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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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April 23, 2008 4:00 PM

And the award for letters regarding restaurant design goes to. . .

Posted by Nancy Leson


. . . a guy named Scott Surdyke, who's a project manager/developer type and a self-professed "foodie." He e-mailed me (and several other Seattle scribes) with a passionate letter, addressed "To the food critics of our local media," sporting a great subject line: "In Praise of Modern Restaurants." In it, he says he's had it up to here with our Old School tastes in restaurant decor -- something he's gleaned by reading our reviews (bless him).

He's correct about me: I'm not one for "modern" decor. One look around my 70-plus-year-old house and you'd know that right off the bat. Though I was glad to hear that Le Gourmand recently updated its formerly foofy dining room. But I took Scott's e-mail in the spirit with which I'm certain he sent it. I also talked to him on the phone before posting, and he sounds like a smart, thoughtful guy -- his rant and professional attachment to the subject notwithstanding.

I'm curious as to whether or not you'll agree or disagree with him. Is Seattle "stuck in the rustic '90s" when it comes to restaurant decor? And are we as restaurant critics/food writers showing our age when we liken restaurant dining rooms to the homes inhabited by the Jetsons and the Brady Bunch? (Wait: don't answer that last question.) Here's Scott's letter. Read it, then let me what you think.

To the food critics of our local media:

I read recently a review on Boom Noodle, described as "Benetton designed a Cafeteria" -- I think that was the Weekly.

I read Ama Ama described as "Judy Jetson meets Brady Bunch" decor -- I think that was the Times. [Says Nancy: I don't think that was us.]

I read Qube described as "so trendy, by the time this article is published, it will be dated." -- I think that was in Seattle Metropolitan Magazine. [Says Nancy: Oh, how wish I'd written that!]

So, I saw this flyer on a hip new restaurant "Asian Breeze" opening up in Queen Anne (see attachment), and the first thing I thought was "wait until the media slams this one for its decor." Frankly, I am surprised and disappointed that collectively you so quickly condemn restaurants that are actually trying to bring Seattle in touch with the modern restaurant world in terms of design. It's beginning here with more Asian-themed restaurants. And yes, these restaurants actually hire designers. These include:

Qube
Ama Ama
Jasmine
Asian Breeze
Boom Noodle
Indochine (Tacoma)
Ototo Sushi

Sorry, but I am one foodie who believes that Seattleites actually travel, are enlightened and envious by what they've found in other cities, and actually want to move beyond the "rustic" 90's” Capitol Hill and Belltown restaurant decor of places like Linda's and the Flying Fish. Variety is good, modernism is very alive and these few establishments should be praised for stepping up, not slammed by you guys because you won't stoop to understand why restaurant design has evolved way beyond places like Betty, Crave and Union.

I'm assuming most of you have been to Portland or Vancouver. Those cities really are setting trends and producing restaurants with warm, mid-century and Asian-inspired modern decor. Portland has a local design company called Skylab, and they've done a number of new restaurants and lounges, including Doug Fir & Silk. Look at Global and The Lift in Vancouver, BC.

Did you guys know that Qube has been featured in two national books on modern restaurants? Probably not, since you were too busy slamming it since it didn't look like Quinn's, Crow or Union.

I brought friends there two weeks ago from Vancouver, BC, and they loved it (they also loved Black Bottle in Belltown).

I think you guys need to move beyond design descriptions that mention Judy Jetson, the Brady Bunch and Austin Powers. There is a world design movement using sustainable materials such as cultured stone veneer (mid-century inspired), recycled/natural hardwoods and fresh new colors. Perhaps you just need to discuss, observe and understand it, but don't impose your ingrained "old Seattle standards" into your reviews. I think we are all tired of the 90's.

Give the few Seattle restaurants that are trying to go modern some well-deserved praise, then encourage and engage your audience into trying something different. You'd be surprised. . . urban dwellers may be more sophisticated then you give them credit -- they do travel, and they do want new.

I hope you'll consider a different point of view in the future when you enter, experience, or review Seattle's few modern restaurants. In the meantime, plan a trip to Vancouver or Portland, it may enlighten you.

[Yo, Scott: I stand enlightened. For the record? I was in Portland last month, where I ate at some amazing new restaurants, each of which is getting national acclaim, including Le Pigeon (whose decor couldn't possibly get any more "rustic") and Pok Pok (crammed into a very funky old house).]

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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