t surprising since it’s a Tom Douglas venture, and T-Doug does things right.

That’s why it was such stunning news, just before Christmas, that Leña would shut down...due to “intractable” issues relating to the ventilation. It seems the diners loved the smoke from the oven, but the apartment building residents…not so much.

No foot-dragging on T-Doug’s part: He announced he’d shut down the taqueria and put something else into the space. And that would be that — until the week after New Year’s: another solution. Cantina Leña would stay open, but without the leña oven. Instead, the cantina’s smoked meat dishes will be cooked at Palace Kitchen, which has its own wood oven, and walked across the street. Whew!


Cleaning up from Listeria

Another big story at the end of the year was the Listeria scare involving Snoqualmie Ice Cream. The surprise wasn’t even the poor sanitation that led the health department to give the plant a failing grade; it was the revelation that Snoqualmie also made “mixes” for several other ice creams that were passing themselves off as “homemade:” Molly Moon, Full Tilt Dairy and Pink’s Ice Cream.

Molly Moon, at least, made use of the downtime by thoroughly sanitizing its production facility and reopened its retail stores right after New Year’s.

Back in 2010, a raw-milk dairy in Montesano, Wash., the Estrella Family Creamery, felt hassled by FDA regulations that would put its artisan cheese-making out of business. It mounted a social-media campaign to raise money so it could fight the government.

What started as a public health issue over raw milk was turned by the Estrella family into an us-against-them ideological battle over individual rights.

The upshot after two years of litigation: Estrella Family Creamery is still prohibited from selling its raw-milk cheese outside Washington state borders.


Comings and goings

Starbucks has a new flagship. It’s a 15,000-square-foot roastery and tasting room on Capitol Hill (1124 Pike St.). Also on the premises: a Tom Douglas Serious Pie pizza parlor.

Coming to the top of Queen Anne: a new event space in the 1905-vintage Masonic Lodge (1608 Fourth Ave. W). The award-winning sommelier David LeClaire is one of the partners.

Closing for a quick remodel: Sazerac, in the Monaco Hotel downtown (1101 Fourth Ave.).

Also remodeling: the Homegrown sandwich shop (1531 Melrose Ave.) on Capitol Hill.

Closing for a more extensive remodel: the Hunt Club in the Sorrento Hotel (900 Madison St.), on First Hill.

Celebrating 30 years on Capitol Hill: Wildrose (1021 E. Pike St.), Seattle’s oldest lesbian bar.

Three New Year’s closures: Seastar (2121 Terry Ave.), Le Zinc (1449 E. Pine St.) and Chinoise Café (12 Boston St.) atop Queen Anne.


RONALD HOLDEN is the author of “HOME GROWN SEATTLE: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink,” recently published by Belltown Media. He also blogs at To comment on this column, write to