Special Reports

Chambers Bay Grill: Gourmet goodness, killer view

I didn’t want to finish this dining report.

Sorry again, boss, for blowing the deadline. Twice.

I wanted to keep visiting the hidden treasure that Chambers Bay Grill is just one more time. Also, I don’t like fighting people for tables. Or at least I don’t want to for the next week or so. Like the rest of the grounds around Chambers Bay, the Chambers Bay Grill will be closed for the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship Aug. 20-29. After that, we can duke it out for that sweet table in the left corner of the patio.

Chambers Bay Grill, if you didn’t know already, is a Northwest spun restaurant that sits atop a bluff that yields awe-inspiring views of McNeil, Anderson, Ketron and Fox islands. Eating at Chambers Bay Grill is as much about absorbing the atmosphere as it is about dining. Sitting on the restaurant’s recently expanded, partially glass-enclosed patio can melt away a stressful day like no other place I’ve dined in South Sound. It’s majestic.

I’m aware Chambers Bay Grill has an indoor dining room, and it looked nice as I cruised through on my way to the patio, but I’m sure Chambers Bay Grill regulars lament when it’s too cold to sit on the patio (even with the heaters). I wonder why the restaurant’s designers didn’t create a wall of windows in the dining room to take advantage of the spectacular view. The windows are pitifully small in relation to the enormity of the view outside.

As any avid golfer will tell you, the eats at golf courses can range from caddy shack snack huts to gourmet goodness. Chambers Bay Grill falls into the latter category.

Food and beverage director Anthony Shipman has worked there since it opened in June 2007. Executive chef Dustin Joseph, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, joined the culinary team in 2009.

Shipman described his mission by e-mail: “To make Chambers Bay Grill a notable restaurant … not just a restaurant ‘necessary evil’ attached to a golf course.”

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but my dining experiences included lunch and dinner. It focuses on Northwest ingredients as much as it can, according to Shipman and crew. That’s evident in perusing the menu – farms such as Painted Hills (Oregon), Draper Valley (Mount Vernon) and Carlton Farms (Oregon) are scattered throughout the menu.

I could spend my dining experience just eating the starter menu. Halibut and shrimp ceviche ($11) was unctuous and toothy, the fish puckery from its dunk in a lime bath that also acted as a cooking agent for this dish. Ceviche is as much a cooking technique as it is a dish, and Chambers Bay gets it right. A panko-breaded and fried half avocado was an unexpected twist – crispy, fragile goodness shattered to creaminess.

Flash-fried calamari ($12) crunched lightly with a pepper-flecked coating. Accompanying artichoke hearts carried the same crunch. Another unusual twist appeared in the form of fried orange chips – thinly sliced rounds of orange, peel, pith and all – that blew away my palate with the assertive blast of citrus, but without the usual bitterness pith can bring. Crisp Dungeness crab cakes ($13) were more crab than filler, and played sweet against smoky roasted peach vinaigrette. I could’ve done without chewy corn in the frisee corn salad.

At lunch, fish tacos with crunchy flour tortillas ($17) nestled halibut kissed by the grill, a tangle of fresh cilantro, slivers of tomatoes, shards of onions, lime sour cream and a creamy sprinkle of mild queso fresca cheese. I wasn’t a fan of the plain-tasting tortilla chips on the side. I’d ask to substitute the side of citrus-spiked creamy coleslaw we ordered with the grilled Draper Valley chicken breast sandwich ($11). The grilled chicken breast, on an oversized toasted brioche, was sweetened up with mango salsa and caramelized onions, and gooey with provolone cheese.

At dinner, perfectly grilled local salmon ($19) came with a spoonful of a puckery Carlton Farms slab bacon vinaigrette that made my palate want to sing, “More!” in concert with the “Fore!” the golfers yell down on the course. The accompanying asparagus was a crisp companion on a plate that shared space with a deliciously smooth, sweet corn custard that was more eggy and substantial than slippery silky.

They were out of Painted Hills tenderloin ($28) on one visit, so we ordered the Painted Hills Farm hangar steak ($19). An unexpected swap-out on the promised sea salt green beans left us disappointed with too-crisp carrots. But the mashed potatoes more than made up for it – lightly seasoned, deliciously velvety and paired with caramelized onion demiglaze that defined umami, the borrowed Japanese word that embodies savoriness. Applewood roasted Draper Valley Farms chicken breast ($19) perched atop green-spiked, herby basil mashed potatoes and a hearty white bean “casserole” (think cassoulet), smoky with more Carlton Farms slab bacon.

A note on the service: Last week, my beef was with servers who promise fork-tender steaks (they almost never are). This week, my complaint is about empty water glasses and disappearing servers. We suffered from both at Chambers Bay Grill. On a not-too-busy visit, our empty water glasses went unnoticed for too long, which might not have been as big a problem if we had had something else to drink, but my dining partners on that trip skipped alcohol, caffeine and sugar, and there was nothing else for them to order. (I’ve heard they’ll soon offer sparkling water.)

But if water is the only real thing I have to complain about, this restaurant is doing a lot right.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270 sue.kidd@thenewstribune.com

Chambers Bay Grill

Where: 6320 Grandview Drive W., University Place

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily

Information: 253-460-4653, ext. 112, or go to www.chambersbaygolf.com and click on “Dining and Events”