I got invited to the friends & family try-out for one of the best restaurants in the entire Tacoma area–the new Sip Wine Bar & Restaurant located in the Uptown Gig Harbor shopping complex.
The first Sip opened a few years ago in Issaquah. It was a big hit and several Sips are planned–with two more to open in the Seattle area. Sip serves around 70 wines by-the-glass, and has a cellar of over 300 different wines.
My Pacific Grill sous-chef Cody Reaves was their first Executive Chef and developed their delicious menu.
Opening night for friends & family is an opportunity for the kitchen to practice the dishes. It is always a rocky start getting the choreography down. I expected lapses, faltering service, and the food to have some problems–it goes with the territory. I have opened many restaurants and it has always been a nightmare…
|The Dessert Trio came with a mini berry crème brûlée, a tiny brownie with Olympic Mt. ice cream, and a chocolate port truffle. The brownie was dry and off the mark, but the truffle was luxurious.|
The Menu has so many wonderful things on it that I am looking forward to try on my next visit, and the visit after that. Also Sip has half-priced wine Wednesdays–which just happens to be my night off.
Sip Wine Bar & Restaurant
4793 Point Fosdick Dr. NW
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Phone (253) 853-3020
|1320 Broadway Plaza
Tacoma, Washington 98402
The Murano is chic and beautiful—reminded me a little bit of the sexy stylishness of the W Hotel chain, with it’s impressive modern art, and chic votive candles in the lobby.
Their restaurant BITE is located on the 3rd floor. It is a nice modern space, the staff very polite and attentive.
The waitress described the “fries and gravy” as a good starter [served with a mushroom zinfandel gravy & gorgonzola cheese]. We passed, but it did sound interesting in a messy comfort food sort-of-way.
Also, the gremolata that was piled on top was made from orange zest instead of lemon, which also lent another hint of sweetness. [I should have ordered a lemon wedge to squeeze over the dish, it would have benefitted from the additional acid].
She pointed out that the haricots verts were unappealingly thick—almost as if they were blue lake beans. A lot of damage has resulted from the idea to undercook vegetables al dente. I tell my cooks to cook the vegetables so that they are tender to the tooth—not mushy—but that they should not snap when bitten and certainly not taste raw.
The other vegetables were also underdone, and the butternut squash—stained with the dark red juice from the beets—looked and tasted like an unripe nectarine.
She had ordered the salad with additional chicken, which she fished out and ate, but did not finish the salad.
Tate said the sandwich meat was a little dry. But other than that he enjoyed his meal [although his starter salad he didn’t finish as the balsamic dressing he said was much too sweet].
Altogether our bill came to about $60 [including tip] for the 3 main courses, one starter salad, and one glass of Pinot Grigio—the rest of us had tap water.
Although our meal was a little uneven, I am going to go back to try their breakfast, recommended to me by picky foodies but-knows-their-stuff clients of mine.
The presentation was beautiful on a bed of polished rocks—which at first glance I thought was a bed of olives. I am glad I noticed before I tried eating one, as Matt’s food is so good I had skipped lunch and I was starving.
Next came a bowl of “Creamy Organic Carrot & Fennel Soup with curry, and tarragon infused oil” $7. The soup was delicious but I thought it maybe needed a pinch of sea salt to bring the flavors into sharper focus, and for my part, I am not a tarragon fan, and was glad I could not taste it–anyway– with all the other flavors going on I didn’t miss it anyway.
A large porcelain urn was set down before us. When the lid was taken away it revealed Maxwell’s Cioppino $15. Usually Cioppino signifies a tomato based broth, but this broth was clear & full of clams and mussels. It also had Dungeness crabmeat in it and I could also make out pieces of salmon, but beyond that, it was hard to tell– as the fish had either sat too long in the steamed broth, or been overly stirred – rendering it to kibbles & bits. This was the only disappointing hot dish of the evening.
The Hazelnut Cake with chocolate ganache, and morello cherry sauce $6
The hazelnut cake was seriously dry. It seemed like it wanted to be a pound cake as it seemed buttery, but the dryness prevented it from being good. I couldn’t tell if the dryness stemmed from being over-baked, or from being chilled in the refrigerator too long. Also the ganache layer was too thick. I think with some tweaking this could be a winner.
The swanky-looking invitation arrived on my desk from total restaurant-pro Troy Christian, to attend “the restaurant VIP event of the year” [quoting the invite]…a cocktail reception Friday at Maxwell’s Speakeasy + Lounge in the Historic Walker Building, 6th Ave & St. Helen’s.
