Dining Guide :: GROUPS, Seattle Magazine December 2014
The Top Celebratory Spots in Seattle for Large Groups
Eighteen restaurants where dining out with a group doesn’t mean compromising on service or style
At this atmospheric, tiled Parisian-style bistro, groups have a choice between indoor or outdoor seating. Outside in the terrace room, wooden tables can be pushed together for as many as 16 people in the protected patio space under a greenhouse-like ceiling, which lets precious light through in winter. A fireplace and heaters keep the terrace warm even when the rain is falling. Indoors, large U-shaped booths hold groups of five (sometimes a hard number to seat), while tables can be pushed together for larger parties. Combining French cuisine traditions with an emphasis on Northwest ingredients, the menu is widely appealing. A long list of petits plats is handy for shareable nibbles to start the meal. There is always one vegetarian option, such as the socca galette, a chickpea flour pancake and roasted cauliflower, and who doesn’t love steak frites? 5307 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.453.5014; bastilleseattle.com
Brimmer & Heeltap
A warm, cheery and open space, this Ballard restaurant—a bit off the beaten track—is small enough to feel intimate, but big enough for one large party. The year-old restaurant is split into two rooms, which are adjoined by an interior wall with peekaboo windows. In the Garden Room (which exits to the outdoor gravel garden, where, in summer, diners eat alfresco), tables are pushed together for parties of six to eight (reservations are recommended). This room is quieter than the main dining room, allowing you to actually hear what your dinner companions are saying. The menu offers Asian-inspired seasonal plates, such as the popular broiled pork shoulder with caramelized onion kimchi, that are meant for sharing and come in either large or small portions. A heads-up to late-night diners: After 10 p.m., the staff meal—a surprise dish whipped up at the chef’s whim—is available for about $10 per person. 425 NW Market St.; 206.420.2534; brimmerandheeltap.com
A leviathan of a restaurant, the 14,000-square-foot Wild Ginger is a well-oiled machine that seldom misses on meals and provides an exemplary level of service, especially suited to business lunches or corporate-funded nights out. Diners have their choice of Asian cuisines covering several countries—that are uniformly delicious, authentic and known for their heat. Group capacity runs to as many as 80 for a seated meal (an upper dining room can be reserved for private functions), while the main dining room easily hosts smaller parties with reservations—or on a whim. Additional services—such as personalized menus, flowers for the table or one-on-one sommelier recommendations—can be arranged in advance. 11020 NE Sixth St.; 425.495.8889; wildginger.net
Big, shareable platters abound at this eclectic Belltown favorite. Diverging from a traditional format, the menu here is divided into focused categories, such as meat, seafood and veggies, making it easier to build the perfect meal for the table. Blasted broccoli, a platter of charred florets, is irresistible. The same can be said for the crispy fried chicken, which is available throughout the year and served alongside a mound of collard greens on the platter. The restaurant offers a long, narrow table for 10–12 people (which ensures you won’t be able to hear or speak to anyone at the other end, which could be either good or bad, depending on your group dynamic), while smaller tables can be pushed together for groups of any size. While the restaurant is large and its pace often slow enough that it can accommodate walk-in groups, reservations are never a bad idea. 2600 First Ave.; 206.441.1500; blackbottleseattle.com. Also has a location in Bellevue.
Boat Street Cafe
Although its urban patio disappears in the winter months, the interior of the shabby-chic Boat Street Cafe is a perfect spot for celebrations of any kind. The service is always professional and the humble menu of French country cuisine always satisfies—be sure to experience food nirvana by way of the signature pan-seared pork chop or salted dates in warm butter. A large table made of heavy wood is tucked into the back of the restaurant and seats as many as 12. Walk-in groups can prove challenging, as this Seattle favorite often fills up at night, so call in advance—even an hour ahead on weeknights gives the staff time to sort out a seating plan. Servers are accommodating to groups that wish to bring in cake or Champagne (for a fee). 3131 Western Ave.; 206.632.4602; boatstreetcafe.com
One of Seattle’s few late-night dining options (serving until 1 a.m.), the lively and cavernous Palace Kitchen has long catered to groups of six to eight at a couple of large oval tables flanking the bar in the dining room. These tables make it somewhat challenging to chat with people seated at the other end, but allow for easier conversation with those nearby. Large plates and hearty portions of Northwest comfort food are featured; happily, the servers are adept at making space for plates and service ware. The always-bustling Palace has a long list of appetizers, many of which are perfect for sharing, such as the bowl of steamed shellfish in broth (which is ever changing), or the signature goat cheese fondue, a bowl of soft, creamy goodness with charred bread and apples for dipping. 2030 Fifth Ave.; 206.448.2001; tomdouglas.com
