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Fork Dork: Looking Back at Some of the Best Restaurants of 2011

After a year filled with dining, it's time to look back at some of the best restaurants on the Eastside.

 

As the year comes to a close, it's time to look back at some of my favorite restaurants on the Eastside. You may notice some of your favorite restaurants missing. Fear not. It means I will be visiting them in 2012. I urge you to drop me a line with your restaurant recommendations and why you like them. I will add them to my New Year’s resolutions.

In the meantime, here’s a list of restaurants divided by cities.

Bellevue

 was among the first fine dining restaurants to move into downtown Bellevue, opening in March 2002. Proprietor and chef John Howie will be celebrating 10 years in Bellevue this March. Its longevity is a testament to its consistent execution on food, elegant service and award winning wine program by Erik Liedholm.

 has been in business for 13 years. Proprietor Joe Vilardi has presided over the dining room, including a major makeover five years ago. Guests return for the personal service and elegant, French-meets-Italian cuisines with local ingredients.

 has upped the ante on its sibling Monsoon on Capitol Hill. Both restaurants deliver the same flavor-packed Vietnamese fare (say catfish clay pot five times fast). Monsoon East, in addition, features a full cocktail bar and oyster bar.

Downtown Bellevue is a steakhouse destination, with four of the finest within walking distance of each other.  consistently delivers steaks cooked to the exact temperature requested.  satisfies steak cravings for Bellevue Square shoppers.  serves USDA prime steaks with a view at its Bellevue Place location.  is the newest of the bunch, but the service, including an army of sommeliers to pair wines even for the finickiest of diners, is decidedly experienced.

 delivers hedonistic pleasure in tiny dumplings at its Lincoln Square location, only the second in the U.S. for the Taiwan-based restaurant chain famous for its soup dumplings, xiao long bao, which earned two of its Hong Kong locations a Michelin star.

 delivers Taiwanese fare for a fair price. Pork burgers for $3.25, sweet potato dumplings for $3.25, a large bowl of spiced pork stew for $4.25 and fried chicken steak with rice for $8.50 are just a few of the specialties. 

 is more than the novelty of servers carving hunks of meat tableside. For $44.50 during dinner, $23.50 during lunch, eat all the meat you can, plus side dishes and salads. Drinks and desserts are additional.

Hidden in a strip mall for nearly 30 years,  is worth finding for the symphony of flavors on the plate, the warm family atmosphere and waiters' dedication to the fine dining experience.

 serves regular burritos that are quite large for only $7.40. For $9.80 the Super Burritos afford you a cheap date. The Super Burrito is so large it requires two flour tortillas to wrap the myriad protein options. Carnitas (roast pork), Carne Asada (grilled steak) and Al Pastor (pork chili pineapple) are among my favorites.

 hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1958, and there’s a good reason why. It consistently delivers breakfast specials such as potato pancakes and banana pancakes.

Bothell

Preservation Kitchen chef Ivan Szilak coaxes full flavor with deft seasoning. He takes the luxurious, if ubiquitous, filet mignon and serves it with his own Cabernet butter and seasonal vegetables. Staples such as wild boar ragu and chicken breast are luxurious comfort food dishes in Szilak’s hands.

Pen Thai, named after proprietor Bampen “Pen” Chantanee, is marked in permanent marker on my favorite Thai restaurant list. Spicy is the way to go at this Bothell restaurant with specialties such as spicy eggplant, Emerald (spicy green) curry and swimming rama. When in Bellevue, try its sibling restaurant,.

Next door, the Main Street Alehouse & Eatery serves Buffalo wings with a spicy Thai chili sauce. But make no mistake about it, that’s where the similarities end. The Main Street Alehouse is the sort of joint where you order a beer and potato chips. The best house-made potato chips east of Lake Washington. Every neighborhood should have a joint like the Main Street Alehouse & Eatery. With an extensive menu of pastas, sandwiches and burgers there’s something for everyone over 21.

