This post is part of our Hidden Gems series, which is brought to you by Basil Hayden's bourbon. Spicy, unexpected, and full of potential. Just like your plans tonight.

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Crow is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, yet diners from around the city flock to this inviting place because it's an easy walk to the Seattle Center's performance spaces.

It can be tough to get a table before curtain time. Not a problem. Take a seat at the handsome wooden bar and have a well-mixed cocktail. I've spent many a happy hour perched on a stool at Crow, sipping a Manhattan garnished with an orange twist. They pour a half a dozen small-batch bourbons including one of my faves, Basil Hayden's.

When it's slammed, there's also a good chance you can slip into a spot at the counter overlooking the open kitchen and watch your dinner come together.

The Euro-centric menu's short and changes seasonally, though a satisfying lasagna and the prosciutto-wrapped chicken are stellar constants. This time of year, the focus is on warming comfort foods, classic dishes that are impeccably prepared.

But first, dip into something cool and crisp. This is prime oyster time in the Northwest and if they're offered, you've got to try at least a half dozen Kusshi, a deep-cupped beauty from Vancouver Island. Your friendly server will help you pick a wine from the right-priced list.

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Short ribs.

The entrées are also meal deals, especially considering the generous portions. Most everything's under $20.

A butternut squash risotto topped with sautéed kale was wonderful, as was the braised short ribs on a bed of creamy polenta. Crow's hearty cassoulet could easily feed three. Fortunately, the big bowl of white beans, duck confit, chunks of pork, and a juicy sausage tasted even better as lunch the next day.

Though it's tempting to pass on dessert after such filling fare, that would be a big mistake. Pastry chef Brittany Bardeleben's sweets are homey showstoppers. A Washington apple crisp is warmed and topped with a Calvados-spiked ice cream. The moist pumpkin roulade was dreamy, but it's the delicate pine nut brittle accompaniment I can't stop thinking about.

Crow
823 5th Avenue North, Seattle WA 98109 (map); 206-283-8800

About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer food critic Leslie Kelly now writes for Seattle Weekly, Seattle magazine, the Memphis-based StateofQ.com and AlDente.com, Amazon's food blog. She wrote about working in professional kitchens for Serious Eats in a series called Critic-Turned-Cook.

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