This new bistro deserves more than just a drive-by
Seattle Times restaurant critic
KEVIN P. CASEY / SPECIAL TO THE SEATTLE TIMES
KEVIN P. CASEY / SPECIAL TO THE SEATTLE TIMES
Hills' Food & Wine
1843 Richmond Beach Road, Shoreline; 206-542-6353
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday brunch.
Reservations: Highly recommended.
Prices: Lunch $3-$9; dinner starters $3-$8.50, entrees $7-$21.50; Sunday brunch $4-$8.50; desserts $4.95.
Drinks: A short inexpensive wine list (most bottles under $20 and all offered by the glass) plus additional options, sold retail and opened at your table with an $8 corkage fee. Beer available; no hard liquor.
Parking: Private lot.
Sound: Moderate, for a place with so many hard surfaces.
Who should go: Bargain seekers, families, Sunday brunchers, steak and seafood lovers, ladies (and gents) who lunch.
Credit cards: MC, V.
Accessibility: No obstacles to access.
Nancy Leson on KPLU
Catch Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants every Wednesday on KPLU (88.5 FM) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m, and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Listen to "Goldberg's Famous Deli," her latest commentary.
Hills' Food & Wine is hidden in a corner of a low-slung building whose most prominent feature is its parking lot, making this little bistro near the turnoff to Richmond Beach Park look about as enticing as its name. But viewed from the inside looking out, you learn that you can't judge a restaurant from your car seat.
Inside is an airy 40-seat dining room whose double doors open onto a trellised terrace where umbrellas provide shade when it's sunny and heat lamps take off the chill when it's not. Inside, Italian poster-art hangs on a cinderblock wall painted a bold brick-red, warming a room set with broad tables.
Here multigenerational families — locals, mostly, evident from all the glad-handing — make themselves at home.
Tiny deuces with rattan chairs sit center stage, making the big room seem smaller, and these — as well as bookshelves stocked with cookbooks, wine bottles and stemware — give the place the feel of a casual cafe. Don't be fooled, though.
Chef-owners Chris Hill and Celestino Jimenez move from kitchen to dining room, hailing guests, delivering food and even busing tables when things get busy. Their salad plates are perfectly chilled, their seafood chowder perfectly hot, and to be perfectly honest, the only thing I tasted here that failed to elicit a "Man, this is top-notch!" was a glass of sour orange juice served at Sunday brunch.
Small wonder: These fellows are no strangers to the trade, having worked Big Jobs for big-time outfits like Schwartz Brothers, Consolidated Restaurants and Restaurants Unlimited.
Hill also co-owns Matts' Rotisserie & Oyster Lounge in Redmond Town Center and now shuttles between his two restaurants. Jimenez — who clearly relishes his new position as a chef/owner — is the former chef-exec at Union Square Grill.
On my first visit, the $4 house salad wore candied walnuts and blue cheese and my big bowl of clams, mussels and chorizo was more than I could eat at $11. Can you guess why I couldn't wait to come back?
When I did, among the few high-end items on the frequently tweaked menu was grilled king salmon. It was both wild (at $17!) and wonderful — especially so when offered with a summery compote of ripe cherries and plums.
A generous baseball-cut top sirloin came smeared with steak butter, showered with frizzled leeks and sided with Yukon gold mashers and a spray of broccolini ($16.50). As for that seafood chowder: They're giving it away at $3 cup (a cup stocked with $4 worth of Dungeness crab plus bay shrimp and finfish in a light, creamy broth).
Here, halibut takes a bath in beer-batter, a dive into hot oil and arrives magically grease-free as fish and chips, escorted by fresh slaw, housemade tartar sauce and excellent haystack fries ($9 at lunch or dinner). It gets the same drunk-and-dunk treatment as a pair of fish tacos, though you might sub chicken for fish ($7).
And how 'bout that burger! It's a juicy half-pound patty served with barbecue sauce, Dijon-mayo, Tillamook cheddar and a heap of those slender fries ($8.50).
The "143 Special" might be my favorite new sandwich combo. That messy Tex-Mex take on a Reuben ($7.50) marries slow-cooked pork with ancho chili-infused barbecue sauce and a coat of fresh slaw. Oy, caramba!
And Sunday brunch — a brief breakfast menu that tops out at $8.50 — is Hills' best-kept secret. One that won't stay secret long given the quality of the short-crusted quiche, the well-executed "Beach Benedict" and the ice-cream-parlor perfume of housemade waffles that wafts through the air.
In the unlikely event you can't find what you want on the wine list — 15 labels priced from $15 to $21, each available by the glass-pour — you might grab a better bottle from the retail racks, add $8 corkage and have your wine poured into quality stemware at the table. Which is how we came to spend $18.99 (plus corkage) for a 2002 Cavatappi "Molly's Cuvee" sangiovese — which wholesales for $14.
Someday I'll enjoy a meal here without doing the mental math — calculations that add up to a screaming bargain. And someday owners Hill and Jimenez will figure out that they should raise their prices to reflect their food's worth.
Hopefully, they'll take their pleasant young staff and rustle them into the professional crew this place deserves: one where timing lapses are shorter and water refills and silverware replacement more frequent.
Once known as the bakery and consignment shop Sweet Basil's, Hills' was bought last fall, re-envisioned as Hills' Food, Wine and Catering then closed in April. It reopened six weeks later with a fancy face-lift, a kitchen expansion and change in business partnership.
Here in the Northlands, where sweet bistros like this are few, those changes add up to something well worth seeking out.
Bowl of seafood chowder $5.00
House salad $4.00
RB Burger $8.50
Wild king salmon $17.00
Braised lamb shank $15.00
Lemon layer cake $4.95
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns at www.seattletimes.com/nancyleson.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company