Saleh al Lago's beloved chef returns for guest appearance at Nell's

It's been four years since Saleh Joudeh left a cast of thousands crying into their calamari after announcing he was retiring and selling 17-year-old Saleh al Lago. Meanwhile, chef Philip Mihalski reinvented the beloved Italian standard-bearer as Nell's, offering — to delicious effect — modern American fine dining in this very familiar setting (6804 E. Green Lake Way N., Seattle).

But all that changes (back) April 20 and 21, when Saleh makes a guest-chef appearance for two nights at Nell's. Hit that speed-dial, folks (206-524-4044) for a trip down memory lane. It's an all-Saleh menu (linguine Buon Gusto! filetto con aceto balsamico!) paying tribute to the man who gave tiramisu a good name. With word already out, old friends, longtime regulars and former Saleh al Lago staffers — yours truly among them — have already snagged reservations.

Joining owners past and present will be chef Jerry Hadaller (an old pro after 14 years in this kitchen), and former chef Michael Suzuki. Lending a hand in the dining room, waiters Steve Taylor and Sam Ward collectively count 22 years of service (and several thousand calamari appetizers served on the premises). And for those who knew and loved Saleh from his days at his first Seattle venture, Avenue 52: Yes, Saleh's famous "upside-down chicken" — a Middle Eastern favorite — is on the menu.

Northlake newcomer

Maritza Texeira, late of Cactus in Madison Park and (the late) Gitano in Madison Valley, is cooking up Nuevo Latino fare in a nuevo setting. This one has a big bar, a lot of seats, a Seattle skyline view and a coy tagline, "We dare you to find us." Big hint: The aptly named Buena Vista (2501 N. Northlake Way, Seattle, 206-547-0774), serving Cuban Creole cuisine, opened last week and is lodged at the Lakeside, just north of Gas Works Park.

Texeira's fans should know she's got her mojo working serving lunch (Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and dinner nightly (4 p.m. till 10ish), with weekend brunch scheduled to commence ASAP. Drinkers and diners can check out an intriguing list of bocaditos (ceviches, empanaditas, escabeche and other little bites, $5.95-$7.95) that should taste even better on the patio when warm weather prevails.

With fond memories of Gitano's crispy whole trout and pork tenderloin with mojo criollo dancing in my head, I look forward to sampling Texeira's "truncha a la Santa Lucia" (grilled trout with caperberries and dried cherry mojo, $16.95) and cerdo asado (citrus-roasted pork with yucca fries and black beans, $14.95). To say nothing of the specialty rums served in hollowed-out sugar-cane "shot glasses." Latin-accented musical events (see for more info) promise to up the entertainment ante at this Northlake newcomer.

Dancing to a different beat

Tyler Boring, the imaginative young chef who put his mark on the globe-trotting menu at Marjorie, has left to take on a new position as head chef at Jitterbug. The transition from exotic Belltown bistro to Wallingford neighborhood hangout should be a comfortable one for Boring: He previously worked for Peter Levy and Jeremy Hardy at Jitterbug, Atlas Foods and the 5 Spot.

"We're thrilled to have him — and his creativity — back," says Hardy, who with Levy also owns Coastal Kitchen and Endolyne Joe's, part of the ever-growing Chow Foods restaurant empire known for offering three-squares-a-day, rotating regional menus, and upbeat atmosphere and drinks to go along with the eats.

Boring says his change of venue was prompted by a need to refine and increase his kitchen-management skills. "Cooking is really a small part of running a restaurant," he says, and with dreams of someday owning his own joint, the 27-year-old admits he's got a lot to learn about the nuts and bolts of the business.

The Chow Boys have expertise to spare: Once known only for Wallingford's tiny Beeliner Diner (now expanded as Jitterbug), they now own neighborhood restaurants in Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, University Village and West Seattle.

Note of "interest": On April 15, Chow Foods will celebrate Tax Day with a list of "itemized reductions." For one night only, hungry taxpayers can feast on dinner entrees for $10.40 (or less) at Jitterbug (2114 N. 45th St., Seattle; 206-547-6313); Coastal Kitchen (429 15th Ave. E.; 206-322-1145), 5 Spot (1502 Queen Anne Avenue N.; 206-285-7768); Atlas Foods (2621 N.E. University Village; 206-522-6025); and Endolyne Joe's (9261 45th Ave. S.W.; 206-937-JOES).

Stepping up to the plate

Back in Belltown, Cormac Mahoney is taking over in the kitchen at Marjorie (2331 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-441-9842), stepping up from his position as sous-chef. Mahoney's restaurant resume includes stints at the Dahlia Lounge, Etta's Seafood and Palace Kitchen. Before joining Boring at Marjorie in October, he worked on his family's dairy farm in Centralia.

Marjorie's owner, Donna Moodie, describes her new head chef as "one of those creative types who's also kind of a numbers-cruncher." He describes himself as a man with a passion for cooking and for organic, farm-raised ingredients — products that can be found on his globetrotting bistro menu.

Marjorie serves dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays with a late-night menu available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or More columns at