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Friday, June 8, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Rate Chandler's? Thanks for asking

Seattle Times restaurant critic

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"You've always wanted to be a restaurant critic, now's your chance." So reads the bold print on the customer satisfaction survey tucked alongside the bill at Chandler's Crabhouse. My chance, indeed!

Please rate the following statements according to your experience:

When you called for reservations, we answered the phone promptly, were courteous and helpful.

Absolutely. The first time I phoned, explaining that my reservation might change from two diners to four, the reservationist said "No problem," given that four dine comfortably at most tables - each with views of Lake Union and/or the marina.

Chandler's Crabhouse


* * ½

Seafood

$$$

901 Fairview Ave N. (Chandler's Cove), Seattle.

Reservations: 206-223-2722.

Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. (brunch items available) Saturday-Sunday; dinner 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Prices: lunch starters $3.95-$15.95, entrees $8.95-$32.95; dinner starters $4.25-$15.95, entrees $15.95-$44.95.

Sound: noisier in the atrium, where large parties prevail; reasonably quiet along the far windows in back. Either spot, conversation never reaches uncomfortable levels.

Parking: private lot; validated valet parking available.

Full bar/all major credit cards/smoking in bar only/no obstacles to access.

Ultimately, my husband and I dined alone, enjoying first-rate cocktails and a Boat Show bonanza of yachts, visible from the cheery atrium where we sat in the private "comfort" of a booth. The soft benches left us longing for a table with chairs - or two adult-tush-sized booster seats.

Upon arriving at Chandler's, you were greeted in a timely manner and made to feel welcome.

Hey! I felt welcome the minute I saw the marquee above your front door. The one with the magic words "Soft Shell Crab." These molted blue crabs are rarely seen locally in any guise other than the deep-fried "spider roll" sushi-bar incarnation.

I was delighted that the kitchen agreed to sauté rather than "flash-fry" mine, as advertised. Special orders obviously don't upset this kitchen, and that's a real plus.

The fresh soft shells ($25.95), whose entire body - claws, naked carapace and all - is edible, were fine if unremarkable, the breaded-and-pan-fried preparation rendering them a shade less crunchy than the flash-fried version might have, obliterating their noted delicacy. Any chance you'd consider giving these the gentle treatment they deserve: say, a light flouring followed by a brief sauté in hot butter?

The restaurant was clean, including the outside entrance, the foyer and the restrooms.

Clean enough, and those classy restrooms were ship-shape. But what's with the kooky concept (or should I blame design flaws) of deliberately parading patrons past the open kitchen? Face it. Even if your crew does yeoman's duty trying, we all know it's impossible to maintain Mr. Cleanliness when you've got a bevy of grillmeisters, fry-cooks and salad-tossers handling as much food and its detritus as Chandler's does. Is that why the hostess engages customers in small talk ("Have you dined with us before? This is our dessert tray ... ") while directing them to their seats?

The service you received was attentive, warm, friendly and courteous.

It's your strong suit.

We were knowledgeable about the menu and wine selections, and helpful as well.

Your seafood-centric menu, showcasing fresh crab from near and far, is pretty straightforward, though the servers' unsolicited suggestions ultimately proved helpful. Charming Ann was right: The "Hot Combo" comprising three fried appetizers - calamari, coconut prawns and delectable popcorn shrimp - is a good deal at $11.95. This motherlode of munchable morsels is best eaten by a crowd, or a couple with no intention of later sharing the excellent "mile-high" banana cream pie ($5.95).

And Daniel's lobster club salad ("We stole the recipe from Daniel's Broiler when they closed for lunch - and their customers, too!") had so much lobster tail in it, I can't believe it sells for only $16.95.

Zaneta and I had an interesting discussion about littleneck clams, which I adore and she served in their finest form: raw, on the half-shell ($7.95). Friendly, professional Regan offered assistance with the wine list, which aims straight for the middle of the road and is heavy with easy-drinking palate-pleasers from the Northwest and California. Unfortunately, it's devoid of vintage dates. Can you fix that?

Your food was interesting, tasty, had a nice appearance and was served at the proper temperature.

Great soups! Your bisque-y whiskeyed crab number ($4.75 lunch/$4.95 dinner) is just the right amount of rich; the clam chowder ($3.95/$4.25) is rife with its namesake and provides a lesson in lightness.

I loved the smoky cedar-planked salmon ($14.95/$24.95), moist within and beautifully caramelized without, but its listless grilled vegetable escort was clearly the late-lunch dregs. No complaints about the mild-mannered Dungeness crab cake and stuffed-prawn combo (dinner, $24.95), or the serviceable grilled rib-eye ($19.95/$24.95), which is just the ticket for steak-and-potatoes eaters.

But both the seafood paella ($13.95/$22.95), and the saffron risotto served alongside my succulent, messy-good whole Dungeness crab (fresh from the tank, $32.95/$34.95) tasted fresh from the sea: the Dead Sea. To your staff's credit, the saline-saturated paella was promptly re-made when we complained, and its attractive, seafood-rich replacement was eminently edible.

How would you rate your overall experience?

Two and half stars. Thanks for asking.

Nancy Leson can be reached at 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com.

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