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Steelhead Diner - what happened?

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Boy oh boy! What a difference a couple of years makes! We tried Steelhead Diner shortly after it opened and were blown away by the incredible crab cakes. They had almost no binder - almost all crab. So delicious. The service was uneven (took a long time to be seated, even with reservations) but we figured they just had a few things to work out.

Fast forward to last night. It still takes a long time to be seated. Too long. We were about 10 minutes late for our 7:30 reservations and had to cool our heels for 25 more minutes. Did I mention there's really nowhere to sit in the front of the restaurant? Unless you count the two hard, uncomfortable, in-the-way wood "art" chairs. Not next to each other, which makes it tough if you're a couple. We told the hostess we'd like to order a glass of wine while we waited. "Alec will be happy to help you," she said. Alec? Who's Alec? Why not put the order in for us. That's called service. Then hostess #2 arrived - and this is where it got confusing. Who's on first? Who's getting our table ready? "Can we get a glass of wine while we wait?" I asked? "Sure - just tell Alec what you want." Alec again. "And your table will be ready in ten or 15 minutes. There are a couple of reservations ahead of you." Just what we wanted to hear. What time were their reservations for? 7:00? (It was now 7:45.)

So we sat at the bar, waved down Alec (who we now knew better than he knew us), and ordered our wine. No sooner did it arrive than hostess #1 came by to tell us they could seat us immediately - in the banquet room. The banquet room? Uh, no thanks. How long will it be for a table in the main room? "Oh, another 10 minutes or so." Fine. We'll just eat at the bar. Hey Alec - a couple of menus please! Just as Alec - who, by the way, was very cordial and quite friendly - put down our water glasses, hostess #2 swung by to let us know that our table was ready. "In the banquet room?" "No right over there" (pointing to the general hubbub of the main room.

At last. It's now 8:05. The waiter, an affable gent named Benjamin, came over to tell us about the specials. As he did so, he reached over and picked up my wife's wine glass - which still had one or two good swallows in it. And to make matters worse, he kept kind of swinging the glass around, sloshing the wine to great visual effect, as he described specials that we already knew we didn't want.

We wanted that legendary crab cake.

My wife liked it so much the first time, she ordered it as an entree. (It's almost entree-priced, at $15.95). We also ordered the Flash Fried Beecher's Curds, a pub-style deep-fried cheese that sounded better than it was. "A little salty," said my wife. And so they were. After they cleared away the curds, we waited with anticipation for that crab cake. And waited. And waited.

A good 15 minutes later, my wife's crab cake arrived.

But not my entree.

We waited some more.

Finally, my entree came - but not the salad my wife had ordered.

Eventually, we had our entire order and my wife took that first eagerly awaited bite. She frowned. "Very salty," she said. I tried it - and immediately grabbed my water glass. Salty? How about darn near inedible? Whoa.

After that, we basically asked for the rest of the crab cake to go (so I can confirm our first reaction in the controlled environment that is our own home) and left.

Did we mention the saltiness to the waiter? No - and I'll tell you why. We had already missed one ferry due to our late seating and I was not about to miss another one. Also, based on the curds, saltiness kind of runs in the family. And even if they brought another crab cake, they could not give us back the time we had spent waiting, first for a table and then, much too long, for our entrees to arrive.

However, to Benjamin's credit, he acknowledged that wait was too long (because the "kitchen is really slammed right now" - thanks, but I don't tell you my problems; please don't tell me how busy the kitchen is) by comping the crab cake.

So what happened since our first visit? My guess is that Kevin Davis is too busy and too distracted working on the soon-to-open Blueacre to spend much time on Steelhead Diner quality control.

Look out Kevin. There's an art to managing multiple restaurants while maintaining the level of quality diners have come to expect. Steelhead Diner has lost us as customers, and I seriously doubt we will ever visit Blueacre, based on our experience last night.

