You go, grill: Beer is serious stuff at the Tap House
Special to The Seattle Times
They have names like Moose Drool, Dead Guy, Blind Pig and Arrogant Bastard. No, not the paunchy, 50-ish crew slouched at the bar watching "Monday Night Football." It's the other "love handles" I have my eye on — the 160 gleaming beer taps standing tall behind the bar at Tap House Grill.
Welcome to Hopville, where denizens can indulge in a dizzying international array of porters, pilsners and ales, weizens and lagers, bitters, bocks, barley wine, ciders and seasonal brews. Fruit-draped drinks bearing more than a passing resemblance to Carmen Miranda seem equally popular here, along with martinis made with anything but gin. If only the wine list showed as much imagination.
As the name suggests, Tap House Grill is no mere beer joint. In the space that once housed Houlihan's on the ground floor of the Bellevue Galleria, a gas fire warms the lounge and curvy leopard banquets divide the dramatically lit dining room, cleverly creating intimacy even for those not in the embrace of a velvet-backed booth.
None of that plush upholstery absorbs much sound, alas, which means conversation reverberates off the glossy concrete floors and the pomegranate-red walls along with the '80s-era rock music. Still this stylish bar and grill feels cozy even when it hits capacity, which it can whenever the multiplex upstairs disgorges. On weekend nights, you are likely to be handed a beeper at the door if you want a table.
The kitchen fields a lengthy, mostly beer-friendly menu — from sushi and prime rib to tuna melts and baked ziti — with varying success.
Bar bites like popcorn shrimp ($8.85) or pork ribs in a sweet and tangy hoisin glaze ($7.85) are just what you want with a cold beer, while shrimp salad rolls ($6.85) filled with sweet fresh prawns, crisp vegetables and noodles work as well with a dry martini as they do with fruity watermelon lemonade.
But not even the snazziest mai tai can perk up nondescript crab cakes ($11.45), upstaged on their own plate by a side of deftly sautéed spinach.
Sushi zealots had best avoid the unorthodox sushi rolls ($6.45-$8.45). Having tried several (cheap to do at happy hour when prices drop by two-thirds), only the Cabo roll (tuna, jicama, avocado and pico de gallo) displays any verve. The Kansas City, a curiosity made with wagyu beef, wasabi sprouts and tempura chips, tastes like a Japanese version of a French dip.
The kitchen is on surer ground with prime rib (10 ounces, $18.45/14 ounces, $21.45). Uniformly medium rare and crusted with salt, the meat is tender and the accompaniments — peppery garlic mashed potatoes, horseradish cream and savory au jus — are just fine.
From the grill comes Tap House chicken ($13.85), a moist breast in a garlicky orange glaze more piquant than expected, and barbecued salmon fillet ($17.65), properly medium rare, graced by a zesty corn-and-tomato salsa, both escorted by slender, crisp-tender asparagus.
The full menu is available at both lunch and dinner, though at lunch smaller versions of several entrees are offered at an appropriately scaled-down price.
Lamb shanks ($9.85 lunch/$14.85 dinner) are tender and unexpectedly braised in tangy barbecue sauce. Fisherman's pie ($11.85 lunch/$13.85 dinner), a seafaring version of shepherd's pie, is more of a stew with shrimp, fish and mushrooms swimming in enough creamy dill sauce to turn the mashed potatoes underneath into a rich goop. Cheesy baked ziti ($9.65 lunch/$12.65 dinner) doesn't win any raves from this critic, and surely would coax a few expletives from Tony Soprano for the inclusion of chicken and mushrooms and the exclusion of tomato sauce.
Best bet among the salads is a grilled romaine heart ($7.85); the taste of char on the warm leaves mixes nicely with a sharp vinaigrette, blue-cheese crumbles and hazelnuts. If it's a sandwich you crave with your Fat Tire ale, look no further than the tuna melt ($8.85), made with chunks of fresh fish, thick slices of sourdough toast and a slab of cheddar not quite at the optimum stage of ooze, but good nonetheless.
Not sure which of the dozens of brews is the one for you? Try a sampler of four ($9.50), and they'll arrive in a handsome wooden caddy — though with no form of identification save the server's educated guess. They have a cheat sheet; you don't. Good luck remembering which is which as you polish them off.
If you order the enormous chocolate pecan ice-cream sandwich ($5.45), ask for a hammer and chisel: The cookie shell is impossible to pierce with a fork without making all the ice cream squish out the sides.
Less work and more rewarding is vanilla panna cotta paired with sautéed, balsamic-splashed strawberries ($6.85). Or you can finish with something straight from the tap, like a Thomas Kemper root-beer float ($4.85).
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org.