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For such a big city, we sure don't have much in the way of ultra-luxe restaurants. Maybe we're too laid-back. (Jacket and tie? Surely you jest!) Or maybe no one's been brave enough to take on Mary Elaine's, our grandma of gourmet. This is the swankiest of swank, with rich European decor, white-glove service (even purses get their own little stools to sit on), and gorgeous views of the southern Valley. It's expensive -- appetizers for $29, entrees for $60, and desserts for $20 -- but no other restaurant can compete with its modern French cuisine. We're delighted, from a beginning of two ounces of Caspian beluga caviar through châteaubriand of buffalo with grilled Sonoma foie gras, or caramelized Maine sea scallops with arugula ravioli and white bean purée, right through desserts that leave us gasping. Yes, we do have to dress at Mary Elaine's. But we'd wear pink bunny suits if it got us a table.
The Salt Cellar, despite its funky, underground setting (careful navigating those dark stairs, particularly if you've been washing down your pre-dinner oysters, clams, shrimp or mussels at the bar), is completely serious about bringing us only the freshest, best-quality aquatic fare from around the globe. In fact, its comfy ambiance is one of the reasons we're hooked. Who needs frou-frou fittings with a multitude of daily market selections such as Canadian king salmon, Hawaiian mahi-mahi with macadamia nuts, Cajun-spiced halibut from Anchorage, stuffed mountain trout from Idaho, or our personal favorite: the three-pound, live Maine lobster? Or stuff your mouth with the Cellar's whole Dungeness crab or Alaskan king crab legs. The Captain's Choice selections add more adventurous treats such as shrimp San Remo on fresh garlic basil pasta, and teriyaki ahi on fresh orange habanero pasta. No matter the mood, we always "sea" something we like at the Salt Cellar.
It's a fantasy we keep returning to: stuffing ourselves to the gills on quality seafood, without taking out a loan on our house. At Ichi Ban, it's certainly easy to fill up, selecting from hundreds of aquatic items at this buffet-style sushi and seafood fest. But we feel a wave of relief when the bill comes: just $13.95 at lunch, and $20.95 at dinner. The reality is that even with the low tariff, Ichi Ban doesn't cut corners on its catch. Pale pink albacore tuna, bright red maguro, silky salmon, buttery hamachi, cooked shrimp, flaky kani, red snapper, scallop and eel make for sensual sushi. More substantial choices include baked salmon, snow crab, marina clam soup, scallops, baby octopus and sautéed fish. Finally -- substantial seafood that doesn't cost us a c-note.

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