I made a mistake.
I got too attached.
I perused the menu posted on De La Terre’s Facebook page, then showed up intending to order the fresh pasta.
Except that specific preparation wasn’t on the menu, even though the menu was recently posted. That’s because since opening in Steilacoom June 19, chef-owner Blake Lord-Wittig has changed the menu more times than some Tacoma restaurants change menus all year. Six times for dinner, four for lunch, twice for brunch. And that was just in the first two weeks.
His creativity and commitment to cooking with fresh ingredients that are seasonally appropriate, some sourced at local farms, is inspiring.
“With the availability of ingredients changing all the time in the spring/summer, especially with this heat wave we have been having, we have to adapt just like the farmers in the field,” said Lord-Wittig.
And I applaud that. If he maintains the momentum, the De La Terre menu won’t stagnate. Well, until we hit that ugly part of winter when the harvest is long gone. But that’s months away. For now, let’s enjoy what summer is delivering to Lord-Wittig: nectarines, wild salmon, saskatoon berries and geoduck.
What about those select group of diners who are creatures of habit, and creatures with habits who get attached to menu items? (This restaurant critic included.) Lord-Wittig said, “it’s truly an honor” when diners request a repeat of something they enjoyed on a previous visit, but “… they didn’t know they loved that dish until they had to step outside their comfort zone and order it the first time.” He expects diners will roll with his menu, whatever he’s cooking at the moment while summer is here and the bounty wide.
Lord-Wittig runs the restaurant with business-and-life partner Rajona Champatiray. The duo met while working together at a Seattle restaurant. Lord-Wittig is a Steilacoom product. He graduated from Steilacoom High School, then left in 2007 to attend New York’s French Culinary Institute. He zigzagged from East Coast to West, landing at acclaimed restaurants that range from Jean-Georges in New York City to Kirkland’s Bin on the Lake.
His return here signals a need to be closer to family. His father, who also named the restaurant, lives just a few blocks from it.
A first-bite visit found the austere, yet attractive, restaurant makeover well suited for the small dining room with seating for 42. Concrete counter tops were added to create the industrial-Northwest look so many Tacoma restaurants are adopting (all those hard surfaces don’t make for quiet dining, though).
Concrete light pendants hung from the ceiling. Fresh flowers and linens adorned every table. A peek-a-boo kitchen displayed busy chefs. Barely gray walls lightened the dining room, awash in light from tall windows at the front. The artwork was either intentionally funny or odd, I’m undecided which. Oversized framed pictures of bears, foxes and farm animals were drilled straight into the wall. I laughed. Was I supposed to?
Belly up to the bar and check out the brew list with half of the eight taps taken by South Sound brewers. The 10-bottle wine list featured bottles from Germany to Washington ($21-$75, plus three $7 by-the-glass selections).
Lord-Wittig keeps the menu succinct, with just eight items listed at dinner. The dinner menu stays surprisingly affordable for the quality of cuisine served, with appetizers $6-$12 and entrees $14-$19. Smaller portions help keep costs reasonable.
It’s too early in the restaurant’s tenure to make an assessment after only one visit, but that visit found a restaurant operating on par with some of Sixth Avenue’s finest eateries.
The menu is infused with Northwest flavors and ingredients, with a few Northwest farms listed, such as Wild Hare Organics in Tacoma and Anderson Ranch.
Early menus included entrees such as wild king salmon with kale, bacon and polenta ($18); gnocchi with creamed chard ($14) and a rack of lamb with a blueberry demi ($19). An early lunch menu had a lamb sausage sandwich ($12); French onion soup ($6) and geoduck chowder ($7). A weekend brunch menu listed a porcini omelette with smoked gouda ($12), Belgian waffles with blackberry syrup and honey butter ($11), and a brisket Reuben Benedict with mustard hollandaise and greens ($14).
Keep watching the menu. With more crops maturing just around the corner, the menu will undoubtedly flex and expand.