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Friday, December 14, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Where taste trumps elbow room

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Want more tiny treasures? Try these spots

CAFÉ BESALU, 5909 24th Ave. N.W., Seattle

(206-789-1463).

What we love: Croissants, Danish and coffee.

FU MAN DUMPLING HOUSE, 14314 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle (206-364-0681).

What we love: Chinese beef sandwiches, dumplings, cold roast chicken.

I LOVE NEW YORK DELI, 93 Pike St., No. 4, Seattle (206-381-DELI).

What we love: Hot pastrami sandwiches, kasha knishes, Wise potato chips.

IMPROMPTU WINE BAR CAFÉ, 4235 E. Madison St., Seattle (206-860-1569 or www.impromptuwinebar.com).

What we love: Wine(s) and cheese.

SAINT-GERMAIN, 2811A E. Madison St., Seattle

(206-323-9800 or www.saintgermainseattle.com).

What we love: Salade and tartine.

SITKA & SPRUCE, 2238 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle (206-324-0662 or www.sitkaandspruce.com).

What we love: Whatever Matt's cooking.

Food for Thought with Nancy Leson

Food For Thought airs every Wednesday on KPLU's Morning Edition at 5:35 and 7:35 a.m, and again on KPLU's Weekend Edition Saturday, at 8:35 a.m. Listen to "Gifts for the cook," her latest commentary. Or subscribe to podcasts.

Yes, it's true. Good things — great things, in fact — come in small packages. Don't expect to find a table, a counter seat or a bar stool waiting with your name on it at the following joints. But when you do, know you're sitting at a place I adore — one where the lack of rear-end real estate is as much a draw as a drawback.

Daphnes

Where: 415 ½ Main St., Edmonds (425-776-6402).

Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Wednesdays-Saturdays.

Note: Daphne's has extended operations through December, when it will be open Mondays-Saturdays, then closed for vacation Jan. 2-Feb. 12.

ENVISION A WINSOME wine bar, a curious convivial cross between Le Pichet and a shoebox. Add a big dose of small-town allure and a seductive soundtrack favoring Jobim and Johnny Hartman. Count a quartet of barstools and two tiny window tables looking out onto Edmonds' main drag — one of which may be reserved for a 90-minute slot. Expect a bare minimum of nibbles plus a modicum of beer and Bacchus, the latter served, unashamedly, in a tumbler. Then note that it's all administered by barman and hometown-boy Brian Taylor, late of Brooklyn, later of Bishop Blanchet, who comes dressed for success in a starched white coat and tie, keeping limited hours (darn him!) and vacationing at whim.

Elemental@Gasworks

Where: 3309 Wallingford Ave. N., in the Regata condo-complex, Seattle (206-547-2317 or www.elementalatgasworks.com).

Hours: Cocktails from 5 p.m., dinner 6 p.m.-midnight Tuesdays-Saturdays.

ELEMENTAL HAS its detractors — folks who don't like to be told "no." As in, "No, there's no table for you, and there's no use standing there staring at the five of them, dreaming about one." And, "No, we're not serving dinner till 6 p.m., so just sit and eat your truffled popcorn with your aperitif; you'll see the menu later." And, "No, I'm not telling you which wine you're sipping — not now, at least."

I don't mind those "nos" because I'm the No. 1 fan of owner/waiter/bartender/wine steward Phred Westfall. A fan who likes nothing more than spending a long evening at his dynamic dinner party, eating whatever his wife, Laurie Riedeman, is cooking on her mini-menu. I love her droll take on bacon and eggs: a warm duck egg, prosciutto and coy little croutons; her comforting poufs of tomato-sauced spinach and ricotta gnudi; her sassy shortribs with garlic-scented waffles. And get this: Phred and Laurie are thinking big(ger), with plans to open a second, adjacent venue. Sentimental? Monumental? I'll drink a vieille prune — or whatever else phabulous Phred's pouring — to that.

Green Leaf

Where: 418 Eighth Ave. S., Seattle (206-340-1388).

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

AT THIS BUSTLING 2-year-old Vietnamese restaurant, a dozen or so tables are set this close, and it's all I can do not to take my fancy wooden chopsticks in hand and steal a beefy bundle of la lot off the stranger-next-door's vermicelli bowl. I wouldn't put it past me, though the prudent thing would be to first offer up a gift: perhaps a big charred prawn from my crunchy green papaya salad or a plump fried-duck drumstick culled from the depths of a bowlful of egg noodles. But once I get my hands around the bountiful banh xeo (after wrapping that lacy, marvelously messy, pork-, shrimp- and sprout-filled pancake with herbs and leaf lettuce), nobody's getting a bite! Bargain prices, elegant tableware, a surprising wine list and the warmest service imaginable are part of the reason this Vietnamese cafe swiftly became a Chinatown International District favorite. Is it any surprise that Seattle's warm embrace has emboldened owner Peter Kuang to expand? Green Leaf shoots skyward with a second-story dining room, slated to open by year's end and — hallelujah! — doubling seating capacity.

Taka Sushi

Where: 18904 Hwy. 99, Suite A, Lynnwood (425-778-1689 or www.mytakasushi.com).

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Sundays.

I NEVER KNOW what thrills I'll thrill to when I walk into this pocket-sized Lynnwood cafe and commandeer one of only six seats at the sushi bar. (You might choose one of a handful of tables.) But whatever Tomokatsu Takayama is making, I'm taking. I let other customers order California roll-combos and tempura, while Taka-san scans his small fish case, then sets me up with whatever floats his boat. And that is when my ship comes in. One day he'll build an elegant sashimi tower; scoop golden roe from a prickly sea urchin before placing it, quivering, over a thumbprint of rice; then offer up a pristine pair of Spanish mackerel. On another he'll blend fresh sansho leaves into a vibrant green sauce, drizzling the pungent sauce over glistening white fish; pique my palate with icy wasabi-infused granita served in a pretty spoon; then hoist a heavenly hamachi-filled hand-roll over the counter while I try not to swoon. All this in a low-slung industrial strip mall? Hai!

Txori

Where: 2207 Second Ave., Seattle (206-204-9771 or www.txoribar.com).

Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily.

IT'S BEEN NEARLY 10 years since tiny Harvest Vine opened in Madison Valley and Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez turned Seattleites into starry-eyed Basque-eat cases: we showed up in droves to get a taste of his tantalizing tapas and his wife Carolin's sinful sweets. Txori (say CHOR-ee), open since late November in Belltown, is a San Sebastian-style pinxtos bar serving Spanish specialties throughout the day and late into the night. This classy, clean-lined cafe aims for authenticity, catering to those looking for a bite of blood sausage or bacalao (salt cod) to down with a short pour of Stella, a pisco cocktail and pulpo da feira (a tender mouthful of smoky paprika-sparked octopus poised on a potato pedestal) or a cup of cafe cortado — perfect for whiling away an hour. There'll be a postage stamp-sized patio once the weather warms, but for now the best seat in the house is not a seat at all: it's a post at the open-kitchen counter, checking out specials (hope for tiny eel-like hake, bathing in garlicky olive oil, awaiting a crust of bread).

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com. More reviews at www.seattletimes.com/restaurants.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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