I tuned in to In the Kitchen with Tom and Thierry for the first half hour of the radio program (710 KIRO Saturdays from 4:00 to 7:00) this past Saturday, before I joined them for the second half hour to talk about all things bourbon. In that first segment, my chef pals Tom Douglas (Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Lola, et al.) and Thierry Rautureau (Rover’s) were chatting about where they each had eaten this past week, regaling us with discussion about an amazing meal at Spinasse and a blow-out dinner at Canlis. I think it was Thierry who mentioned he’d been to Zoë, and the two chatted for a bit about it being a restaurant that they don’t get to but once every couple of years, though always enjoy when they do. We can all name a few restaurants like that, can’t we? Just not enough nights in the month to get to favorite spots that have been around a bit longer, places lower on the radar simply by nature of the newsy new places on the scene. For me, such spots would include Stumbling Goat, El Camino, Monsoon, Chez Shea.
But for me, Zoë is different. I still remember how wowed I was when the Belltown restaurant first opened in 2000. In fact, I named chef/owner Scott Staples a “Chef to Watch” in the 2000 Seattle Magazine restaurant issue, citing that his move from Third Floor Fish Cafe in Kirkland to Seattle’s thriving restaurant scene was one of the more anticipated openings that year. From the first bites of his grilled romaine salad with apple, bacon and blue cheese, pan-seared sweetbreads, salmon with lentils and brown butter, house-smoked hanger steak — my husband and I were both big fans. And it’s a place we return to 4 or 5 times a year, which is pretty regular for us. Never a disappointing meal on any visit.
When an out-of-towner food lover asks for restaurant recommendations, Zoë is always on my list, usually prefaced by “Want to know where Seattleites go for a casual, contemporary, delicious meal?” It may not be as high on the national radar as are other favorites like Lark, Steelhead Diner, Crush, Tilth. Or Staples’ own newer Quinn’s, opened on Capitol Hill, which is great too (I wrote about Quinn’s amazing wild boar sloppy joes for Maxim magazine’s Food Awards this August). But for my money, Zoë is one of the most reliable, enjoyable, delicious and very “Seattle” restaurants in town.