When looking for a new apartment in Seattle, you have to consider four things: price, size, location, and quality. But you can really only have three of them, and you’ll have to compromise on the one that makes you want to body-slam a cactus the least. A swanky high-rise apartment in the heart of Capitol Hill with a Viking range and enough living room space to do the whip and nae nae with six drunk people will probably be out of your budget. Likewise, you could get the same apartment for a fraction of the cost, but in Mill Creek, and the next thing you know you’ll be in a kickass home that nobody wants to come visit, asking yourself, “how did I get here?,” because you’re living an existential crisis, and also because your Waze app had a connectivity error.
The same pretty much goes with restaurants too. You could go to a huge dive bar on the main drag of Fremont where the food is cheap as hell, but your meal will taste like a lesser version of those Burger King mac-and-cheetos. Or, you can sit down to an exquisite dinner for the scrapbook at a renovated warehouse with high ceilings, a waterfront view, and such high-quality ingredients that you won’t speak to anyone while you chew so as to respect your teeth for rubbing elbows with perfection. Well, you probably have credit card debt now, and can’t buy a home anyway. It really all comes full circle.
Manolin, however, is the restaurant where you don’t have to compromise.
This is a high-ceilinged, exposed-beam-covered stunner of a space, with a huge u-shaped bar, lots of color, and an outdoor courtyard firepit patio. The food is even more impressive - regularly-rotating seafood and vegetable-centric small plates that look like art and taste like expensive vacations. There’s everything from rockfish ceviche (with avocado and a birds-nest of sweet potato twigs) to a steak that could double as a design school thesis installation studying geometrical negative space, and is one of the greatest incarnations of meat and potatoes we’ve ever eaten. The cocktails are outrageously good, and the prices are outrageously reasonable.
But the best part of Manolin might be their old-school grill. It looks like something you’d encounter in a medieval dungeon, complete with firewood smells and its own pulley system for raising and lowering like a glorious meat elevator. Watching the staff operate this thing (as well as seeing them prep the food at the bar itself) is part of the Manolin magic that we can’t get enough of.
That, and the pure versatility. You can do Manolin for a first date, group small plate-palooza, a weeknight dinner to spice up your boring relationship, or even a happy hour cocktail and snacks on the patio with your boss. The only drawback? No reservations accepted. But unlike that cactus body-slamming compromise, this is something you’ll be more than happy to deal with. After all, you’re getting an otherwise-perfect restaurant. Maybe just move in. Utilities are probably included.
If these don’t hit your table, you’ve already started this meal wrong. Don’t do this wrong. Fried plantain chips with salt, pepper, and a lime wedge for spritzing. Perfect to get your appetite going for the main course, or just to munch on with a cocktail.
Tuscan kale, crispy sunchoke, parmesan cheese, sweet peppers, and crushed fennel seed. This salad tends to get reworked each time the menu changes, but this version was Italian-tasting and great. The bottom of the plate held all of the dressing, and the top of the salad was like Louis C.K. in that weird role on Parks & Rec.: dry and composed. Mix it up.
Pieces of fresh rockfish and avocado marinated in lime and chile powder, with a massive haystack of fried sweet potato strands on top. This is one of the greatest ceviches we’ve ever eaten. If you hoarded your plantain chips, use it to scoop this up. Every time we take a bite of this, we get that refreshed feeling like those people in face wash commercials.
The smoked salmon is almost too pretty to eat, but don’t kid yourself - you’re going to tear that thing up. The cure on the salmon is awesome, the sour cream sauce mixed with the dots of olive oil goes with it perfectly, and while it works as a shared plate, it could easily be your entree.
This is probably the best steak deal you’ll find in Seattle. For $15, you get enough seared beef for two, and the plate is dotted with roasted potato, a swirl of lardo (animal fat), radish, and a salty anchovy sauce. The medieval grilling device makes the meat smoky with a crispy crust, and a bite with the steak, lardo, and anchovy sauce is the purest manifestation of joy.