Issaquah

JaK’s Grill in Issaquah delivers some of the best values in steaks in the Puget Sound region. Ribeyes, 18 ounces to be exact, for $32.95 or the whole 21-ounce Porterhouse for $43.95 are aged for at least 28 days. Garlic mashed potatoes or potato pancakes for $4 each are the ideal side dishes. The Laurelhurst location in Seattle and the original JaK’s in West Seattle execute consistently, the mark of a quality steakhouse.

Sushiman sounds like a superhero I can believe in, fighting sushi cravings and aiding in sushi connoisseurs'  sense of food adventure. In reality, Robert “Bobby” Suetsugu, aka Sushiman, presides over the sushi bar at the eponymous Sushiman Japanese Restaurant. He’s also a retired Sumo wrestler, author and actor, featured in commercials and movies. When dining at Sushiman sit at one of the coveted sushi bar seats and  simply request the “Omakase” menu and watch as Suetsugu crafts a special sushi dinner.

When I dine at Noodle Boat I want to swim in the rice noodle soup and row the boat across Lake Washington after hearty helpings of egg noodle curry or pan-fried wide rice noodle with bell pepper, basil and chili.

Kirkland

 is the local treasure that has been recognized nationally for its rich yet balanced Piedmontese cuisine, with plaudits from the James Beard House, Gourmet Magazine, Zagat and any number of publications. Chef and owner Holly Smith strikes that same balance between fine dining sophistication and a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Wine director and general manager Dawn Smith leads the front of the house with a team of experienced servers, including the graceful Jim Marriott. 

 is not Ted Furst’s first rodeo. He opened the original Campagne on Capitol Hill and was the corporate chef for Bellevue-based Schwartz Brothers. He translated his experienced into a bistro with classic French fare that is only matched by the Lake Washington waterfront views.

 is Japanese for fountain spring, as in the source of water. Izumi in the Totem Lake West Shopping Center has been feeding locals since 1985. Sushi is the way to go but if you insist on hot dishes try the deep fried breaded pork cutlet or the tempura udon.

 at  celebrated its fourth anniversary in 2011. Chef Brian Scheehser sources many of his ingredients from his own farm in Woodinville, creating specialties such as free range chicken with rosemary, garlic, olives and charred tomatoes, spinach tagliatelle with roasted red peppers, mushrooms and garlic beurre blanc and veal rib chop with sautéed mushrooms and Madeira sauce. Start dinner with a classic cocktail from bar manager John Ueding.

My sister wakes up early in the morning to teach middle school math. She knows breakfast and she recommends the  in Kirkland. The ham and cheese omelette is served with hickory smoked ham and aged cheddar cheese. Omelettes are great but this place is named The Original Pancake House for a reason. It serves over a dozen variations on flapjacks.

Mercer Island

 for Japanese food and Pom Proem for Thai are conveniently next to each other across the street from the Mercer Island post office. At Haruko’s the sushi combinations and Udon noodle bowls are the best options. But get there early because the restaurant closes at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. At Pom Proem stick to the Thai staples such as Phad Thai and Phad Siew, both $7.95.

Mercer Island residents Kurt and Leslie Dammeier built  after their frustration with the lack of family dining options on the island. When the Mercer Island business district underwent a facelift, the Dammeiers jumped at the opportunity to create their dream bistro on Southeast 27th Street. When the Dammeiers refer to “Pure Food” they mean whole foods from producers such as Full Circle Farm, Hempler’s B.B. Meat & Sausage and their own Beecher’s Handmade Cheese.

, built way before the Dammeiers were born, has been serving locals and commuters since 1914. When it was founded it served guests waiting for the defunct mosquito fleet trolling Lake Washington in the early 20th century. Now in the early 21st century it could become a destination for commuters taking Interstate 90 to avoid the new tolls on state Route 520. We recommend sobering up after enjoying a juicy burger and a beer before heading home.

