Restaurant Zoë: Best New Restaurant 2012

This year’s batch of Best New Restaurants adds new depth to our lively, layered restaurant scene.

After a dozen destination-worthy years in Belltown, Restaurant Zoë closed shop (its old locale now houses The Coterie Room) and reopened on Union Street and 14th Avenue on Capitol Hill, which longtime locals will remember as the old La Panzanella space. It’s risky to up and move a neighborhood icon, but owner Scott Staples’ reinvented Zoë feels (and eats) great in its new home, with far more dedicated bar space; higher ceilings, walls and accents in shades of dark slate and buttercream with red accents; and a crowd that looks like a cross-section of the city: rockers playing Chop Suey after dinner, girlfriends in work finery catching up, older couples double-dating.

The new Zoë feels a bit like a swank dinner party thrown in a rustic warehouse. The food here also impresses: You’ll find new dishes, such as thin ribbons of beef tongue balanced by pickled, compressed melon, peppery arugula and bitter hints of radicchio ($11–$12) alongside Zoë menu mainstays, such as the inimitable gnudi (tender ricotta dumplings, $10). The incredible short ribs (about $24) and the seasonally aware foie gras ($25) preparation are reliably among the best in the city. But chef James Sherrill is breaking new ground, too, with that beef tongue, and with his lamb rib appetizer ($12), in which the gamey meat is coated with a tamarind glaze, and the clean crunch of celery lifts each bite. Service is easygoing but well versed on the intricacies of each dish; sommelier Derek Murrah is quick to engage diners who are poring over the smart, Euro-centric bottle list. One of the best things about the original Zoë was its ability to charm such a divergent crowd—grandma and hipster alike could find something of interest to eat. That trait continues here. It’s good to have our old friend back.

You should know: The bar area is noisy; good for dates as well as big groups; free house-made potato focaccia with delicious shallot-seasoned dipping oil. Get directions.