Steeled for something worse

I took this photo when we were here in Seattle last spring, me for the IACP conference and my husband for his UW interview:

The old view of the coffee cup

How trite it seemed. How usual. But this picture can be taken no longer, because there’s now a bigger, flashier sign right above the cup for Steelhead Diner, which opened quietly on February 1st (right on time!).

I’ll admit I was hesitant to eat at Steelhead. Its killer location overlooking the market and the sound sort of guarantees it a spot in tourists’ hearts. I steeled myself for uninventive fish-focused fare and loud midwesterners. But when I went for lunch yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised.

First and foremost, Steelhead has captured the “upscale diner” atmosphere quite successfully. There are three long eating counters (one at a bar) with appropriately chrome-trimmed barstools, sure enough, but they’re sleek and black and I don’t think they’re pleather. Cool ocean tones, tons of natural light, and a big collage of soothing photographs that whispers sweet nothings about how much the place values local, sustainable agriculture really work in the big second floor space.

Sure, Steelhead offers enough of the tried-and-true tourist menu items like fish and chips to satisfy the masses, but it also gives a few wink-winks to Seattle that only local foodies will understand, putting it many notches above tourist traps (with admittedly nice views) like the Athenian Inn. And when they say local, they mean local – the menu is full of ingredients from Beecher’s, Chukar Cherries, and Uli’s Sausages, all within spitting distance of the front door.

There are a few requisite diner items on the menu – a double chocolate sundae, for one – but other than the Alaskan King salmon and the crabcake, there really aren’t too many items that I’d call boring, which is what I feared. Even the Caesar salad (which they call a Brutus Salad) seems to have gotten a face lift with a roasted pine nut gremolata. Must go back and taste it.

We started with crispy chicken spring rolls. I hate most euphemisms, but using “crispy chicken” in place of “fried chicken” is okay with me, because sometimes it’s best to sneak fried food into people’s diets (ahem, please excuse what I was saying yesterday). With the clean, fresh taste of spring roll wrappers and the deep, satisfying flavor of fried chicken, they were the ultimate Asian roll compromise. But here the menu stopped corresponding to the food that hit the table. The “whirred ginger vinaigrette” sent as a dipping sauce for the rolls was more of a pungent wasabi vinaigrette (with only a very little taste of ginger), the “green papaya salad” that came along for the ride looked to us like a fennel and red cabbage slaw. We asked the waitress for an explanation, and she said the green papaya wasn’t actually big enough to taste. So, you mean, it’s, like, in sauce form? She assured us it was in there. But when our Wagyu beef burger came accented with the same slaw, we decided that there was in fact a green papaya salad available somewhere; it just didn’t make it onto the spring roll plate. Too bad.

I was so excited to see Armandino’s air cured beef bresaola (how DO you pronounce that?) on the menu; I tried almost everything Salumi sells once when I was interviewing him for a piece for the Cape Cod Times but didn’t get to try the bresaola. The beef itself was great, and the apple/hazelnut salad on top was appropriately lemony and crunchy, but the whole thing had been so drowned in olive oil that my dining companion resorted to blotting the beef off on her (cloth) napkin before eating it.

We split the burger (which was identified on the menu as S.R.F. beef, hey maybe S.R.F. is the next E.V.O.O., go Idaho!), a perfectly grilled patty served with plenty of Beecher’s Flagship cheddar and nestled into fresh baguette halves. All of Steelhead’s sandwiches are served on these baguettes, but somehow they’ve avoided the baguette sandwich problem, where the sandwich looks appealing and the bread is tasty, but the sheer volume and crunchy texture of the bread makes the sandwich a) impossible to get the thing in your mouth and b) scrape against the roof of your mouth every time you take a bite, leaving you to wonder whether you’re drooling blood by the time you’re finished eating. Repeat, no baguette sandwich problems here. Next time I’m going for the Dungeness crab roll, which flirted with me when it walked by on its way to someone else’s stomach: “Jess,” it said. “You haven’t eaten Dungeness crab yet in Seattle.”

Anyway, we also ordered smothered collard greens as a side, which were appropriately smoky and just a bit spicier than I make them, which I appreciated. I’m hankering after their hominy cakes even though I’ve never tried them, just becuase I’m on this hominy kick (I think), so those’ll have to happen soon, too.

Anyway. It wasn’t perfect. But the rest of the menu at Steelhead Diner looks fabulous, and although there were some major inconsistencies between what was on the menu and what came to our table, I was happy enough with my meal to plan a return.

And the bresaola did turn out to be a good thing. I took home our leftovers, and fitted the bresaola slices into muffin cups, as my lunch companion had so cleverly suggested.

Bresaola Cup 2

To make bresaola cups:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange 12 thin bresaola slices (available at Trader Joe’s, I think) on a cuttting board, and spray them on both sides with a little olive oil spray. Fit them into each of a muffin tin’s 12 cups, using your fingers to gently press the beef into the corners of the cups. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the beef is browned and crispy, and drain on paper towels.

Fill them with cruncy stuff for appetizers or salad centerpieces: I made a quick mixture of chopped granny smith apple, chopped toasted pistachios, feta, lemon juice, and olive oil. How about fennel, parmesan, arugula, and parsley? Or even better: tomatoes, olives, capers, and goat cheese? Go crazy.

Apologies for the lack of links. I’m not sure why, but each time I enter them and save the post they seem to be erased automatically . . .


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3 Comments

Filed under appetizers, Beef, recipe, review, Seattle

3 responses to “Steeled for something worse

  1. SDCook

    Hey! Excellent write up. I actually am a line cook at the Steelhead Diner. I just wanted to let you know that there has been some confusion on the spring rolls as of late due mostly in part to the green FOH. The green papaya salad is actually inside of the spring rolls. Just yesterday in fact we grouped everyone together to make sure that everyone knew and understood this. ;) You are correct that the salad you saw was fennel and cabbage. That is actually our universal garnish that we put on many of our dishes. Anyways, great right up and I hope to see you at our restaurant again!

  2. Thanks for the clarification – I was actually back for lunch yesterday, and had the spring rolls again (still delicious, and the server did let us know that the papaya salad is inside) and the Brutus, with its sparkling citrus vinaigrette. Good work back there.

  3. SDCook

    Oh dear… I used the wrong right…

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