A few phone calls later we had put a group together and decided we would meet-up first for a drink at Pacific Grill: dear friend Trish Hosea, daughter of Tom Hosea, in town from Washington DC to attend her Grandfather’s funeral [Trish used to manage my restaurant the Beach House]; also Kathy Davis-Hayfield, who manages the iconic Tides Tavern; and the fabulous Karen– arriving looking tan in a very short dress with handsome husband Jeff White in tow. Karen knew half the other gorgeous women seated in the Pacific Grill bar.
Jeff ordered a glass of white wine– I suggested a Viognier [the 2006 Dusted Valley Viognier, a Walla Walla winery] “an ugly bottle but a beautiful wine as we like to say around here,” I told everyone.
“mmmmm….delicious fruit”, said Trish.
According to the winemakers, it “tastes like a fabulous fruit salad in a glass”, we all agreed.
We headed off to the party and after dropping our cars with the valet, and walking down the red carpet, we all felt like celebs arriving at Tacoma’s version of the Oscars—but instead of dodging paparazzi we were dodging snowflakes as it began to snow!
Inside was a mob scene: lots of booze, tray-passed apps and cleavage.
The attractive high-ceiling room has an open kitchen to the far right as you enter. I could see Chef Matt Colony’s shaved head bobbing up & down as he was orchestrating the first-night madness. My stomach knotted up—sympathetic anxiety pains of the opening night jitters—I’ve been down this same path a million times before.
It is never easy opening night. No one knows what the hell they are doing. The servers don’t. You don’t– the equipment is brand new—no one knows where anything is—you never have enough time to practice, at some point you just pull the trigger and dive in. It’s crazy, but you slug your way through it somehow believing it’ll get better each day. Or praying.
I’ll go over to say hello in a minute, I think, but first let’s get over to the bar and grab something to drink.
The bar is located behind the Host stand and to the back of the restaurant to the left. You kind of snake your way through the booths to get to it. In fact, most of the seating seems to be booths, but it was hard to tell given how many of Tacoma’s beautiful people were packed into the space: I see Mike Combs, Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, Peter Stanley, and Ron Swarner of the Weekly Volcano; a Lady in Red [falling out of her Dress]– and Men Falling down trying to stand next to her; there’s Jim Higgins of Puget Sound Pizza; Roxanne Murphy & her fab red boots !!!
…..and lots of nodding, shaking hands and shouted greetings across the room. But it’s hard to be heard over the din.
We finally make our way to the bar and got a glass of red wine.
I see Troy looking dapper in his suit and walk over to offer my congratulations. “Don’t look too closely at anything,” Troy apologizes, “we were working on everything up until the last second.”
“It’s all fine”, I reassure. It looks great. Thanks for inviting us.”
The truth is I always hate when the pressures to open outweigh taking your time. That 24 hour around the clock push to get open. The only person I ever knew that could afford to do it right was Peter Morton of the Hard Rock Cafe Chain, and Morton’s in LA, and the HARD ROCK HOTEL in VEGAS, who had the money to do practice dinners on his wealthy friends for a full month before opening to the public. God knows I’ve never had that luxury… it is just too expensive…you’ve got to get open and start making some money to get that cash flow going…
I grab Trish & drag her over to the kitchen and position her so that the next time Matt moves his head he is going to be looking right at us. Matt worked for me at The Beach House for 5 years. He was my opening Chef at Pacific Grill. Great Guy. Great Chef. He is like another brother to me, even though I am old enough to be his Dad. My nickname for him is “Movie-star Matt Colony” because his name sounds like one of those made-up matinee movie star names they used give an actor in the early 60’s.
Matt is all smiles when he finally sees us. He walks off the line and gives us both big hugs. We congratulate him on his Big Opening.
“We didn’t even have the booths installed until yesterday at 3pm” he says!
“The damn food didn’t even arrive until 3pm today”!
He is obviously stressed, but we tell him the truth: that the food is good– and we also tell him that the waitress didn’t even know what she was serving us. [see below]
The waitress exchange went like this:
“You seemed to really enjoy the beef shoulder sir, would you like another”?
From his tray I greedily took him up on his kind offer and devoured another, once again savoring the beefiness, and how good that extra-pepper played-off the beefy richness.
Later it was pointed out to me that this pro “server” was instead–Maxwell’s General Manager Tewfik Boulenouar, who previously held the same position at restaurant Coupage in Seattle, and also once worked as a captain at Waterfront Grill.
