I imagine more than a few Champagne corks will be popping over the course of this month as Seattle’s beloved Dahlia Lounge restaurant celebrates its 20th anniversary. Beyond Champagne toasts, they’re celebrating too with lots of fun and prizes throughout the month, check out the goings-on here.
Any restaurant that survives and thrives to hit such landmark milestones is something worth celebrating. (Tip of the hat to Pike Pub & Brewery where our friends Charles and Rose Ann Finkel are also toasting 20 years since they first opened doors of the brewery! Woo-hoo!!) With Dahlia, the anniversary stands out for me for a number of reasons.
Professionally, I’ve been eating at, and writing about, Dahlia Lounge and its
eventual siblings for about 18 of those 20 years. After enough meals to form a solid opinion, I came to the conclusion that–for me–Dahlia stands out as a quintessentially Seattle restaurant. Its colorful, inviting room. The professional but relaxed and friendly service. Carefully prepared food that’s got finesse without ever being fussy. Menus rooted in Northwest ingredients and seasonality but with Asian and European influences that show Seattle’s got an open palate.
Personally, Dahlia’s been the home to a number of my own celebrations over the years, so I definitely connect with the place by way of deeply fond memories. My husband and I chose Dahlia–then in its original 1914 4th Avenue location–for the “rehearsal dinner” location when we got married in 1993. We had that upstairs area at the back of the restaurant to ourselves, and Tom cooked up the dinner. The menu included spicy cornmeal pan-fried oysters with artichoke remoulade, ginger and garlic
glazed spare ribs, chipotle glazed Alaskan halibut with grilled cornbread salad and pear tart with caramel sauce.
Ten years later, it made sense to celebrate again with Dahlia. Now in its new 4th & Virginia location, we took over that back room and had one of the best nights ever with family and friends, eating and drinking well to toast a decade of married life! Mark Fuller (now making his own waves at Spring Hill in my neighborhood) was in the Dahlia kitchen then and cranked through an amazing menu that included shrimp dumplings, slow roasted sucking pig with fennel relish, salt-roasted ehu (a Hawaiian snapper) and lemon-thyme panna cotta with rhubarb confiture. What a fun and delicious night that was. I’d say that we’ll be celebrating there again in 2013 for our 20th, if not for
our master plan to run off to Vegas and get married again on that occasion!
Dahlia opened in November of 1989, a few months after I’d left Seattle for a spell to attend culinary school in France. But I learned about the opening and the restaurant’s early popularity long distance, my mom a trooper about keeping me up to date with Seattle goings-on by way of newspaper clippings. (She also sent me every single batch of Sunday comics; oh, how I love and miss that lady!) Upon my return a couple years later, I wrote my first national magazine article about Seattle restaurants, for a May 1992 issue of Restaurants and Institutions magazine. By then, I’d had a chance to check out Dahlia Lounge in person, noting that “The free-spiritedness of chef-owner Tom Douglas makes a strong first impression when you walk in the door.” And, later, “Douglas swears that his cooking is simple, but to me, his food is testament to a Northwest culinary attitude that is deliciously refreshing to come home to.”
A couple of decades later, I think those reflections are no less true. Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Etta’s, Lola, Serious Pie are all imbued by the free spirit of Douglas, his wife Jackie and the passionate, creative team they work with. And that Northwest culinary attitude? More than ever it’s about consciously chosen ingredients of quality, made to shine without unnecessary flair. Just great food that feeds us well, makes us happy, and makes us glad to call Seattle home.