Queen's seafood, salad, sauce, steak reign supreme
In 1987, when million-dollar condos were still a gleam in developers' eyes and Belltown was a brave new frontier for fine dining, transforming the seedy Queen City Saloon into the suave Queen City Grill may have seemed a dubious venture.
Special to The Seattle Times
American $$$$ Queen City Grill2201 First Ave., Seattle;
Hours: Dinner 4:30-
11 p.m. Sundays- Thursdays, 4:30 p.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays, bar open until 2 a.m. nightly.
Prices: Appetizers $4-$17; entrees $12-$36.
Drinks: Cocktails and a vast wine list.
Parking: On street.
Sound: Manageable to deafening.
Who should go: Those who like their steaks and seafood straight up, rather than shaken and stirred.
Cards: All major credit cards.
Access: No obstacles.
In 1987, when million-dollar condos were still a gleam in developers' eyes and Belltown was a brave new frontier for fine dining, transforming the seedy Queen City Saloon into the suave Queen City Grill may have seemed a dubious venture. But founding owners Robert Eickhof, Peter Lamb and Steve and Jennifer Good, experienced restaurant professionals with plenty of business acumen among them, had a hit from the start. As the Queen celebrates 20 years, all but Lamb, who sold his interest last year, are still involved.
Though this swaggering upmarket saloon has had its highs and lows over the decades, currently the kitchen is in fine form under chef Shannon Marinos, who merges superior ingredients with careful cooking, and wields an arsenal of sauces to sometimes stunning effect.
The recently refreshed interior is another plus. The changes mellow the restaurant's machismo but keep it true to the spirit of the building's 1907 origins. The grandly arching mahogany-and-mirror-trimmed bar still dominates the long narrow space, but the front of the restaurant has been opened up, allowing sidewalk seating (heated when necessary) and expanding capacity inside. White-clothed tables bathed in the glow of silk-shaded lamps join the dozen austere, tall-backed booths — tight, secluded quarters ideal for hush-hush business deals or personal hanky-panky.
The Queen gives off a steakhouse vibe, and while there's more than one steak on the menu, roughly half the card is seafood. Still, nothing on the bill of fare veers very far from the mainstream. Dungeness crab cakes? Of course. Chowder? Check. Halibut, scallops and prawns? You bet. New York strip? Natch.
Before you start yawning, take your spoon to that elegant, seafood-laden soup, or fork into fragile, golden crab patties, whose assertive seasonings prove well-matched to their redoubtable rémoulade. That classic mayonnaise-based sauce, packed with capers, pickles and herbs, tastes like tartar sauce that's gone to finishing school.
Sauces often contribute mightily to the success of a dish but sometimes not. A trio of enormous Gulf prawns sautéed in their shells reared their tails from a racy red sauce loaded with garlic and sun-dried tomato. Those big boys were up to the challenge, but a dull, gritty tomato sauce undercut an otherwise lovely pesto lasagna layered with gossamer sheets of pasta.
A sunny lemon sauce, liberally studded with capers and chives, proved a rich, vibrant companion for halibut, flattering not only that perfectly pan-seared fish but also the steamed bok choy, fingerling potatoes and sweet, young roasted carrots on the side.
Another golden pool — an exquisitely smooth and balanced sake and ginger vinaigrette — bathed a pair of scallops. Seared bottom and top but pearly inside, they flanked a branch of bitter frisée, a Zen-like arrangement that added to the allure of this sublimely simple appetizer.
Seafood lovers seeking nirvana should try the bouillabaisse. Halibut, salmon, tuna and clams lurk in an orange-tinged broth that suggests saffron, tomato, garlic and fennel, and soaks divinely into toast slathered with aioli. A shapely and succulent Alaskan king crab leg stretches the length of the wide shallow bowl like some flamboyant chorus girl from the sea.
Beef is handled with equal finesse. Butter-enriched mashed potatoes accompanied the faultlessly prepared, peppercorn-sauced New York strip as well as the wine-braised short ribs whose stubby bones yielded soft, supple meat with big flavor.
In fact, the only dish that came up seriously short was mushroom risotto, a dreadful clump of rice and mushrooms in which no flavor could be discerned — neither stock, cheese, salt or pepper, nor the peas, tomato and truffle oil promised on the menu.
But salads were thrilling, as they should be in high summer. The Caprese showcased meaty red and yellow tomatoes at their peak of flavor, creamy poufs of buffalo mozzarella and sprigs of fresh basil splashed with sweet balsamic and golden olive oil. Tender leaves of bibb lettuce cradled strawberries, hazelnuts and crumbled blue cheese, a marvelous interplay of crunchy, sweet, salty and tart. Beet salad reprised the sweet-and-salty theme, with ruby and gold slices of the roasted root tucked under sheets of triple-cream Danish bleu cheese.
The wine list is vast, haphazardly spanning a broad geographic range with a bias toward cabernet-based wines that seems odd given the preponderance of seafood on the menu.
Selections priced below $60 are grouped on the first few pages, while a "20 for $20" card promotes a variety of affordable bottles for the budget-minded (again, mostly reds).
Service was less polished than the food. The host at the door waits for you to greet him. Waiters vary in experience: One became flustered by our procrastination; another was so detached he might have been mingling at a party rather than serving.
If you're lucky, you'll get Lorenzo. Bald, burly and imperturbable, he has worked at the Queen since the day it opened. He laments as he refills our glasses that wine no longer agrees with him. He has keen radar for gauging a customer's mood, a smooth ability to charm and defer, to amuse and pamper: Thinking we hadn't ordered enough dessert, Lorenzo brought us a gratis slice of blueberry tart with our key lime pie.
He is without a doubt one of the reasons that the Queen still reigns.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
Sea scallops $13
Roasted beet salad $10
Giant prawns $27
New York steak $33
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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