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Rooms with a view: Does Seattle have any great waterfront restaurants?

With fanfare, Seattle's “big three” view restaurants have re-modeled and re-branded these past few months. Will the facelifts re-energize Salty's, Palisade and Ray's?
Seattle skyline from Salty's

Seattle skyline from Salty's Ronald Holden

In 1985, Gerry Kingen bought a tumbledown waterfront building in West Seattle called the Beach Broiler and added it to his portfolio of seafood restaurants in Portland and the South Sound. That restaurant, Salty's on Alki, sits on Harbor Avenue two miles across Elliott Bay from downtown.

“It's a million-dollar view,” says Kingen. It's also a $10-plus million a year restaurant, in the Top 100 top-grossing, non-chain restaurants nationwide.

Of Seattle's Big Three water view eateries, Salty's is probably in the best location to weather the storms of fickle public opinion — not to mention complaints that it's overpriced. (Somebody has to pay for that million-dollar view.)

Salty’s owner is also a restaurant pro. Kingen is the man behind the Blue Moon Tavern, Boondock's, Lion O'Reilly's and the Red Robin’s gourmet burgers. (The next venture for Kingen and his wife/business partner Kathy is barbecue. But that’s another story.)

Salty’s has a well-developed event and catering business. The restaurant boasts as many seats, on its lower level, as the ballrooms in Seattle's downtown hotels. It also hosts a popular weekend brunch. Best of all, Salty's sits on prime real estate, and is planning to develop some of its underused space (like the parking lots) for a small, luxury hotel.

Salty's doesn't buy traditional advertising, relying instead on its well-trained staff  “to share their knowledge, sense of adventure and excitement,” explains Kingen. To stay in touch with Salty’s client base, the Kingens have compiled an email list of 100,000 names. Client feedback may prompt a change now and then (a new napkin color, for example). But the Kingens are more interested in promoting that buffet of crab legs to their client list. And it’s not just tourists, either; up to two thirds of Salty’s guests are locals.

Palisade, on a low bluff at the southern tip of Magnolia, overlooks the Elliott Bay Marina and Smith Cove. The twinkling lights of downtown Seattle — sometimes blocked by cruise ships — are three miles to the southwest. Palisade is owned by Restaurants Unlimited, the parent company of Palomino and Cutters, among many others, which has nurtured a goodly share of local talent (Chef John Howie, for example).

Like its competitors, Palisades targets customers who are looking for a “celebration” restaurant. The restaurant is celebrating its 20th birthday this year with a few new menu items and what GM Doug Zellers (brought in from the Washington Athletic Club a couple of years ago) describes as cleaner, fresher tastes. Ryan O'Brien, a star at RUI's Portland City Grill, was tapped to run the revitalized kitchen with an “elegance on every plate” mandate. Says Zellers: “People had kind of forgotten about Palisade.” At one point, the vaunted Sunday brunch even lost its signature seafood buffet; it was quickly reinstated.

But Palisade, for all its uniqueness and prestige, is not a stand-alone store. It’s one restaurant in a $150 million company (and a small part of an even broader private equity portfolio, Florida-based Sun Capital, at that). As a result, it may not be getting the attention it deserves.

There's been a refreshing coat of paint and a new layer of upholstery; the signature Ocean Tower (oysters, lobster, crab legs, prawns, etc.) now arrives table-side on a customized metallic stand shrouded in a cloud of dry ice, as dramatic an entrance as one can imagine. But is that enough to make Seattle pick Palisade when it comes time to celebrate?

On Shilshole Bay in Ballard, Ray's is six miles outside downtown. It began life as Ray Lichtenberger's  boathouse 60 years ago, with a glowing neon beacon (RAY'S) to signal sailors approaching the Ship Canal locks and Lake Union. The immutable attraction here is the stunning sunset view across the water to the Olympics, but it's more than location that brings people here today. Upstairs, in the informal café, there's Ray’s reliable fish & chips, plus a bar with craft beer. Next door, a full-on catering venue. Downstairs, in the Boathouse proper, two iconic dishes: Alaska King Salmon and Sake Kasu Sablefish, both created by Ray's first chef, Wayne Ludvigsen, and carried forward by the incumbent, Wayne Johnson.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 20, 7:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Years ago, the Windjammer at Shilshole Bay Marina combined food and view. My family generally went to the little coffee shop in the basement, but for special occasions we would eat upstairs. When I was in college, I remember saving up to eat there with a friend -- it was spring and we wound up watching prom parties not very accustomed to tableside service. One young man had ordered a caesar salad, and the look on his face when the waiter added a raw egg to the salad bowl is still a vivid memory.

sandik

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Don't forget Horatio's, a Lake Union treat but now long gone.

seebee

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 11:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Franco's Hidden Harbor -- with a view of other people's boats, and a great crab melt sandwich.

sandik

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Indeed, it would be great to tell the stories of waterfront restaurants that have closed. Not to mention the places, like Ivar's, that have survived, or, like Aqua by El Gaucho, that have reinvented themselves.