In any case, we were still starving, so we decided to see if we could get into Asado and snag a table and see if Joel Mertens [Asado’s new Chef recently from Shenanigans] has done anything new with the menu, but the wait was an hour…looking around I saw several people from the VIP party—who had beat us there… so we walked across the street to Il Fiasco for dinner [which was nearly empty].
What a party! Wine, booze, champagne– Delicious Apps!
As we entered, the Hostess bolted from her perch to make sure she opened the door for us, and welcomed us in. We just want to sit in the bar thanks, we said. We were the only people in the bar. There were two other tables in the dining room at about 7:45pm.
Although I never ate at the Cucina location, I understand the remodel was extensive and the space looks handsome, they sure have done their best to make us forget we are eating at the Tacoma Mall, I thought.
The masculine bar, all marble and dark wood, didn’t scream “wine bar”, but it is definitely comfortable for a mall location, and I ordered a good Cabernet by the glass, which was served in a side carafe with a Riedel stem (probably as an easy way to accurately gauge a 5oz pour without looking like it is being “measured” ). Besides it just looks good.
Kevin orders a draft, and we settle in and read through the extensive menu of Antipasti, Soups & Salads, Entree Salads, Grill Specials, Specialties, Pizza, Pasta, Pasta From The Oven, which all sound delicious. The Mariners are playing on the flat screens, which is distracting in a good way.
[A few quibbles about Menu Writing in General and this Menu in Particular]:
Too many items are redundantly “topped” by this and that, and crusted or lightly crusted–words that don’t add much to the description or understanding of the dish. As you proceed through the various Menu items, one gets reader fatigue– reading the same food modifier over and over again, and the menu begins to have a certain sameness to it.
Also, descriptions such as: Made for a Queen, A Cheese Lover’s Delight, or zesty, seem to me better suited for a restaurant with less lofty ambitions. Let the diner come to their own conclusions.
The “CREAMY PORCINI MUSHROOM SOUP with shitake“ [sp] mushrooms etc…
is correctly spelled Shiitake. Spelled with one less letter i and the mushroom becomes a four letter word.
Having now read through the Menu, but not being very hungry, we decided we really just wanted some good Bar Apps –so we ordered the Italian Burger Sliders with grilled onions and the Flatbread Al Forno with Cambozola blue cheese, and roasted garlic cloves.
The flatbread (really just a disk of pizza dough) was under-baked. It had a few chili flakes scattered over it with some reggiano and was also a tad dry. If only it had been left in that wood burning oven a few minutes longer to develop some char and delicious burned bits here & there around the edges! I asked for some extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle–to moisten it up a little, and then it was much better. And it was very good indeed after smearing it with the roasted garlic cloves and the Cambozola!
They were made from their Meatballs the Bartender explained.
But what under-seasoned meatballs were these!
I couldn’t tell what kind of meat these were made from? Pork? Beef? A combination? Meatballs should be garlicky and bursting with flavors of oregano, Parmesan and maybe some basil too and smell like your Italian Grandma’s house when she’s simmering a pot of tomato sauce on the stove. I think they should give Grandma a call and get her recipe. At least the buns were soft and good Kevin pointed out. But the tangle of dry arugula, piled next to the (3) Sliders, had seen better days, and was beginning to yellow looking old and wilted. It needed a refreshing bath in ice water and a ride in the salad spinner. It wasn’t even fit for staff salad, and should have been thrown in the garbage can!
The Bartender commenting on the warm day, said he couldn’t wait to get the outdoor patio opened…I had to resist wondering aloud if the view would be of the Krispy Kreme Store in the distance, or the Pier 1 parking lot?
I could see myself eating here if I was shopping and famished, as there is nowhere to eat inside the mall –and the menu sounds like it has a lot of interesting things to offer in this handsome dining room [which is light-years ahead of neighbor RED ROBIN].
And, as the Bartender pointed out, Happy Hour $4 pizza is a steal!
But that Mall ambiance does rattle a bit.
On the way out, the Hostess almost tackled us to get the door open first. A simple have a great evening from the Host Stand would have been a little less stressful I think.
I will go back, because I can tell the food is good. And we have a lack of well-prepared interesting Italian in Tacoma.
Flat Bread $9
Meatball Sliders $8
Pint Stella $5
St Michelle Cab Gl $11
Recommended. But watch out for that tackle-greeting at the door!
Adriatic Grill Italian Cuisine and Wine Bar
4201 S. Steel St