When new restaurants open, occasionally I’ll find flustered service or a kitchen producing less-than-stellar results. That’s why I return for a second visit to test whether the restaurant is suffering the usual aches of fledgling restaurants, or if there’s a bigger problem. Unlike diners who turn to review websites to post "I hate you! So there!" assessments after a single visit, newspaper critics who follow AFJ standards always return to the scene of the crime a second, third or fourth time. Here are second bites of two restaurants that earned mixed reviews after first-bite visits in April.
Netshed No 9Where: 3313 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor; 253-858-7175Serving: Breakfast and lunch Thursdays through Mondays
Gig Harbor’s newest breakfast destination that opened March 21 is a winning concept. In a waterfront location, it's owned by the same couple who operates Gig Harbor’s Brix 25, Thad Lyman and Katie Doherty. However, unlike the formal nature of Brix 25 - an award-winning restaurant featuring a Northwest-centric menu and wine list - Netshed No. 9 is a more casual enterprise with fun at its foundation. Or, as Lyman explained via email, "The menu was designed to be as easy (read: fun) as possible given the constraints of the facility. The food is retro because that's fun. Not because we are trying to be trendy. ... Now don't think for one second that fun means lazy! There is a ton of pride that goes into each plate and drink."
The cafe has a playfulness that more restaurants should consider. An example: Like Pacific Grill's menu, Netshed No. 9 inserts funny anecdotes, nicknames and fully formed descriptions that really give a diner a sense of the food, its spirit and how it's composed. A personal irritation: There's a widespread trend - seen locally at restaurants like Social and Marrow - where menus read so austere with the barest of details that they barely give a diner a suggestion as to what will arrive on a plate. At Netshed, the descriptions and menu names aren't just funny, they're reliably accurate, too.
The all-day breakfast menu lists dishes that aren't fussy, but are conceptually sound and flavor focused. Chicken and waffles, cinnamon rolls cooked in mini-skillets, dreamy ricotta sourdough pancakes - they're not complicated dishes, but come with a sense of originality.
About the "constraints" in the kitchen that Lyman referenced. Netshed's kitchen is not outfitted with a complete restaurant setup with elaborate cooktops or venting hoods (permitting won't allow it). That means much of the cooking has to be done by oven. The restaurant's oven woes were on display on my first visit in April. Half my meal was overcooked. A stuffed biscuit was burned on the bottom ($12.75); mini cinnamon rolls ($7.50) were so tough, they tasted like pastry jerky; and chilaquiles ($9.75) were too crispy on the edges and soggy in the middle. There were bright spots, though. The ricotta sourdough pancakes were pillowy and sweetly paired with vanilla-bourbon syrup ($9.75). The chicken and waffles were crisp and tasty ($13), accompanied by a tongue-dazzling chimichurri slaw.
A second-bite visit in May showed a restaurant substantially settling into its kitchen and overcoming those equipment shortcomings. The same stuffed biscuit ($12.75) on this visit was substantial, but without that cakey denseness that some biscuits suffer, and baked perfectly. The single mountainous biscuit, laden with a tomato-based “Sunday gravy” that navigated between sweet and savory, came stuffed with a garlicky Portuguese sausage and Beecher’s flagship cheese.
Frenchy’s French toast ($8.50) with a pear compote expertly straddled the fine divide between sweet and cloying, and was silken perfection from a dunk in a custard bath. Five slices of eggy bread were stacked Lincoln log style, paired with chantilly cream. What a successful turnaround.
Whitehouse Restaurant and LoungeWhere: 9801 219th Ave. Place E., Bonney Lake; 253-862-4436Serving: Lunch and dinner daily, breakfast on weekends
Bonney Lake long has been a community in need of additional eateries, which is why I was anticipating the opening of the Whitehouse Restaurant and Lounge, occupying the former Andre’s, a short-lived bar and grill. It's the business of a trained chef, Tim Whitehouse, who recently graduated from the culinary arts program at Renton Technical College. Whitehouse also owns a restaurant in Buckley - Lumberjack's. He's a local product - he grew up in Sumner and his mother Charlotte Yearwood, who works at the Whitehouse, previously owned a Sumner espresso business.
Whitehouse opened in April and a visit during its first month found a new restaurant with the usual troubles: Seasoning, food temperature and awkward pauses between courses were problematic.
A second visit in May found the kitchen was settling in, but a few problems still surfaced. Those same awkward pauses meant long delays for food, although the restaurant wasn’t very busy.
Bacon-wrapped prawns ($15.99) were stringy and overcooked. Accompanying mashed potatoes were waxy and dry. The green beans were too squeaky.
Whitehouse is a destination for steaks and burgers. The menu lists six cuts of steak, fairly priced $13.99-$24.99. On a previous visit, the kitchen expertly grilled a filet mignon ($21.99). The seasoning was perfect, the steak cooked exactly to order. On a second visit in May, it was the burgers that were finely constructed - and even more fairly priced, $8.99-$10.99. The menu listed a half dozen burgers stuffed with myriad combinations (as in, the ingredients were tucked inside the patties, not stacked on top, which meant less mess).
The Whitehouse burger ($8.99) was fairly priced for a nearly half-pound burger stuffed with American cheese. A surcharge added two thick slices of bacon. The condiments were just right — green leaf lettuce, a thick slice of onion, a tomato slice and pickle chips on a griddled bun smeared with mayo. Fries were crispy — and of the freezer variety. The BMS stuffed burger ($10.99) was heavy on beefy flavor, but light on stuffings of bacon, mushroom and Swiss.
These were two-hand burgers unless you cut them in half. Conveniently, the kitchen gets you started. Burgers are served with a knife stabbed right into the center.
Whitehouse said via email that he's still working to warm up the interior and has met with a professional to get that underway. He had to cut his decorating budget before opening because permitting costs were significantly higher than he anticipated due to some unexpected work. One thing he did well in the interior was fixing the awful front entry and turning it into an attractive waiting area. When it was Andre's, the front hallway was crowded with booths right next to the waiting area, which meant lots of eyes on those tables. Whitehouse understand what diners don't want - eating on display.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously, and The News Tribune pays for all meals.