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Friday, July 12, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Moms' homey Wild Mountain Cafe is a dream long deferred

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Wild Mountain Cafe


Eclectic

1408 N.W. 85th St., Seattle

Reservations: 206-297-WILD

Hours: breakfast 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays-Fridays, dinner 4-10 p.m.; closed Tuesdays.

Prices: breakfast $5.50-$9; lunch $6.75-$8.75; dinner starters $4.25-$9.50, entrees $9.75-$17.75

Parking: on street

Sound: Lyle Lovett and Bob Marley set the mood for easy conversation

Full bar/credit cards: MC, V/no smoking/obstacles to access (steep steps in front).

Love's labor is not lost at the Wild Mountain Cafe. This Crown Hill charmer is the culmination of a lifelong dream for Connie Stone, a single mom with a singular vision and a restaurant that has "labor of love" written all over it.

For Stone, the interim between deciding to open a restaurant and doing so decades later encompassed a waitressing career, marriage, motherhood and — just when she'd finally bought the old house that was to become her dream restaurant — divorce. That's when her friend Roo McKenna came to the rescue. A single mom with two kids of her own, McKenna signed on as business partner, despite a complete lack of restaurant experience. Today you'll find her doing everything from prep work to pouring wine, paying bills to waitressing alongside her best buddy.

Two years ago, armed with attitude and a sledgehammer, the pair began an extensive remodel of this old concrete house, bashing out walls, peeling dried wood, priming, painting and scoring funky secondhand furniture, tableware and kitchen equipment. They beachcombed for tile to craft into tabletops and, when the time was right, hired a chef and devised a menu with an eclectic mix of comfort foods. When Wild Mountain Cafe opened in March, these moms with moxie had clearly transformed the place into a warm and friendly neighborhood restaurant.

On the front porch, two tall cafe tables overlook a profusion of wildflowers; from here you can catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier or peek through a window into the cutest bar in town. The bar's slate top was composed from recycled chalkboard; the back-bar was a former waterbed headboard — an appropriate choice given that the bar was formerly a bedroom. A warren of homey dining rooms is set with mismatched chairs and Goodwill china.

Breakfast, served weekends till 4 p.m., brings rich rewards, including the "Persian Sun": French toast layered with sesame paste, drizzled with lemon-honey, draped with fresh pineapple and sided with a slab of country-style ham ($8.50). Need a wake-up call? Have a hellfire-hot wasabi bloody Mary ($5.75) followed by the roasted-garlic mashed-potato cakes that come alongside eggs Benedict — a classic whose poached yolks ooze golden under a cloak of lemon-luscious hollandaise ($8.75).

The brunch-worthy menu offers a variety of egg scrambles, a bagel and lox with all the trimmings and such Mexican-accented items as a breakfast burrito and corn-tortilla quiche. Kids are invited to fill up on sides of eggs, bacon or fruit. Their milk comes in a lidded sippy-cup and they'll be presented with a cookie tin filled with toys to keep them busy while their parents linger over strong coffee, poured freely and often.

I found myself lingering too long on a weekday lunch, wondering about my meal's delay given the scarcity of patrons and the brief menu. But it was worth the wait for mac 'n' cheese ($7.50) whose "secret" four-cheese blend sung with flavors that bounced from sharp to soothing to tart all in one spoonful, and whose freshest salad greens snuggled up to a little pitcher of delicious herbed dressing. Mamma's panini is an elegant example of the genre, built on thick slabs of rustic bread grilled to a pleasing crunch ($8.75). Stuffed with portobellos, fresh spinach, goat cheese, roasted red peppers and pesto, it's offered with soup or salad.

Waiting for lunch afforded time to reread the menu, which asks for customers' patience and forewarns patrons that "we do sell out of things." Arriving for dinner on a Saturday night, we fielded helpful hints from departing diners. Alas, their suggestions — the ahi tuna special and the popular "Picnic Plate" — featuring honey-drizzled fried chicken, potato salad and corn-on-the-cob ($13.50) — were sold out. We'd been warned.

So we supped instead on soup, creamy and luxurious with mushrooms and spinach ($4.25), and an impressive light-jacketed array of tempura with ginger-soy dipping sauce ($6.50). Deciding among such entrees as rellenos Allegro (two cheese-stuffed chilies served, in gargantuan portion, at the next table) and pan-fried oysters offered with three sauces and corn bread ($14.25) was tough.

We erred by ordering oversized, overpriced, pan-fried prawn cakes ($17.75) that were more "cake" than prawn. Dotted with pine nuts in need of toasting, these benefited greatly from their delightful yogurt dip and not at all from a breakfastlike side-salad of orange slices sprinkled with dried cranberries. My "Moxie Medley" — marinated lamb and beef kabobs skewered and grilled with onions and peppers ($15.25) — could have used more moxie: It tasted like Mom's home cooking, which, all things considered, should be no surprise.

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

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