Harborside shores up its menu with plenty of catchy offerings
Seattle Times restaurant critic
"Is everything wonderful?"
It's been five years since the waitress approached my table at the Harborside, rested her knee on a chair, pushed her long hair out of her eyes and uttered those memorable words. My best friend and I were at the newly opened McCormick & Schmick's restaurant, dining on tepid chowder and a fillet of halibut that would have been forgettable but for its sauce: a dead ringer for the goopy-sweet interior of a Hostess cherry pie.
When McCormick & Schmick's — the 33-restaurant Portland-based chain — took to the shores of Lake Union in 1996, it veered from the company norm by offering a poorly executed, abbreviated version of the expansive seafood menu we'd come to expect from Mick & Schmick's. Today the menu reflects that of its brethren: a daily-changing roster featuring 30-some varieties of fresh seafood, headlining a vast number of items including entree-sized salads, a multitude of pastas and sandwiches and a short list of grilled meats and poultry.
Though timing can lag when the kitchen gets swamped, servers are friendly, helpful and professional. That alone — given the hit-or-miss service sorely afflicting the local restaurant scene — would be enough to bring me back.
Set marina-side in the imposing 10-story AGC Building on Lake Union's southwest shore, the Harborside is actually two restaurants with a shared menu. Downstairs is a casual bar and eatery whose patio is a popular perch in summer. Upstairs, a somewhat formal, dated-looking dining room is dressed in dark green with dark wood accents, stained-glass lighting fixtures and comfortably spaced tables. This long, glass-enclosed room provides an inviting view of Lake Union encompassing the downtown cityscape plainly viewed from the smoke-free bar.
While many dishes feature the likes of Cajun remoulade, chipotle butter or fruit salsa, don't expect artistic renderings effusing with ethnic eclecticism — and stay away from the oversweet seafood jambalaya offered at lunch ($8.95). Entrees inevitably arrive with a heap of buttery mashed potatoes and barely steamed green beans that would be at home on Granny's dining-room table — if Granny liked her beans noisy-crunchy.
These vegetable accompaniments escorted expertly grilled Hawaiian swordfish ($20.80) with a lush brandy and stone-ground mustard sauce, and partnered sautéed Alaskan halibut cheeks graced with a simple lemon- and caper-laced piccata sauce ($18.55).
Beautiful blue marlin ($14.80 lunch/$15.80 dinner) bound with macadamia nuts and crowned with sweet mango chutney rested in a tart pool of beurre blanc. Grilled too long, meaty, white-fleshed albacore tuna ($15.60) needed its vibrant mango-papaya salsa to give it a tropical lift.
I loved the moist, baked, horseradish- and panko-stuffed steelhead served at lunch ($11.80), but was bent out of shape when the Columbia River sturgeon, "oak-planked with carrot and potato puree" ($17.60), came grilled with butter sauce and sided with beans and mashers. It was devoid of the plank (and its smoky flavor) as well as the colorful carrot puree served — as advertised — to nearby diners.
Fried seafood, much of which does double duty as appetizer or main course, is invariably crisp and clean tasting — a description that extends to a pair of cakes plumped with Dungeness crab and bay shrimp. Pan-fried Malaspina yearling oysters needed only a spritz of lemon to bring them home to heaven, and everybody's favorite starter, fried calamari, is tenderly cooked and available as topping for an entree-sized Caesar.
If you've always been intrigued by oysters Rockefeller but don't eat oysters, start with the baked portobello mushroom, richly stuffed with creamy spinach and cheese ($7.65). A half-dozen oysters on the half-shell, culled from various local waters, come carefully shucked as a sampler ($9.85). They're a classic starter to a meal that might continue with a classic burger topped with Tillamook cheddar ($6.95), or a New York steak with a boysenberry demiglace ($23.95), grilled, when I tried it, a shade past its intended medium-rare.
Next time I'm in the mood for meat here, I'm requesting a double order of the tongue-tingling, Cajun-spiced, baby lamb chops offered as an appetizer ($8.95). Had my waitress asked, I would have told her: Everything about them was wonderful.
Nancy Leson can be reached at 206-464-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.