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Food For Thought: Restaurants Where Familiarity Breeds Contentment

Nancy Leson
Bucatini's pappardalle, where the deer and the antelope play.

Hi. Nancyhere.  I recently read an article about the joys of being a restaurant regular and the tears inevitably shed when your favorite restaurant hauls out the “closed” sign — for good.

It got me thinking about the places I hit on a regular basis, and what it is about those particular restaurants that turned me into a regular in the first place.

Stein nailed it when I brought up the subject on this week’s Food for Thought.

“Proximity,” he said.

Bingo. If I have to schlep across town to get to a place, no matter how much I love it, I won’t go too often. If a restaurant’s nearby, it’s got a big leg-up. Or in the case of Stein’s go-to joint: eight legs.

Credit Stein
Pretty much around the corner from Stein/DeGroot Manor. We've been eating there at least once a month for 20 years.

His favorite Mexican restaurant, Vuelve a la Vida, is identifiable by its signage and known — to him and his wife (the lovely and talented Cheryl DeGroot) — as “The Smiling Octopus,” thanks to its happy logo of a sombrero-wearing cephalopod. They go there on Thursdays, aka “Chile Rellenos Night” when, says Stein, “The only question is `How many?’”

My husband, Mac, and I, on the other hand, have been frequenting Bucatini, a new-ish old-school Italian restaurant in our neighborhood, where the owner-chef, Anthony Donatone (late of the late long-loved Casa d’Italiain Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood) plays maître d’ most nights, keeping an incredibly close eye on his (terrific) staff, and his diners.

I’ve been there thrice, Mac only twice, but after a meal there last week we already feel like regulars. Which is saying something, since, as I told Stein, I’m not big on going out to pasta palaces, as I all-too-frequently cook pasta at home.

That said, I’ve never had a plate of pappardelle like the one pictured above, made with antelope, goat, venison and, not incidentally, a terrific tomato sauce. Nor a better carbonara (Mac’s choice, with smoked pork belly).

The places I consider myself a regular are almost all Asian: Taka Sushi, T&T Chinese Seafood Restaurant, Wonton Noodle House, Pho Than Brothers, Hosoonyi and Noodle Hut, and all are only minutes from my front door. Interestingly, they each have an owner-operator on the premise. And, go figure, like Bucatini (which is cozy and charming on the inside) they’re all in strip malls.

So, what are the hallmarks of a restaurant worthy of repeat visits? For me, it’s the place that makes me feel comfortable from the get-go. A place where I know the servers and they know me. Where they also know what I like to eat, what I like to drink and where I like to sit. And, perhaps most importantly, they know that when I say, “See you next time!” I mean it.

"It's easier to be faithful to a restaurant than it is to a woman." – Frederico Fellini