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Friday, March 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

Play it again and again: Victrola is coffeehouse harmony in action

Special to The Seattle Times

Victrola Coffee & Art


411 15th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-325-6520

Coffeehouse

$

Web site: www.victrolacoffee.com

Hours: 6 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays, 5:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5:30 a.m.-midnight Fridays, 6 a.m.-midnight Saturdays.

No alcohol / credit cards: MC, V / no smoking / no obstacles to access.

Rating: recommended.

Sometimes, even to a food critic, food counts as the smallest part of one's appraisal of a place. Consider Victrola Coffee & Art, a 4-year-old coffeehouse on Capitol Hill's 15th strip. What makes it such a grand place is its sure sense of precisely that — place.

"It felt like it had been there forever from the day it opened," a friend from the neighborhood sighed. For one giddy moment, when I first walked in, I wished that I lived in her neighborhood, too.

It's not just that everybody's there, although everybody invariably is: moms with babies, slackers, students, retired 35-year-old dot-com trillionaires-turned-poets, docs from down the street, posers, geriatrics, conversers, untold numbers of Seattle's laptop legions. And it's not just that everybody's comfortable there, at tables that allow privacy or a couch corner built for conversation. Or that the fleet of baristas make an uncommonly accommodating and merry band of hosts.

Of course, the place is aesthetically noble, with soaring ceilings, plenty of navigational room between tables (unlike so many of its genus), rotating art shows on the walls, and a burnished front counter reminiscent of an antique Victrola console. Its aesthetic integrity extends to a thoroughgoing retro spirit, from the vintage Victrola records on the shelves to the old guy in lederhosen who extemporizes old standards on the piano whenever he gets a hankering, to the folksy/bluesy/rootsy bands that provide lively music many evenings.

It's not even the food — a handful of pastries and grilled sandwiches that are certainly delicious, but not really the point. Or the espresso — beautifully pulled, artfully presented and, really, just the excuse.

The excuse, of course, for a double shot of that rare urban intangible called soul. All coffeehouses want it. Victrola's got it. Go.

Check please

The Victrola: Take two pieces of flaky focaccia, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, slice on the fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, sprinkle with (not quite enough) salt and pepper, top with Italian basil and spinach, grill and voilà: You have Victrola's signature sandwich, simple, satisfying and wholly deserving of the imprimatur.

The Grant Cogswell (day old): The only deficit this palate could detect in the day-old sandwich was a little less spring in the focaccia's step — but certainly not tragically less. Whaddya know: a good deal and a good lunch. Roasted turkey, aged Gouda, tomatoes, spinach and house-made roasted-red-pepper aioli combined winningly and in intelligent proportion. It could have stood another minute on the grill, perhaps, but now I'm grasping.

Decaf latte: Vivace espresso makes a lovely latte, which the careful baristas at Victrola serve in ceramic mugs and prettify with foamy chiaroscuros of coffee and milk. Not long after you read this, however, Victrola's own roasting apparatus (in the back room!) will have begun churning out its own espresso roasts, an event I anticipate eagerly.

Pain au chocolat: They get their pastries from the best: Macrina, Zeitgeist, Top Pot Donuts and (drumroll please) Le Fournil, bakers of the finest croissants this side of the Left Bank. The pain au chocolat was, predictably, unimpeachable.

Itemized bill, meal for two

The Victrola $5.26

The Grant Cogswell (day-old) $2.63

Tall decaf latte $2.38

Pain au chocolat $2.00

Tax $1.07

Total $13.34

Kathryn Robinson: kathrynrobinson@speakeasy.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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