An all-day, French bistro–style menu offers groups an option for breakfast, lunch or dinner at an affordable price from sun up until well after dark. A bowl of frites with mayo and a whole roasted chicken are perfect for sharing, as are the charcuterie platters, such as the pork rillette or the smooth chicken liver pâté. Located in Capitol Hill’s gourmet row along 12th Avenue, Café Presse comfortably hosts guests spanning the generations—students, hipsters, families, techies and grandparents rub elbows at the densely packed tables, lending the room an upbeat feel. While there are no official group tables, staff can push furniture together to accommodate groups, which are seated in the back portion of the restaurant—a charming (and calmer) room with high ceilings and exposed brick. 1117 12th Ave.; 206.709.7674; cafepresseseattle.com
Offering a break from standard restaurant procedure, Mamnoon seats large parties at round tables that accommodate anywhere from six to 10 people in the contemporary dining room. The longer table up front offers a front-row seat to the wood-burning oven, where the flatbread is made, and its narrow girth allows for easy cross-table conversation (that you can hear!), a rare treat. For any party of more than six, call to make a reservation in advance, as the dining room is packed on most nights. The space is adorned with soft shadows and art from Africa, Egypt and Morocco, and the modern Middle Eastern cuisine is perfect for adventurous diners who are up for sharing bites. Order the house-made mana’eesh, a savory, doughy flatbread (or ask for the gluten-free flatbread), and several of the dips. Try Mamnoon’s take on khoresh, a Persian-style stew, with herbed lamb meatballs, sweet and sour apples, and yellow split peas scented with turmeric and an herbal mix of oregano and chives. 1508 Melrose Ave.; 206.906.9606; mamnoonrestaurant.com
Osteria La Spiga
Take your party into the rafters at the vaulted La Spiga, where groups of as many as 50 are seated in the loft overlooking the dining room, allowing for enjoyable conversation above the din. Food is served family style and set up for sharing; order an antipasti plate of cured meats to start the meal and several bowls of handmade pasta for dinner. For guests on a gluten-free diet, La Spiga offers a suitable pasta, although these noodles are imported, not made by hand in-house. The loft is lovely in winter, when aromas from the kitchen are welcoming and cozy. 1429 12th Ave.; 206.323.8881; laspiga.com
Known for its thalis—large platters holding several small dishes of food—created by much lauded chef Jerry Traunfeld, Poppy is a refreshing dining space for groups. The large, airy room is quiet enough for convivial conversation, but active enough to feel like you’re part of a scene. Kitchen display windows provide views of the cooks putting together an appealing mix of dishes and snacks that are friendly to all food types—omnivores, vegetarians, those with allergies and vegans. Tables can be pushed together for parties of as many as 10, and a formal banquet table may be reserved in advance for 17. Plus, for smaller groups of five—an awkward number for restaurants to accommodate—hosts will happily add a chair to the end of a traditional table, which is large enough to allow for all the platters. For a seasonally herbaceous cocktail, as many as 13 imbibers can squeeze into the bar, which is especially nice for an early, casual drink at Poppy’s celebrated happy hour. Capitol Hill, 622 Broadway Ave. E; 206.324.1108; poppyseattle.com
For anyone who appreciates seeing and being seen, an 18-seat communal table is set right in the center of the rustic, triangle-shaped dining room of Tamara Murphy’s Capitol Hill farm-to-table hotspot, featuring dishes like the savory-sweet Brussels sprouts plate with Serrano ham, maple and rosemary. Once you’ve made reservations, the staff will craft personalized menus of Terra Plata’s seasonally driven offerings and expertly work around any food allergies, which is a huge plus with multiple diners and demands. A word to the wise, however: Sitting center stage means you get noise coming at you from all sides, which can seem overwhelming on busy nights. Walk-ins of groups larger than four are also welcome; the restaurant leaves space for last-minute diners, though on busy nights you’ll find yourself pressed for real estate as tables are densely arranged. 1501 Melrose Ave.; 206.325.1501; terraplata.com
Tucked in at the base of an office building just on the fringe of downtown’s retail center, Blueacre excels in offering a big fish-house feel without the obtrusive din of other diners. The large dining room, accented with glass decor in shades of blue and green, can seat groups of all sizes. There are several round tables for six, perfect for business dinners where speaking with everyone at the table is a must. Count on solid seafood choices that span the country; chef/owner Kevin Davis (who also owns the sunny Steelhead Diner in Pike Place Market), does an impeccable job of sourcing sustainable seafood from across the U.S. The oyster bar glistens with platters of freshly shucked beauties by the dozens, which are perfect for sharing, as are the steamed mussels. For the main meal, Blueacre offers a handful of sides large enough for everyone to sample. In the bar, booths hold as many as six friends—an uncommon find for a pre-theater happy hour or post-work stress reliever. Larger parties may be seated in one of the private or semiprivate rooms, which hold anywhere from 10 to 40 people. 1700 Seventh Ave.; 206.659.0737; blueacreseafood.com
