by Louis and Annette Bignami


"Oh, how grand" piped the proper young lady in the Laura Ashley dress, white stockings and black patent leather shoes. The two story tall Georgian room reminds us of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, or, for that matter, the Palace in Madrid. During dinner, a "proper pianist" plays light classical music. White linen, heavy silver, classic china and fresh cut flowers grace the tables. Martinis are "shaken, not stirred" in a silver shaker. Waiters hover in penguin garb. Suddenly you are inside the pages of Henry James or on the set of Black Widow or Disclosure.

Food, even with the prodigious plating efforts of Chef Kerry Sear, reflects the traditions, nay inertia, of the room. The superior pheasant with caramelized onions is our favorite pheasant dish anywhere although we have written our own gamebird cookbook. We alternate this with classic veal and salmon dishes and expect and get the consistent quality and few surprises you expect from a classic.


A prankish friend told us Carmine Smeraldo's classic Italian restaurant near Pioneer Square was "quite casual" at lunch. So we turned up in shorts on our first visit and were surprised to discover Seattle's movers and shakers in full business fig, waiters in traditional white Italian jackets, surroundings more Italian than pasta, and authentic food well worth our return to the car for slacks and jackets.

We scored with unusual venison ravioli in a veal sauce on our first visit. According to Carmine, the affable working owner who bustles about to insure white-coated perfection in food and service, "Guests would riot if I took that dish off the menu. It's our best dish."

Therefore, we always split a dish of venison ravioli to start. Then arguments rage over choices. All the pastas we have tried met our rather high standards. Prima patti dishes such as Scaloppini properly pounded Milanese style on the bone suit its risotto, and a favorite osso buco comes with nicely grilled polenta, a typically Carmine's surprise twist like good Vivaldi chamber music.

Add a couple of baskets of fresh Italian bread so good it's eaten plain, and expect little room for desert. Carmine?s remains our favorite choice for lunch during the week and dinner any night but Sunday. The terrace tables suit nice days: we look forward to one of those!