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Friday, July 5, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Leave your kitchen for a bite at Coastal Kitchen

Special to The Seattle Times

Coastal Kitchen


429 15th Ave. E., Seattle, 206-322-1145

**

American/International

Hours: breakfast 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; lunch 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, dinner 5 p.m.-midnight daily.

Prices: breakfast $5.25-$8.75; lunch $5.75-$10.50; dinner appetizers $5.75-$9.75, entrees $7.25-$18.75.

Parking: on street.

Sound: A stage voice is useful when the place is crowded.

Full bar / MasterCard, Visa / no smoking / no obstacles to access.

Not every restaurant looks good in broad daylight, but morning becomes Coastal Kitchen.

The somewhat frenzied atmosphere that prevails in the p.m. gives way to near tranquility, at least on weekday mornings. You'll be welcomed by the smell of bacon and cinnamon-scented coffee cake. Pancakes, accompanied by whipped butter and real maple syrup, are thick and light, as deftly turned as the egg scrambles. The coffee is strong. You may notice some dings in the red wainscoting and scuff marks on the green and black linoleum floor, but that just adds to the homey comfort of this Capitol Hill fixture.

Neighborhood restaurants like Coastal Kitchen, which will be 10 years old in January, fill a niche between fast-and-cheap eateries and max-out-the-plastic places. Here you can drop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner wearing whatever, order ham and eggs at any hour and chase them with a cocktail. The menu is both comfortingly familiar and a mite adventurous. Prices are moderate; portions ample.

Servers are quick with a quip and knowledgeable, as professional as their loosely knotted ties and button-down collars suggest. It's a restaurant concept that has been whittled to a fine point over the years by parent company Chow Foods, which also owns the similarly styled Jitterbug, The 5 Spot and Atlas Foods.

Essentially a diner with upscale ambitions, Coastal Kitchen does best with hearty, American home-style food. The pork-chop dinner plate ($13.95) delivers two thick grilled chops, miraculously moist, with faultless mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans with red onion that sure tasted like they'd been sautéed with bacon drippings. (Pork enthusiasts take note: A single chop with eggs and hash browns is offered at breakfast for $7.75).

Excellent hand-cut fries, slender and lithe, and perky pickled cucumber slices accompany a generous batch of fine beer-battered fried fish ($10.75).

Deliciously messy, peel-and-eat shrimp are small but fragrant with garlic and rosemary and served over spicy, red pepper-sauced rice.

Similar Louisiana-style flavors infuse Satchmo's red beans and rice ($9.75), a gut-filling glory spiked with andouille sausage and tasso ham. Nor is the "all-day breakfast" for wimps: The platter groans (and so will you if you finish it) under enough Tabasco-tinged hash browns to satisfy a linebacker, plus three eggs, any style, and your choice of sausage, bacon or Niman ranch ham ($8.75).

Every three months the restaurant introduces customers to a different coastal region of the globe, spotlighting not only the cuisine of the chosen port-of-call but also the culture. Original art and other decorative touches change with the theme. Even a visit to the restroom is educational: An original CD plays music, drama and narration appropriate to the region.

Between now and Aug. 16, you can vicariously visit Hanoi, though several items sampled from that side of the menu failed to excite much interest.

Spring rolls stuffed with crab and pork ($7.25) were soggy with oil, as were fried tilapia fillets dipped in turmeric and panko breading ($15.75). A cloying coconut sauce, lacking any trace of red chili oil, did no favors for luscious grilled beef tenderloin marinated in soy sauce ($18.75). Dry chicken satay ($6.50) threaded on lemongrass met its sorry match in even drier citrus-and-sake-dressed yakisoba noodles.

But it's a joy to explore a fresh salad tossed with ginger and lemongrass vinaigrette and discover slivers of asparagus, red pepper and shiitake mushrooms among the pea vines, mizuna greens and cabbage ($5.75). And pan-roasted chicken breast ($14.75) couldn't be better. Crisp-skinned and moistened with pan juices lightly flavored with ginger and garlic, it is served with Chinese long beans and shiitake-studded noodles.

As a finale, the classic hot fudge sundae ($3.75/$5.25) and the lilting key lime tart on a cookie-like crust ($5.25) impress far more than fanciful creations like frozen chocolate coconut mousse ($5.25), a confection short on chocolate and mired in a watery kafir lime anglaise sauce.

If I lived on Capitol Hill, I can imagine eating here as often as once a week, with the family or on a date, for lunch with a friend or dinner with a gang, or maybe indulge in a solitary BLT ($7.25) and fresh lemonade on the narrow back deck. There may be no cooking like home cooking, but when you don't want to mess around in your own kitchen, Coastal Kitchen is worth a try.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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