Steelhead Diner

>> Monday, March 14, 2011

Take a group of eleven people, including three children; a location in Seattle's tourist central, half a block from Pike Place Market; and a busy Saturday brunch time. You might think that disaster was inevitable. Accommodating large groups is often a challenge for even the best restaurants. However, the staff at the still popular Steelhead Diner, which opened a little over four years ago to critical acclaim, weren't even fazed. On this day, they were clearly firing on all cylinders.

Our group arrived on time, and I guess it always helps to start things off on the right foot. We were given a large table in the back with lots of natural light for taking photographs.

The continually changing menu had so many temptations that I almost felt overwhelmed.

There's nothing wrong with a cocktail at 11:30 in the morning is there? I don't remember the name of this, but it had pear vodka and other good stuff.

Although probably not authentic the ones you would find in Québec, this poutine had the benefit of containing cheese curds made by Beecher's Cheese, the famous artisan cheesemaker half a block away.

One of our party ordered the Jumbo Lump Dungeness Crab Cake, with Crispy Parsley and Sauce Louis.

I ordered the Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, made with Hempler's Andouille Sausage. It was nice and rich without being over-concentrated. I wish I had gone with a bowl instead of a cup.

Today's fresh oyster was the Maple Point from Eld Inlet, at the southern end of Puget Sound.

The fabulously decorated room had an open kitchen and many fish and fishing related photos. The music was at a perfect volume: loud enough to hear when there was a lull in the conversation, but in the background otherwise.

The Pike Kilt Lifter Fish and Chips, made with Alaskan Ling Cod and served with Tartar Sauce and Lemon, came with three large pieces of fish over a generous amount of fries. Another member of our party ordered the locally produced Scotch-style Ale that was used to make the batter, and I just had to order one for myself. Yum.

One of the kids' dishes was a burger with fries. Even though we asked for a plain burger, the server brought lettuce, tomatoes and pickles on the side, just in case we needed them.

The Steelhead Diner's first chef hailed from Louisiana, and likely due to their popularity, Cajun and Creole dishes are prevalent on the menu. One is the gumbo a few photos above. Another is Preserved Lemon Crusted Catfish, with Hominy Polenta and Tellicherry Peppercorn Sauce.

Yet another is Red Beans and Rice. This usually comes with Hempler's Andouille Sausage, but we asked them to leave it out for us.

Of course, being in the Pacific Northwest, we had to fit some salmon in somehow. The Grilled Washington Troll King Salmon was served with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Cured Olive Essence and Grilled Radicchio Salad. Nice to see troll fishing, a more sustainable practice, being emphasized.

The Eggs Cordova featured Poached Eggs on Smoked Salmon Hash, Apple Smoked Bacon and Grain Mustard Nage.

I opted for the Grilled Washington Angus Tri-tip Steak and Eggs, with Roasted Oyster Mushrooms, Sauce Marchand de Vin and Poached Eggs. Interestingly, one egg had a yolk with the consistency of a soft-boiled egg, and the other was more runny as you might expect. Both, of course, were great.

We had enough dessert lovers at the table to be able to order four five. The Laura Chenel Goat Cheesecake came with Navel Orange Marmalade and Toasted Hazelnuts. For those fans of the 100-mile diet, hazelnuts are a common crop in Washington and Oregon and would likely be locally sourced.

The Gala Apple Galette with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce had a perfectly crispy crust. Although the Gala apple originated in New Zealand, Washington is one of the major producers in the United States.

The Theo Chocolate Pecan Pie was served with an oh-so-delicious Bourbon Chantilly Crème and Cocoa Nibs. Should you be surprised that I liked the one with Bourbon?

The Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée was topped with a Rosemary Pine Nut Cookie.

[update] Last, and probably the favourite of the table, the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Almond Anglaise, Macerated Raisins and Sliced Almonds.

The wait staff were very professional, there when you needed them but out of the way when you didn't. They were also very patient when we lingered after finishing our meals and paying. We felt no pressure to vacate our table, even though on our way out, we saw several groups waiting for tables.

Whether your group is one or a dozen, you would be hard pressed to do better than the Steelhead Diner.

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