Restaurant Review: Restaurant Zoë

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Scott Staples went an arguably risky route when he closed RESTAURANT ZOË a year ago after a healthy decade of life in an iconic windowed space in Belltown. Staples reopened Zoë on Capitol Hill last winter on the edge of the Pike/Pine corridor—easily the most frenetic, food-frenzied area in Seattle—at East Union Street and 14th Avenue.

Same name, but a new, largely less expensive menu at the new location. During visits to The Coterie Room, which now occupies Zoë’s former Belltown space, I twice overheard diners come in asking for Restaurant Zoë, only to be told it had closed. Will those diners seek out the new Zoë? If they’re smart, they will; the kitchen is already running on all cylinders, and the food—sometimes daring, sometimes refined, sometimes playful and seasonally aware—gets better with each visit (three so far). And it’s a more affordable destination for dinner. There are still the luxurious people pleasers, but instead of a $30 steak it’s now a 28-day-aged, grass-fed beef burger ($15), melty, messy and funky with Taleggio cheese and browned, balsamic-tinged mushrooms. On some days, there is abalone shipped from California and cooked to the gentlest soft finish, the most tender I’ve had, accented with bitter greens and citrus ($29–$32). Where, outside of better sushi bars, are you even going to find abalone on the menu? There are sumptuous short ribs ($32)—a sensational, a holdover from the original Zoë menu—and salads of compressed fruits ($10). There are perfect fries with house-made aioli ($6), lush steak tartare with house-made potato chips for scooping ($12), and simple, seasonal tarts and just-baked cookies for dessert. You can play it safe with a burger and fries, or geek out to your foodie heart’s content with abalone and pig ears; it’s a fun, smart, balanced menu.

You’ll look marvelous eating it all, too. Credit the gorgeous lighting to Staples’ wife, Heather, who hung two massive globe-shaped fixtures (one imported from France, one a reproduction) that sparkle high above the tables. She designed the interior, too, as she did the original Zoë and the couple’s other restaurants, Quinn’s Pub and Uneeda Burger. There are rustic beams, soaring ceilings and reclaimed wood-framed windows. A side dining room has whitewashed wood-planked walls and red accents. The main space is more upscale, though still solidly drop-in ready.

The semi-open kitchen has shelving that shows off glass jars filled with spices, nuts and pickled vegetables. It adds up to a reclaimed barn feel, but still quite civilized. On warmer days, the 15 patio tables are sure to be in high demand. And there’s talk of special dinners hosted in the adjoining Oola Distillery. Dinner daily. 1318 E Union St.; 206.256.2060; restaurantzoe.com.