Brief Encounter has soul but lacks spice
Special to The Seattle Times
When urban people talk about Bellevue they sometimes sneer that there's no there there. The Brief Encounter gives the lie to that insult: It's loaded with there. This sunny cafe in Northtowne Center has been open two years in a space that has housed a cafe since 1957, and current owners Chris Rancloes and Melanie Bard run it as a textbook example of a place with soul. (Well, almost textbook.)
These folks know how to woo regulars. If the world's perkiest waiters know your name (as they do an amazing number of guests), they'll greet you with it; if not, you'll simply be "Hon" for the duration of your visit. A number of those guests come in asking for Melanie, who always interrupts her baking to come out to greet them and handle their special requests. And yes, that'll be a slice of lemon in your ice water.
With all this careful attention lavished on guests, it's a wonder the food isn't better. This is a breakfast-and-lunch-only joint, with pastries and egg dishes all day, and soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers served after 11 a.m. (And, curiously, no espresso. Toto, I guess we're not in Seattle anymore.) Homemade cinnamon buns and wedges of sour-cream coffee cake are served weekend mornings only, which may be the time to visit. For us, weekday lunch was not.
The problem appears to boil down to a mishandling of seasonings. "Too bland," read my notes on one egg dish. "Too citrusy," I wrote about the soup. In the end, as you'll read below, every dish we tried had an off element — a surprise from a place with so sure a hand at the other elements of hospitality.
Maybe they need a new chef. Maybe Melanie needs to come out of her kitchen less often. I hope they bring the food up to the level of the ambience. Until then, brief may be too long for this encounter.
Carrot soup: Extra points for creativity were evened out by demerits for execution. Oh, it was creamy enough, and loaded with color. But an excess of citrus flavor kept apologizing for its vegetable identity. "It's like the bizarre love child of V-8 and orange juice," sighed my companion.
Bears special: The descriptor read, "Eggs, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and seasoned sausage mixed with potatoes and topped with cheese." Sounds savory and delicious, right? Alas, BE's copywriters are better than their cooks. This dish, notwithstanding all the fun fresh ingredients, was tasteless. Where was the seasoning? Where were the herbs?
Cafe chop salad: The success of the day was this salad, starring turkey, salami, tomato, green onion and garbanzos atop mixed greens. The meats arrived in substantial chewy chunks, but the whole, though seasoned nicely, was overgreased.
Strawberry shortcake: Real whipped cream and fresh sweet berries promised great things for this dessert, but the shortcake was salty, of all things. And we left disappointed.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Carrot soup (cup) $2.75
Bears special $7.50
Cafe chop salad $6.95
Strawberry shortcake $3.25
Kathryn Robinson: KathAnRob@aol.com