Loulay highlights chef Thierry Rautureau’s modern French cooking with a Northwest influence in an upscale setting that is packed daily with both tourists and locals. Rautureau invested in soundproofing during construction, making this a great choice for when mom and dad are in town or if there is cause for celebration. Considering Loulay’s prime downtown location, its prices are moderate and cater to any budget, and the adept hosts can push together tables for as many as eight guests. Situated next door to the Sheraton Seattle Hotel downtown and serving food until 10 p.m., the restaurant offers a multilevel dining room with sleek and sexy modern white furniture, perfect for a festive night out and located close enough to The Paramount, ACT and 5th Avenue theaters for pre- or post-performance options. 600 Union St.; 206.402.4588; loulay-seattle.com
Service is tops at this downtown hotspot, where the upscale French menu caters to the discerning diner. The large, rustic wood chef’s table, which faces Fourth Avenue, seats 13–18 guests on high stools, and should be reserved; it’s in the perfect spot to start a night on the town. With appetizers pushing $20 and dinner entrées in the $30 range, it’s not cheap, but the reliably excellent food makes it worth the splurge. 1433 Fourth Ave.; 206.456.7474; michaelmina.net
Tamarind Tree gets a lot right for groups of all sizes—noise levels, comfort and food quality are all pitch perfect. Whether dining in the restaurant, accented with cliché Asian decor, or out on the heated patio, with its trickling waterfall, Tamarind Tree can host parties large and small. On the food front, Vietnamese fare scores a home run in the shareable department; large platters of greens, herbs and skewered meat can be shared across the table. Ditto for the hugely portioned salads and appetizers, such as fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce or the deep-fried rice balls with centers of cinnamon-scented pork. Service is reasonably fast and efficient but not polished. Water glasses go unfilled and wine or cocktails made at the bar are slow to arrive, but reasonable prices compensate for this. People are seated, served and shuffled out, making this is a great choice for short lunches or dinner out with the a multi-generational family. If you want to linger, it’s best to dine elsewhere. 1036 S Jackson St., Suite A; 206.860.1404; tamarindtreerestaurant.com
This is Italian food meant for sharing. In a neighborhood that boasts decent parking and is fairly accessible from most points in the city and the Eastside, Cafe Lago offers respite from crowded, restaurant-dense neighborhoods in the way of warm lighting and a trattoria vibe. Long before wood-fired pizza came into vogue, the cooks at Lago were tossing dough and charring it to a black-bottomed crust in the applewood-fed oven. The large pizzas feed many, depending on appetites, as can the traditional pastas (such as a thick fettuccine with meatballs or the linguine con vongole), which are made by hand daily. The large dining room fills up nightly, although it’s never too loud for chatting across the table, and it can seat parties of six to as many as 50. 2305 24th Ave. E; 206.329.8005; cafelago.com
How to Cook a Wolf
With only eight tables and a counter in the house, this jewel box of a restaurant is hard-pressed to accommodate groups. But the booth-like table tucked into a back alcove offers a special experience for parties of five. The U-shaped nook sits under a low ceiling of arched wood—a softly lit cave that inspires intimacy and is perfect for celebrating or dining with family. The menu is composed of Italian-centric small plates that are meant to be shared; a platter of softly cooked eggs is paired with local seafood and makes for a hearty starter, while pasta dishes dominate the entrée choices. Try the hollow bucatini pasta, which is renowned for soaking up sauce, or the simply prepared spaghetti tossed with anchovies and chilies. 2208 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.838.8090; howtocookawolf.com
Looking and feeling like a French cottage, Pair has room for as many as 13 people in what is otherwise a small, intimate space adorned with thin linen curtains and copper kitchen tools displayed as art. A heavy wood table with pew-like benches, which sits in a nook opposite the bar, allows groups to experience the room’s energy while still feeling private. The menu offers subtle elegance that is unapologetically old-fashioned: A small bowl of cheesy, puffed-up gougères or a bowl of moules frites is perfect for kicking off a meal of small plates. Don’t miss the beef brisket made with fresh horseradish crème fraîche and scallions. Pair is a humble spot for a straightforward meal. 5501 30th Ave. NE; 206.526.7655; pairseattle.com
GROUP DINING 101
Hitting the town with a gaggle of family or friends? Here are some ground rules to remember:
1. In restaurant-reservation-challenged Seattle, bookings for groups of six or more are always recommended and are usually required.
2. Check your bill: Restaurants often add a gratuity (usually 18 percent) for parties of six or more.
3. Know your exit strategy: Separate checks are often not allowed. If that’s your preference, ask about it when setting up your reservation. In addition, some restaurants accept only a limited number of credit cards for payment, so bring cash if you plan on splitting the bill.
4. It might seem like a no-brainer, but because many dishes in today’s restaurants are meant to be shared, alert the host to food allergies when making your reservation or let your server know once you’re seated.