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Fifty years, 24 hours a day, it's been like this. If you recognize the picture, it's because you've been there, at one of the high-backed swivel chairs overlooking the kitchen at 13 Coins.
As you walk in to the low-slung building across from the Seattle Times offices at Boren and Denny, you get a sense of déjà vu. (Or should we say déjà mangé?)?).

Old school, some call this. You've surely seen upscale diners like this in the movies: elegant leather upholstery, swivel-back chairs along the counter, fawning servers, the darkness pierced by flashes of fire from the exhibition kitchen (an innovation when it opened), where a brigade of cooks incinerate one classic dish after another. Yes, Hollywood. The Brown Derby. Chasen's. Or Broadway: Delmonico's.

Appetizers cascade onto the table: the Coins's excellent sautéed calamari, a juicy artichoke, steamed clams (with too much pesto), barbecued pork. Main courses: coconut prawns, eggs Florentine, crab & shrimp Louis, veal piccata, steak Sinatra. For "old times' sake," I might order the Joe's Special: eggs scrambled with chopped sirloin, onions, spinach.

Back in the days of three-martini lunches (hah! hard to believe, but yes), I'd come here with the gang from KING TV and nosh on a tureen of bean soup. I returned a decade ago at the invitation of a PR firm hired by the longtime owners to announce a new chef.

The food was never Canlis-level; that's not what you came here for. Part of the Coins' early success was due to its proximity to the newspaper offices, back when the Times was a real newspaper. Now there are construction cranes all over the neighborhood, and you can't hear yourself think during daylight hours. And the food is pretty much what you'd expect: reasonably speedy, served reasonably hot, reasonably tasty.

Alas, nothing lasts in Seattle (except, maybe, Canlis, perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Union). Certainly not a non-descript concrete building at the south end of South Lake Union; not even the Times itself, on the same block.

Owner Al Moscatel recognized that reality earlier this year, admitting that the building will be torn down. So the last day will be New Year's Day, he says.

The new location (yes, there will be a new location, at King Street and Second Avenue South) will retain much of the vintage decor: high-backed booths, open kitchen, and round-the-clock hours. Two levels at the new place, room for 200, lots of private dining space.

I'm hopeful.

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This Fried Oyster Is Now My World

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Fried oyster taco at Chavez.jpg

Down at the Pike Place Market, changes are afoot. The new MarketFront, for example, provides Seattle with a front-row balcony view of Elliott Bay, with even more shops and restaurants. But the "Market" has always been more than the sum of its 200+ vendors (flowers & fish, souvenir tee shirts, souvenir bracelets). It's a hub for literally millions of visitors a year who come to gawk, to clog the street, to take selfies, and to grab a bite.

It's heartening, therefore, to report on a new duo of restaurants sharing a space on Western Avenue, just north of Victor Steinbrueck park: Chavez and Mercato Stellino. They're owned by Wade Moller (former partner of Travis Greenwood at the original Cantinetta in Wallingford) and a gang of sure-handed chefs: Gabriel Chavez who also helms the Chavez on Cap Hill; Joe Obaya at the glassed-in pasta-making station, and Emran Chowdhury at Stellina.

As with Tom Douglas's SeaTown SeaBar across the street, these are places designed for tourists (not that there's anything wrong with that!). A lot of visitors have heard that Seattle is famous for oysters but might be reluctant to try one. Chavez has a solution for the squeamish: a fried-oyster taco. I normally prefer my oysters on the half shell, but this is one of the best things I've eaten all year.

Here's the recipe:

  • Medium Pacific oysters, dusted in flour and celery salt
  • For the batter: 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup cold soda water, 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • For the slaw: red cabbage, lemon juice, olive oil, red onions, cilantro and dried oregano
  • Sauce: 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup Mexican cream, 2 tbsp chipotle Adobe, combine.
  • Pico De gallo: tomatoes, red onions, jalapeno.
Got it? Hey, it's the ingredient list, I get it. You don't expect restaurants to give away the store, do you? Starting with decent home-made tacos. But if you're a reasonably competent you can figure out the rest. Oil temperature, for example. How to slice the cabbage for the slaw, etc. On site, it's $18 for three tacos. Thanks to Green-Rubino for the picture. Bet you can't eat a dozen!

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Comes news this week that Seattle's venerable Metropolitan Grill, along with its waterfront sibling Elliott's Oyster House, are getting a new ownership structure.

The parent company, Consolidated Restaurants, Inc., was founded in 1951 by Dave Cohn, as Barb's. There were a dozen Barb's restaurants before Cohn opened the Polynesia on Pier 51 in 1962; at that point, Barb Enterprises was the largest owner-operated restaurant company in the Northwest. In the 1970s, Barb's gave way to to landmark restaurants under the Consolidated banner: the Metropolitan Grill and Elliott's, and David son, Ron Cohn, took the reins. As the 20th century drew to a close, they hired Jim Rowe, the top finance officer from Holland America Lines, who became the company president ten years later.

Now two big changes. First, Rowe becomes CEO and owner. Second, the name is changing to E3. Why E3? It's the name of the steak seasoning at Met Grill, so designated in honor of a gent named Earl Owens.

Who he? Goes back to the original El Gaucho and the original 13 Coins, where the Earl Owens was the man who ran the kitchen. A firm but beloved old-school taskmaster, Owens almost single-handedly trained a whole generation of Seattle restaurateurs. Both his grandsons, the Anderson brothers, are in the biz, and both work for Consolidated Restaurants, Joshua as GM for Metropolitan Grill, Jeremy as VP Opereations for the whole company.

No changes in management or menus are planned.

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