A hot chef brings fresh-seafood sizzle to Coldwater
Special to The Seattle Times
1900 Fifth Ave. (Westin Hotel), Seattle; 206-256-7697; www.coldwaterbarandgrill.com
Hours: breakfast 6-10 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, 6-11 a.m. Saturdays-Sundays; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon-2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; dinner 5:30-10:30 p.m. Sundays- Thursdays, 5:30-11:30 Fridays-Saturdays.
Prices: breakfast $4.75-$13.95, buffet $17.95; lunch appetizers, salads and sandwiches $5-$18, entrees $12-$18; dinner appetizers $5-$18, entrees $18-$29.
Wine: a New World list well stocked with Northwest selections.
Parking: validated for two hours in hotel garage.
Who should go: the seafood savvy.
Full bar / all major cards / no smoking / no obstacles to access.
At the end of last year, Roy Yamaguchi's Seattle restaurant quietly slipped from oblivion into restaurant history. After a brief closure, the scalloped-edged dining room in the Westin Hotel that a certain generation of Seattleites will always remember as the Palm Court reopened in late February as Coldwater Bar and Grill.
Just as the razzle-dazzle of Roy's seemed appropriate to the decade of dot.com derring-do, Coldwater Bar and Grill suits our town's more sober state of mind.
The look is clean-lined and contemporary, comfortable yet characterless. It seems much more an adjunct to the hotel lobby than it ever did before.
The room may lack personality, but there's no dearth of talent in the kitchen. Chef de cuisine Renatto Medranda, a Peru native and graduate of Seattle Central Community College's culinary program, puts his focus squarely on Northwest seafood with sometimes thrilling results.
Follow the curve of the bar and you'll see him in the open kitchen, a white-toqued island of calm, illuminated by occasional bursts of flame from the alderwood-fired grill. Medranda is no stranger to these stoves, having served as chef de partie then sous chef at Roy's before a brief stint in Boston as banquet chef at the Westin Copley Place.
At Coldwater, Medranda uses ingredients, raw and cooked, with the respect and restraint that pristinely fresh seafood deserves. Oysters glisten. King crab legs are succulent and sweet. Jumbo shrimp maintain their snap. Salmon and tuna fillets achieve a precise medium-rare.
At the same time, he lavishes butter on mashed potatoes infused with lemon ($4), creams polenta with rich mascarpone ($4) and adorns a loaf of warm crusty bread with olive tapenade, cambazola blue cheese and a veritable cornucopia of oven-roasted vegetables ($5).
Two dishes in particular stand out: Dungeness crab ravioli and roasted arctic sable.
The ravioli ($18 lunch) are just what you dream ravioli will be and so seldom are: gossamer sheets of pasta plump with crabmeat tweaked with celeriac puree and sour cream, shallots and chive. Their cream sauce is pink with oven-roasted tomatoes, the taste of which plants you squarely in a garden on a late summer day. The dainty crunch of frizzled leeks finishes the dish.
Arctic sable, or black cod ($15 lunch/$18 dinner), is prettily presented with fingerling potatoes splayed alongside the small rectangular fillet served with its crackling black skin facing up. Roasting gives this uncommonly rich fish a texture akin to butter, a richness intriguingly offset by a peppery bundle of micro-greens and a potent fennel and saffron sauce.
The menu provides several ways to enjoy fish and shellfish in combinations, among them the "Makah Canoe," filled with assorted warm seafood, the "Grand Plat de Mer," a fancy arrangement of iced shellfish, and "Neah Bay Paella."
The paella ($24) is the weakest of these. Cooked in a casserole crowded with shellfish, the saffron rice picks up most of its flavor from rather rubbery chunks of linguica sausage. Still, the dish is bland.
Ordered for two, the "grand plat" offers two oysters, two singing scallops, a pair of jumbo shrimp locked in an embrace, half a dozen each of mussels and clams, and a slender king crab leg, split in half. Lovely to look at, delightful to eat, but skimpy for the price ($25 for two/$49 for four).
The "canoe" ($18) is more substantial, and like Noah's ark, the creatures on board are coupled: superior crab cakes nudged by buttery celery-root puree; grilled shrimp impaled on rosemary branches; roasted mussels; singing scallops; and tender strips of breaded, fried razor clams. There's a pair of sauces, too — a gentle romesco sauce and a harsh tomato sauce overdosed with blood-orange juice — but a squirt of fresh lemon is all you need bestow on these beauties.
As different as Coldwater is from its predecessors, one constant remains: the waitstaff. They are pros, and many have been there a long time — since the Space Needle opened, one of them proudly said. Yet service proved to be a curious mix of efficiency and complacency, annoying attention and even more annoying neglect.
Waiters are especially skilled in the up-sell, encouraging not just cocktails and desserts but starters and sides as well. With most dinner entrees already in the $20 range, add-ons can push the tab for two into three figures quickly. Not a problem for expense-account diners maybe, but it won't endear the restaurant to travelers or townies on a budget.
Specials, moreover, can be priced far higher than menu entrees. Pity the poor tourist who has no idea how dear Copper River salmon is. We did, but still weren't prepared for the $40 price tag the genial waiter never mentioned in his enthusiastic pitch.
That's the kind of moment that makes a customer leave feeling like a sucker in a three-card monte game.
How much better to walk away with the memory of bittersweet chocolate gushing from a warm soufflé to mingle with vanilla ice cream and strawberry sauce ($7). Or a mouthful of tiramisu crème brûlée ($7), a delightful hybrid, which — like this hotel restaurant — turns out to be more exciting than you would have imagined.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company