TNT Diner

WildFin American Grill to open on waterfront Jan. 19

The exterior of the WildFin American Grill in Issaquah. The Tacoma waterfront restaurant will open Tuesday in the Point Ruston development.
The exterior of the WildFin American Grill in Issaquah. The Tacoma waterfront restaurant will open Tuesday in the Point Ruston development.

A terrific view of Trader Joe’s.

A stunning glimpse of Ross Dress for Less.

The majestic front facade of an AT&T store.

Those, of course, are not things diners pronounce after visiting a nice seafood restaurant in a landlocked shopping mall.

Rather, the owner of a seafood restaurant would want diners to describe a splendid waterside perch with a view of a city’s waterfront and majestic mountain vistas.

So long, shopping mall views. Hello, Tacoma waterfront.

For his third restaurant, WildFin American Grill president and operating partner Attila Szabo skipped over the strip mall real estate — the kind that houses his other two restaurants — in favor of something more intriguing.

The third WildFin will open Tuesday at Point Ruston, a residential and retail development that straddles the Ruston-Tacoma city line, right on the waterfront.

“It’s a unique location, and the views are breathtaking,” described Szabo by phone while at his Point Ruston restaurant prepping for its opening next week. “I first looked at Point Ruston two years ago. I knew the moment I stood here we were going to build a restaurant here. I wish that every restaurant that we built could be in a location like this, but waterfront property is in limited supply.”

The first WildFin opened in an Issaquah shopping mall in 2011. In 2013, another WildFin followed at an upscale shopping center in Renton. Both restaurants are similarly styled with an approachable atmosphere. Both are well suited for a date night, but equally fine for business lunches or a family meal.

The menu features Pacific Northwest sourced seafood and a small selection of steaks and grilled meats. An emphasis is placed on sourcing from Northwest businesses. The greatest hits of Northwest seafood are all represented: Alaskan halibut and cod, wild Alaskan salmon, Alaskan snow crab, Idaho trout and Pacific white prawns among the offerings. There are also at least two steaks, a burger and a few other turf dishes to complement the surf.

The dinner menu seesaws between high-end and affordable. On two visits in September and October to the Issaquah restaurant, I found seafood outnumbered grilled meats two-to-one on a dinner menu with grilled items in the $17.95-$29.95 range. Sprinkled among those heftier grilled dishes were more flexibly priced sandwiches and flatbreads ($11.95-$16.95).

The Point Ruston WildFin, Szabo said, will have a menu that overlaps his other restaurants, but because of the waterfront perch and “special feel” to the restaurant, the new restaurant’s menu will include more upper-end dishes at a higher price point, aiming squarely at celebration diners (similar to nearby Lobster Shop).

“One of the things we’re going to include on the menu are beautiful Alaskan king crab legs and strip loin steak with a seafood component,” said Szabo. “We’re doing halibut in three preparations here. One of them is really unique. We sear it on Himalayan rock salt. It’s a block of salt that’s heated to 550 degrees, and we sear it on that.”

“We’ll do oysters on the half shell here. That’s something we don’t offer in Issaquah or Renton, but we built our restaurant here to include that.”

The interior will feel similar to the comfortable digs of the other locations, but the 190-seat restaurant has been built to take full advantage of the surroundings. “There isn’t a seat in the house that doesn’t have a spectacular view,” said Szabo. That view includes Maury and Vashon islands, the Point Defiance ferry, mountain and water views.

Like the other WildFin locations, the Tacoma restaurant will feature an similar open kitchen, but this one will have bar seating offering little separation between diners and chefs. Stone and wood accents will add visual layers. Tables are made from old recycled beams.

Two seasonal outdoor areas will offer additional seating for 140. One area will have roll-up doors that connect to the bar. An outside seasonal fish-and-chips window, The Daily Catch, will serve simple fare including fish tacos and chowder. Outdoor cafe-style seating will be situated near the walk-up window that will operate May through October.

For families dining with kids, here’s something unusual. The restaurant will offer two children’s menus. A menu meant for preschool-aged diners lists simple fare. A juniors menu will offer smaller portions of a duplicate dinner menu, aimed at children ages 6-12.

Szabo and co-owner Chris Anderson are longtime Northwest restaurant veterans. Both worked many years for Restaurants Unlimited. In fact, Anderson previously was chef of Stanley and Seafort’s, and Szabo was a general manager.

Both moved up the chain at the restaurant company. They managed a number of restaurants in the Restaurants Unlimited stable all over the Pacific Northwest and Szabo became Restaurant Unlimited’s chief operating officer. They founded WildFin with business partner Bob Acree.

WildFin American Grill

Where: 5115 Grand Loop, Tacoma; 253-267-1772;

Opening: Tuesday and Wednesday for dinner only. Regular lunch and dinner service beginning Thursday. Weekend brunch service begins in late January.