Steelhead Diner
95 Pine Street, Suite 17, Seattle, WA 98101

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  1. Not to pile on, but I ate at Steelhead a couple of years ago, and have never understood why the food has gotten rave reviews. The service was good, it has a nice setting, but I thought the food was utterly forgettable, even at it's apparent peak. Oh well, not every restaurant is for everyone. With the way it's consistently endorsed here, I always felt out of sync with other posters.

    1. Oh, crap, Jeffo. I have eaten at Steelhead with friends and I also did a dinner for 30 in the banquet room. Food was great then, but Kevin Davis is remodeling the space formerly occupied by Oceanaire and if that is his priority he is making a mistake. Tom Douglas is able to manage multiple restaurants without compromising quality (except for Lola). Most restaurteurs aren't able to, though. Time to bring the curtain down on Steelhead and Blueacre?

      1. I've only been to Steelhead once. It started well with the caviar pie which was really good. But then I had the crab cake which I thought was way overpriced for what was a rather forgettable item. My sandwich (some type of fish - can't fully recall) wasn't great but was priced reasonably. I was close to writing the place off as an inconsistent place to get seafood items but I tried some of my wife's pork dish and it was fantastic. It was thinly sliced pork tenderloin pieces served medium (I rarely find places willing to serve anything but well done pork). My takeaway from that meal was that despite its name, Steelhead might not be a place to go for seafood. I may never go back but if I do it would be because of that pork dish.

        1. I went once for a late dinner, about a year ago. I had heard good things but was underwhelmed and actually a bit mystified by the positive reviews -- I found it very forgettable. The food was fine, not great, and the whole place had a corporate vibe. Reminded me of an average hotel restaurant.

          1 Reply
          1. re: caraely

            very corporate, very average. I agree.

          2. This is why you have to be on time for your rezzo!! J/K; sounds awful. I thought Steelhead was a classier place than that...

            1. a bad night doesn't warrant waiving the flag of a restaurants decline. I ate at the Steelhead diner a few weeks ago and the quality of the food and service were outstanding as always. Even with a large group, we had no issues with timing or noticed any slippages from prior experiences. The caviar pie is really worth the trip.

              To the person comparing Kevin Davis to Tom Douglas. Tom has executive chefs at all his restaurants and I not sure that Tom is ever actually on the line cooking at any of the restaurants. However, at the Steelhead diner there's a good chance that Kevin Davis is actually cooking your dinner on any given night and you'll often see his wife acting as the hostess.

              1. My general experience at Steelhead has been similar to that described by caraely, “fine, not great.” I ate there last Tuesday night with my wife and a friend. We were promptly seated for a 7:15 pm reservation, and the service after that was swell. Each of us ordered off the “30-for-30” menu. Between the two of us, my wife and I had the spicy black-eyed pea soup, the smoked salmon rillette, the preserved-lemon crusted sockeye salmon, the pork rib chop, banana foster crème brulee, and chocolate-pecan pie. My wife asked for her salmon to be cooked rare, and it came rare. I asked for my pork chop to be pink, and it came a little more well-done than that, but still very juicy and tender. Both the soup and the rillette were excellent. Although I wasn’t crazy about the lentil pan stew under the pork, both the salmon and pork were nicely prepared and very tasty. I wasn’t crazy about the banana foster crème brulee for dessert, but liked the Theo’s Chocolate Pecan Pie. I didn’t see Kevin in the kitchen, but the food and the service were both very good. Perhaps it is just a matter of personal preference regarding the style of the southern-inflected preparations at Steelhead, but my meal there suffered by comparison to another 30-for-30 meal the previous week at Nell’s. The quality of the food at Nell’s was, IMHO, several notches above Steelhead. But there was nothing in my latest experience at Steelhead to suggest a decline, over-salting, or other evidence of sloppy, careless cooking.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Tom Armitage

                  Tom, My experience mirrors yours. We were on time for our reservation and were seated immediately. I like Steelhead as the food generally has a spicy edge to it compared to most Seattle restaurants. I think part of the complaints posted are a result of the restaurant being too popular. Their volume of business has not been affected by new restaurant openings in Belltown, tourist revenue or the recession. Most restaurants would love to have their problem.