Operating a fine-dining restaurant at a mall has to be a headache for a chef. A mall such as Uptown Gig Harbor that’s full of higher-end retailers surely attracts customers who expect fine dining, especially in a city short on those options. Yet certain clusters of mall-goers equate mall dining with bargain eating. Hand them a menu with $25 entrees and the reaction won’t be favorable.
Matt Colony, the new chef and general manager of the Green.House, has to appease both groups, but can he do it?
It’s tough, Colony said. And the restaurant is in transition as he tries to read Gig Harbor diners.
Colony arrived six months ago at Green.House, a two-year-old restaurant that fiddled with its concept before and after this year’s departure of chef and part-owner Robert Green. Green.House opened with an admirable push for organic food, and it was trying something that's a tough thing to do in Washington state: The restaurant was trying to make its food with mostly locally sourced produce. But that concept shifted to something more realistic that makes sense in a state with a limited growing season and far-flung farming community. Local produce and ingredients now make an appearance when available and in season. Another shift was a flip away from the chalkboard menu of a dozen or more frequently changing items to a larger core menu with a short fresh sheet of occasional specials. The changes were made before and after Colony's arrival and diners can expect even more change in the near future.
Colony is a chef familiar to diners on that side of the Narrows Bridge. He previously worked under Gordon Naccarato at the Beach House at Purdy, then at Naccarato’s Pacific Grill in downtown Tacoma. Colony left to work at Friday Harbor House before heading to Tacoma’s Maxwell’s Speakeasy + Lounge. Colony left that St. Helens neighborhood restaurant last year to work as a chef in Poulsbo.
What he’s doing at Green.House sounds much like what he did when he expanded his job from chef to chef-manager at Maxwell’s. He tweaked that restaurant into two concepts: part lounge, part fine-dining experience.
Concept one at Green.House is a work in progress – a lounge intended to attract diners bound for the nearby movie theater who can get in and out quickly with a modest tab. The restaurant calls the menu "Movie Morsels." A switch soon will turn the awkward and unused former display kitchen in the middle of the restaurant into lounge space, and the back corner bar will become a private dining area. That's a much needed change because on my visits, that bar in the middle of the room was being used as a giant counter to hold menus. What a waste of prime real estate.
Concept two is a sit-and-sip fine-dining restaurant with a menu of $15-$29 entrees of Northwest-spirited surf and turf.
You could make the case for a third concept at Green.House: the bargain lunch. On a lunch visit, a broad selection of unfussy sandwiches were well-crafted and priced $8-$9. A croque-monsieur ($8) was thick with thin-shaved rosemary ham. An egg salad sandwich ($8) was interesting, goosed with curry, cashews and golden raisins. Sandwiches came with fresh-cut fries.
A dinner visit found an appetizer list with one standby that has been on the Green.House menu since the beginning: a tuna stack ($15). Colony’s not a fan, but keeps it for regulars who are. It’s a quirky dish I found myself describing to someone as Japanese nachos: fried wontons stacked with ponzu-splashed ahi tuna, mashed avocado, jalapeno and peppers.
I’m a sucker for ahi, but not so much calamari, which most chefs treat like a sauce delivery vessel. Here, the flash-fired version ($10) was no different and pretty ordinary. Skip it in favor of out-of-this-world meat butter ($9), a tongue-coating, velvety-textured liver pate. Chorizo-stuffed piquillo peppers ($9) tasted plain, but the accompaniment redeemed the dish – a marinated white bean salad with a sharp cilantro chimichurri.
The soups and salads were solid. A spinach salad ($8) with blue cheese and candied pecans paired earthy tones with roasted beets and an oregano vinaigrette. An apple-parsnip soup ($4) favored the sweeter side of parsnips. The kitchen wasn’t stingy with the crab, mussels and clams in the clambake chowder ($4), punctuated with sweet corn and spicy Portuguese sausage.
For entrees, a grilled molasses-brined pork chop ($19) showcased the perfect friendship of mustard and slow-cooked apples, set against roasted fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts with a kitchen trick that might make them more palatable to some: they’re shaved and sauteed. Seared Alaskan scallops ($25) with roasted cauliflower and fingerling potatoes sported a stellar onion sauce that was sweet, buttery and smoky from cubed bacon. A flame-grilled ribeye ($27) played big on flavor with a bourbon demi river that flowed onto mashed russets licked with enough cream and butter to require a cardiologist’s permission slip to eat.
A downer on one visit was the butter-warmed dungeness crab ($25) with the oddest papery texture – more like crab shreds than crab meat – served over corn ravioli. Colony ditched it recently, saying it didn’t work. I’d agree. He recently made more menu changes, which is why menu items described here no longer are available or have changed some.
Dessert earned high marks: banana bread beignets ($5) with caramel sauce tasted like the spongy offspring of the classic New Orleans fritter and your grandma’s banana bread. Lemon budino ($5) was a puffy souffle sharply woven with lemon curd and raspberries. A chambord chocolate torte ($6) with fennel-salted marcona almonds and blackberry syrup was absolutely stunning – dark, rich, velvety. One flop at dessert: unevenly heated bread pudding.I was surprised on three visits during three months – two on peak weekend evenings – to find a dining room lacking diners.
Here’s one reason to visit: great service. Diners who ate at the now-defunct Mediterranean restaurant Zara will recognize one debonair waiter who formerly served there. He proves effortlessly in tune with his diners. Other servers carried a casual air that some diners might find out of step with the formal setting. Diners will find the same handsome dining room – a high point at Green.House – with visual layers, from the woven carpet to the soaring slate fireplace. Tables are well spaced and the tall windows provide an expansive view, although it’s of a parking lot.
Green.HouseWhere: 4793 Point Fosdick Drive NW, Gig HarborHours: Serving lunch Tuesdays-Saturdays; serving dinner Tuesdays-Sundays. Closed Mondays.Contact: 253-514-6482, greenhousegigharbor.comWine and spirits: Changing soon, but one visit found a three-page menu with 19 wines by the glass and more than two dozen bottles ($24-$70), with slightly more reds than whites. On one visit, a server was competent in making wine suggestions, others were less chatty. The restaurant stocks premium spirits with top-shelf liquor, but a bartender failed on something easy: a gin rickey.Noise level: Moderate, but the restaurant was nowhere near capacity on my visits.Pricing: Lunch is a deal, with half of menu items less than $10. Dinner is moderately expensive with half the menu less than $19 ($11-$19) and half the menu more than $23 ($23-$29). Bargain hunters can head to the lounge for an affordable menu ($6-$14) with half-price happy hours.
Our pledge to diners: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals. Reach her at 253-597-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.