I don't know Thomas Mott. Never met him. Never spoken with him. Never, to my knowledge, eaten his cooking.
That last statement is the troublesome part.
I've eaten at Mott's new restaurant, Winfield's Twisted Cue, four times since it opened in late March in the colorful white downtown Tacoma mansion formerly known as David's on Broadway and before that, the University Union Club.
Three out of four times, I saw the chef/owner of Winfield's somewhere other than in the kitchen.
In a dress shirt and tie, Mott worked the dining room, schmoozing with customers and the guy who owns the building.
In a dress shirt and tie, Mott tasted wine and listened to a live band tear through jazzy blues.
In a dress shirt and tie and with a half-carafe of some fruity cocktail in hand, Mott bounced from table to table of a billiards tournament.
Meanwhile with Mott clearly anywhere but in the kitchen, my porterhouse steak tasted like liver; the kitchen staff burned its first attempt at serving me fried chicken and undercooked the next; prime rib sandwich morphed into deli-sliced roast beef; and fish and chips were literal – the former was fishy and the latter tasted like they'd been chipped off a raw potato.
Mott is the former executive chef for the banquet ship Spirit of Puget Sound. In an interview with the News Tribune in February, Mott boasted, "I ran several restaurants in my career. They all made money. I wanted to make money for myself and my partners."
From where I've sat and dined at Winfield's, I wish Mott wanted to make good food for Tacoma diners.
Mott has done something of a public service: He's revived dining and entertainment in a dowager building of some historic and strategic importance. He's laid out a familiar and affordable menu: fish, steak, burgers, pasta, priced $9.95-$17.95, with soup and salad. He's even serving food on the mansion's vintage Shemango china, some of which bears the University Union logo – way cool.
But a building like this – built around 1888 and bearing a notable and sometimes-notorious history -- deserves more than new carpet, a coat of paint and a bucket of moneymaking hopes. There's an old and moldy smell in the dining room, the bar and the billiards parlor. Floors list and sag. Food takes a long time to arrive. Except for french toast and fresh fruit, what I ate wasn't good. I question some servers' hygeine.
Winfield's doesn't feel like a new restaurant in an old and once-elegant setting. It feels like a remodeled motel off some forgotten highway.
Cue the theme from "Psycho."
This isn't what Tacoma needs. Winfield's is Tacoma's inferiority complex writ large. But there's still time to earn diners' confidence.
This has been a First Bite.
There'll be second, third and more bites when Mott or someone with the ability to purchase and prepare good food gets in the kitchen.
Winfield's Twisted Cue, 536 Broadway; Tacoma. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plus billiards and live music.