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January 8, 2009 at 11:40 PM

And now, for some good news on the restaurant front

Yes, we’re all feeling the pinch. And restaurants are closing. But we’re not dead yet and there are still plenty of great places out there waiting with open arms for us to pay them a visit.

I had a pleasant chat with “Star Chef” Ethan Stowell this week. We talked about the closure of Opal next door to his happening How to Cook a Wolf, and about the state of the industry in general. “Seattle’s made leaps and bounds over the past few years or so,” Ethan said. “And now, I’m sorry to see restaurants closing and people losing jobs. Three months ago no one can find a cook. Now you can find 80.”

Though fewer diners are parting with their dollars he’s still looking forward to the opening of his fourth restaurant Anchovies & Olives, set to debut on Capitol Hill this month. And Ethan echoes the sentiments of his restaurant-owning brethren when he says, “I don’t care if you come in and have a $20 bottle of wine and one course.” These days it’s all about warm bodies.

Keeping the faith, Ethan says he and his pal Maria Hines of Tilth “are trying to rally the restaurant industry” by putting their heads together with other independent restaurateurs to share ideas and strategies for staying alive in hard times. “Hopefully, we’ll stay vibrant,” he says. And when the going gets tough, the tough go out to eat — enjoying a busman’s holiday during “industry nights” — including one held recently at Serafina, and regularly at Licorous (where restaurant-folk can show up on Monday nights and get a handsome discount). “If we’re not all slamming busy,” Ethan says, “we should at least be having fun and trying to keep the energy going.”

John Sundstrom at Lark was trying to keep the energy going Tuesday night when I stopped by for a quick visit. He had a full house, but that, it turns out, was a lark. Things have been quiet at that award-winning restaurant, and the recent spate of snowy weather put a dastardly damper on what should have been a decent year-end. Things have also been more subdued next-door at Licorous — Lark’s extraordinary little-sister-of-a-cocktail lounge, where I had a nice yak with Sundstrom’s business partner Michelle Magidow, who’se been manning the bar solo several days a week. Michelle mixed me a Shiso Fine (shiso-infused vodka with lime and pineapple juice) and we discussed the ways they’ve been battening down the hatches: trimming staff and the menu, so that fewer bodies are punching the clock: changes that, unfortunately, must be done in order to (as Ethan put it) “keep things vibrant.”

By the way: you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted that Shiso Fine, paired with an elegant little dish of tuna tartare. And if the cost of that little luxury ($11.50 for both) makes you flinch, consider this: Licorous is now featuring a mid-week Happy Hour Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. and again from 10 to midnight. That’s when $4 buys a bartender’s house cocktail or a glass of wine and a buck gets you the chef’s choice of a tartine, and “pretzel dots” with coppa. Is there a better place to while away an hour or two over a cocktail and a nibble and dream about sunnier times? I don’t think so:

The Pink Door is getting into the act with a new Happy Hour, too, offering $4 and $5 menu-items Mondays through Fridays from 4 to 6 and 9 to close. Add to that a nightly four-course menu for $35, and you’ve got another reason to seek out that fabulously funky Market mainstay, where “la padrona” Jackie Roberts has been shaking up the scenery for more than 25 years.

Have you heard about A Caprice Kitchen, where chef Anne Catherine Kruger is bringing bountiful to Ballard and now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner? Anne Catherine’s set-menu dinners (served 6-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday) are prepared with provisions from our neighborhood farmers markets and will set you back $27. On Sundays you can commune with like-minded foodies eating whatever the chef chooses to cook at her Communal Dinners (at 7 p.m.) Anybody been?

After the success of their Urban BBQ Series this summer, in which friends and neighbors pigged-out in high style at that jewel we call Joule, Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang just kicked off another Sunday Supper series at their Wallingford bistro, offering a slew of wintry dishes served family-style from 3 to 8 p.m. ($20).

Rich Malia at Ponti Seafood Grill is offering a special “Plenty for Twenty” menu at his Ship Canal-side restaurant-with-a-view. Twenty bucks buys soup or salad and a choice of salmon spinach ravioli, braised Hawaiian shortribs or jumbo prawn linguine. Show up on Sunday for “Cellar Dweller Nights” you can pair your Plenty with a half-price bottle of wine from among the sommelier’s picks. On Mondays, Malia is extending his hospitality to those in the hospitality business with an industry-night discount: your food-handler’s permit or a paycheck stub for 20 percent-off food and drink (happy hour prices don’t apply).

This week marked the start of New Urban Eats, your chance to check out some well-regarded new (or relatively newish) restaurants during the month-long event where $30 buys three courses. Among the participants: West Seattle’s Spring Hill and Pearl — the new joint that moved into the former Trader Vic’s in Bellevue.

I’m overdue for a trip to the Fall City Roadhouse, where they’re braving some serious weather this week (check out the flood photos on the Roadhouse blog). I go way back with new executive chef Cameon Orel, late of the Yarrow Bay Beach Cafe. Her husband Peter and I worked together for five years at Saleh al Lago. Pete was a riot: a great cook and a fabulous fisherman who often gifted the staff with a dinner of “aardvark stew” (don’t ask) when he wasn’t serving us fresh-caught steelhead. Trust me, I’m not driving out there this week, but it’s on my must-go list.

And speaking of steelhead, howzabout this “Steel of a Deal” from the Steelhead Diner. This month chef Kevin Davis is promoting a special $25 three-course dinner starting with a cup of his chicken gumbo and moving onto a choice of smothered New York strip steak (mushrooms, onions and cheese do the smothering) or a slab of black-and-blue mahi mahi. We’re then invited to “end this debauchery with a lethal Callebaut chocolate mousse, and congratulate yourself for finally investing in something that provided a return.” OK, Kev. I’m hooked. You had me at “gumbo.”

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