Last week, as I was putting the finishing puns on my own “Best Bites of 2013,” the third annual “Date Night Dining Awards” arrived in my inbox, courtesy of Eric and Diana Denson, a pair of avid and discerning eaters (and Seattle Times readers), just regular folks who happen to eat out almost as often as I do.
I first heard from Eric Denson at the end of 2011, the year he and his wife began a tradition of weekly date nights. “The sole purpose of Date Night is to eat our way across the greater Seattle area, focusing on different restaurants than our old favorites,” he explained. For fun, they decided to hand out awards, which they shared with me.
That began a correspondence wherein I eventually learned that the Densons have been married for 30 years. (Evidently date nights work!) From their South Snohomish County home, he commutes to work in Bellingham, she to Seattle. Besides food, they share a passion for belly-dancing, burlesque and baseball. Since 1998, they’ve had weekend season tickets to the Mariners so breakfast or brunch pinch hit for date nights during baseball season .
She collects cookbooks and (says he) is a fantastic cook. He (says she) is a grill master. Both are keen for new dining experiences but aren’t without issues: she is deathly allergic to seafood and no-reservations is a deal breaker for both. “The last thing we want to do after a long work week is drive someplace where we have to sit around hoping to get a table before we nod off.”
“I’d say we are both foodies but Diana is the one who loves dissecting the dishes,” said Eric. “I focus more on the emotional aspects of the experience, while she is the food scientist. It all fits because she is a scientist by trade and I’m a psychotherapist.”
He also takes pretty swell pix as you’ll see. I get a kick out of the Denson’s Date Night Dining Awards and thought you might too. They’ve given me permission to share. Happy New Year!
The 2013 Date Night Dining Awards
Restaurant of the Year: Book Bindery
If Date Night had to choose a venue for its Last Supper, it would be here. Understated, casual elegance with absolutely perfect food every time.
Favorite Head of the House: Jill Kinney, Book Bindery
Always takes great care of us. Love her.
Favorite Bartender: Tyler Kingdon, LloydMartin
His Old Fashioned is always letter-perfect, but he also encourages trying new spirits and his choices are uncanny. Clearly loves what he does.
Favorite Chef: Sam Crannell, LloydMartin
The Prince of Pork does more with less kitchen than anybody we’ve seen. Down to earth, unpretentious, and always honest and approachable about his food.
Rookie of the Year: Derek Ronspies, Le Petit Cochon
Le Petit Cochon faced stiff competition from mkt. and Roux, but won by a snout’s length. Fabulous space, excellent service and amazing pork and pork accessories.
We Should Have Gone Here Much Sooner: Lark
We have no idea why it took us so long to get here. Food is well worth the parking nightmare.
Restaurant Deserving Wider Recognition: Eva
Lovely, unpretentious space and food. It was amazing that next to no one was there on Valentine’s weekend.
Surprise, Surprise: Epulo Bistro
Never expected to find anything this good in SnoCo. A great option for a week night Date Night.
Most Fun: Café Nordo: Modern American Chicken II
Somewhat skeptical going in, Date Night was treated to delicious food and outrageous entertainment. So much fun, the normally antisocial Date Night even played well with others. Date Night can’t wait for the next Café Nordo adventure.
Double Date Night: Staple & Fancy Mercantile
On the rare occasions that Date Night doubles up, this always seems to be the venue of choice. It sets up ideally for combining the flexibility of shareable small plates with individual entrees. The space isn’t too intimate and the energy level isn’t overpowering.
Bon Voyage: Sunday Supper at Heyday Farms on Bainbridge Island
This November VUDE event (Velvet Underground Dining Experience), featuring Mike Easton of Il Corvo, more than made up for the springtime disappointment we experienced at Hitchcock in Winslow. We went to a lot trouble to get to Hitchcock and wanted to try the tasting menu but there was no willingness to even discuss accommodating Diana’s seafood allergy, unlike Book Bindery or Art of the Table or The Herbfarm, where the attitude was: “bring it on, let’s do it.”
Tasting Menu of the Year: Art of the Table
By reputation, The Herbfarm is the gold standard for tasting menus. Date Night has determined that the food at Art of the Table is every bit as good, possibly more creative, and far more reasonably priced.
Meal of the Year: (Tie) Art of the Table; Crush
Date Night ate well in 2013, and there were many fine experiences that did not make the awards list (The Herbfarm, mkt., Roux, Marjorie, to name a few). In the end, Art of the Table and Crush made Date Night’s two single favorite meals.