Mercer Island was hungry for a bistro like Bennett's
As the name suggests, Bennett's Pure Food Bistro wears its heart on its sleeve. But its heart is in the right place, and so apparently is...
Special to The Seattle Times
As the name suggests, Bennett's Pure Food Bistro wears its heart on its sleeve. But its heart is in the right place, and so apparently is the restaurant.
To say that Mercer Islanders were starving for somewhere to eat that isn't fast food and doesn't involve driving across the I-90 bridge might seem an exaggeration, until you observe that Bennett's, opened since August, is just as packed on a Tuesday night as it is on the weekend.
Located in the island's commercial center, on the ground floor of the Mercer, a new apartment complex, Bennett's is a new venture for entrepreneur Kurt Dammeier, but one that fits neatly into a corporate portfolio that already includes Pasta & Co. and Beecher's Handmade Cheese.
Bennett's Pure Food Bistro
7650 S.E. 27th St., Mercer Island
Hours: Dinner 4-9:30 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays-Thursdays, 4-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; deli hours 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
Prices: Dinner appetizers $4.50-$13, entrees $13-$28; brunch $8-$15.
Drinks: Well-chosen all-Northwest wine list; wines by the glass and cocktails are generously poured.
Parking: Free in the Mercer garage.
Sound: Gets loud when full.
Who should go: Mercer Islanders of all ages, but this place is worth crossing a bridge for.
Cards: All major ones accepted.
Access: No obstacles.
In fact, Bennett's entryway resembles a mini Pasta & Co. deli, and freezer cases greet you, packed with prepared foods to go. Here, a limited lunch menu is offered on weekdays with items you can eat in or take out. Around the bend, beyond the host stand, is the bistro, where dinner is served six nights a week and brunch on weekends.
The bistro menu has a mission statement explaining Bennett's commitment to serving "pure, all natural, additive-free food ... deeply rooted in the Cascadia region." One earnest server called it "clean food," as he poured out glasses of fresh squeezed juice and filtered water at brunch. (Staff training involves field trips to visit key purveyors as well as schooling in the nuances of service — and the indoctrination shows.)
Those pristine local ingredients are in the capable hands of chef Jacky Lo, who seasons them with verve and cooks them with care.
Not surprisingly, some of the best dishes involve cheese. It turns up in soup, salads and on the pork and beef burger. It's present in the delicately brittle crust of a tart overflowing with mushrooms and thyme in cream sauce, and in side dishes so good they merit separate billing: Smokey Blue smashed potatoes, potato latkes and Beecher's signature macaroni and cheese.
Not all of the cheese is Beecher's. Rogue Creamery's gorgonzola-style blue cheese, dubbed Oregonzola, lends its sharp, fruity tang and buttery texture to a cream sauce for ravioli. A drift of creamy white splashed with red paprika oil covers the fresh pasta sheets enfolding a savory and sweet mince of roasted vegetables.
Beecher's Flagship cheese meets Just Jack in their justly famous mac and cheese. Made with penne pasta, it's paired with both pan-roasted chicken — a succulent herb-rubbed breast in slightly salty pan gravy — and barbecue-sauced pork shoulder. The pork, braised in cider and beer, pulls apart at the poke of a fork and delivers a barrage of tangy, sweet, sharp and spicy sensations to the mouth. Bell peppers and very crunchy broccoli are the seasonal vegetables served with both.
Beecher's Flagship and Rogue's smoky blue join forces to flavor smashed Yukon gold potatoes flecked with pepper, fresh thyme and roasted yam, making them outrageously rich and wonderful. No doubt they make a sassy sidekick for grilled beef tenderloin and braised lamb shank, but I paired them with cioppino, a dish with plenty of gusto of its own, and they met the pungent tomato sauce head on.
You'll find some beautiful mussels in that cioppino, gently simmered along with shrimp, chunks of salmon and other fish. Sturgeon fillet is equally stunning. Glazed carrots, grilled fennel and red onion join the meaty white fish topped with brilliant-green dill and parsley pesto.
Bennett's latkes are hash browns gone upmarket. Shallots and fresh herbs mingle with crisp ribbons of potato bound by egg and cheese. You'll find them on the dinner menu and also at brunch served with a bounteous egg scramble, aptly named "Not-Your-Average-Joe's Special." Its cache comes chiefly from burger bits, buttery fontina cheese and a dollop of salsa verde.
Weekend brunch starts with complimentary warm scones and a scoop of tangy, honey-sweetened farmer's cheese, Beecher's Clean Slate. The menu lists omelets and Benedicts, French toast and pancakes, salads and sandwiches.
Already Bennett's seems to have become Mercer Island's communal Great Room. People drop by with their kids, or with friends, or just by themselves.
Evenings, they may come to dine or just to nosh on divine crab cakes with mustard-y remoulade, skewers of beef tenderloin dabbed with tzatziki and prosciutto-wrapped prawns. They sip cocktails or wine generously poured by the glass into Riedel stemware.
They gather at the bar or at tables in the casual, well-appointed room, where earth tones meet natural woods and a large mural depicts a bucolic Northwest farm scene. It's a not-so-subtle reminder that Dammeier is a man on a mission not only to bring people to the table, but back to the land.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
Mushroom tart $8.50
Braised pork shoulder $17.50
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