Redmond

The wife and husband team of Lisa Dupar and Jonathan Zimmer team up to deliver the treasure that is . Dupar is the executive chef. Zimmer is the general manager. Dupar is the food gal. Zimmer is the wine guy. Look for the adjacent remodeled POM Bar, twice its former space, reopening Jan. 2.

 talks to my cravings for spicy Szechuan cuisine. Come to think of it, it seduces me with pork-filled wontons, hand-shaved noodles, wild chili prawns and fried tofu with hot garlic sauce.

, open for lunch and dinner, offers the range of Indian cuisine flavors, including lamb Vindaloo, chili chicken, seafood coconut curry and eggplant Masala. Lunch special combination platters between $10.95 and $12.95 or the to-go box filled with buffet specialties for $6.50 have been popular options with locals.

Woodinville

 is the quintessential fine dining experience in the Northwest. It is one of only 46 restaurants in the country to receive 5 Diamonds, the highest rating by AAA. The obsessive commitment to grow and source the finest ingredients by proprietors Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyke and the team of chef Chris Weber and chef de cuisine Tony Demes is unparalleled. The charming and experienced Tysan Dutta presides over the wine program and the 4,100-selection wine list. Starting next week, The Herbfarm team will be serving an eight-course truffle dinner for $179-$195 per person, including wine pairings. Expect dishes such as grilled truffle-stuffed breast of chicken, Painted Hills New York strip loin with a black truffle sauce Bordelaise and Douglas Fir float with truffled nuts and puffed seeds.

 in Woodinville is the original wine bar in the Larry and Tabitha empire called the Heavy Restaurant Group. It has grown to include Purple locations in Kirkland, Seattle and Bellevue, Barrio in Seattle and Lot No. 3 in Bellevue. Astute servers present the otherwise overwhelming menu. The company’s wine director, Chris Horn, creates traditional and unorthodox food-wine pairings that blend seamlessly.

Chef Bobby Moore, who has been cooking at  for more than 10 years, has been true to his classics such as the Grand Marnier prawns and the eponymous Chef B’s grilled lamb burger, and at the same time kept the menu fresh with a commitment to coaxing flavor out of seasonal ingredients. Sometimes he’ll take a staple such as scallops and serve them with squash and braised oxtail agnolotti. The wine team of Jennifer Schmitt and Matt Davis, wine directors, strike a balance on their wine list between the best of Woodinville wineries and wines from around the state and the world.

 in Woodinville is the only location in the United States outside of Hawaii. At Teddy’s go straight to their specialty burgers such as the Kailua Style (juicy teriyaki, mushroom, swiss cheese and grilled onions) or the Cajun made with Cajun seasoning and Pepperjack cheese.

Places to watch in 2012

The past year brought a host of new restaurants and chefs with a promise for more in 2012. There’s much new to look forward to.

 owners Bradley Dickinson and Mikel Rogers will be expanding their restaurant empire, opening their second restaurant, KORAL, a block north at the .

 in Woodinville will be giving birth to a pizzeria offspring, The Station Pizzeria, as early as mid-February, also in Woodinville. The pizzeria will open along with wine tasting rooms for  and Patterson Cellars at the northwest corner of Northeast 145th Street and Woodinville Redmond Road Northeast, across the street from the Woodinville Schoolhouse. The 50-seat pizzeria will serve salads, starters and, naturally, pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven. Beer, cocktails and wine from many of the Woodinville wineries will be served. More than 20 additional seats will be available in the outdoor covered patio after 6 p.m., once Gorman Winery and Patterson Cellars close for the day.

The Bellevue Park Hotel promises four-star service with 108 guestrooms, 5,000 square feet of banquet space and a 90-seat restaurant with a cocktail bar. Read Patch in 2012 as details unfold.

, the sibling of Old Bellevue’s , opened in November. The casual Italian deli serves lunch and sells groceries such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, wine, cheese, cured meats, milk and eggs.

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