And some additional questions worth asking: is the Space Needle, with its unique elevation, a "waterfront view" restaurant? What about the Tillicum Village boat ride? Why isn't there a public restaurant (not just a private club) atop any of the downtown buildings?

Where would YOU like to see a restaurant?

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 9:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Cliff House overlooking the Port of Tacoma is on the same level as the Seattle eateries.

animalal

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

We once had restaurants overlooking the city: remember The Top O' The Town at the Sorrento, where Betty Hall Jones regaled us with her songs and her own tops (hats)? or The Cloud Room at The Camlin? When it still had a view, a survivor until fairly recently; or The Mirabeau on top of the SeaFirst Building, when it still was the SeaFirst Building, and when SeaFirst was still a bank. Another historic note--the first restaurant at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, The Horizon Room, was on the top floor, opened and operated by M.L. Graham, who also ran the notoriously racist-named Coon Chicken Inn on Lake City Way.

My current favorite view restaurant is Chinook's at Fishermen's Terminal, a populist favorite that showcases Bud Gould's incomparably fresh and scrupulously-labeled seafood. It's the only place I know that makes blackberry cobbler with the shy and succulent rubus ursinus (the only Northwest blackberry). Chinook's makes their own chocolate fudge sauce from scratch. And right out the window is a true working waterfront. Often featuring real work.

gabowker

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 11:25 p.m. Inappropriate

We take guests from out of town to Chinooks for that reason -- actual boats.

sandik

Posted Sat, Feb 23, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I completely forgot that Seattle still has at least one rooftop restaurant: The Top of The Hilton on the 29th floor of the hotel of the same name at 6th and Union. I was there maybe 30 years ago, perhaps with someone else's wife.

gabowker

Posted Fri, Feb 22, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Chinook's is a great candidate for top waterfront/view/seafood eatery. And thanks for the reminders of Cloud Room, Top of the Town, Horizon Room, Mirabeau!

Posted Mon, Feb 25, 11:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Elliott's - maybe not the best view but it is on the water. Some of the best oysters in town. The last time I was there we were treated to some amazing Alaska king crab legs.

tup

Posted Tue, Feb 26, 8:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Crosscut asks: Does Seattle have any great waterfront restaurants? One would never know from this piece...worthy of the Puget Sound Business Journal for its discussion of business models, throughput capacity of physical plant, corporate ownership, etc.

There IS a paragraph alluding to the general quality of food--but whether any of the few establishments mentioned can be labelled "great," it's not possible to say.

Best to concentrate on the views, which are definitely great.

And BTW, my last few visits to Chinook at Fisherman's Terminal were a distinct disappointment, food-wise, and I've reluctantly stricken it from my list after many, many years of patronage.

Seneca

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Alas, gabowker, the restaurant on the 29th floor of the Hilton now closes at 3 PM. There's a high-up (28th floor) lounge at another of Hedreen's hotel properties, the Renaissance, with some good views of city lights, but it doesn't stay open late. It's pretty obvious that hotels want to keep their own guests and drop-in visitors in the lobby (as I wrote in this piece for Crosscut a year ago: http://crosscut.com/2012/04/20/food/22217/Seattles-hotel-dining-rooms-trade-old-world-grande/).

Meantime, in today's edition of Crosscut, the great Roger Downey (who'd have every right to a cantankerous, "Get off my lawn" piece) writes sagely and patiently about the rising noise levels that seem engineered into today's new restaurants.

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

My favorite, which wouldn't make your listing as it is a high-end, exquisitely gourmet, small, independent restaurant with a view that just can't be beat: Place Pigalle in the market.

Honario

Posted Sun, Apr 14, 11:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks to all for their memories of so many of my childhood and younger days favorites, including The Cloud Room, Franco's Hidden Harbor (remember the lifeboat hung outside the entrance where you could write your name or initials?), The Mirabeau (the great M. Barthe just passed away a few weeks ago), etc. I don't recall the Horizon Room at Sea Tac but do fondly recall The Carvery, the only place outside of California where I was ever served the original presentation of the Cobb Salad (like they had at The Brown Derby in LA). One place I'd like to add to the old "view of the water" places is the long gone Les Teigels, which was at 920 Aurora...wonderful mid-century Northwest building with huge picture windows and a view of Lake Union...and later of I-5 under construction. It was like a mini-Canlis...which I nominate as the all-time champion here in Seattle for "best view"! As long as we have Canlis, all will be right with the world!

TaylorB1

Posted Wed, Apr 17, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

There were (and are) more with views, Kaspar's on the top of a nondescript office building at First Avenue and Cedar was one. They moved to Queen Anne at one point.
Then there was the much-loved Adriatica, perched on top of an old building on Dexter, overlooking Lake Union.

Two of my favorite places in Seattle are hard to beat anywhere in the world for views and ambiance: Maximilien's and The Pink Door -- both in Pike Place Market. They are unique, quirky, and not part of a chain. During the times when their decks are open, its not unlike dining on Lake Como. Totally enchanting.

mark9901

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