A lot has changed in Woodinville since I last reviewed Barking Frog in 2002.
The restaurant is part of Willows Lodge, a luxury hotel snuggled into five acres alongside the Sammamish River. It’s a beautiful property (little wonder The Herbfarm chose it as its permanent home) that epitomized Northwest wine-country style even before Woodinville’s highways and byways grew dense with wineries, distilleries, tasting rooms and restaurants.
Less has changed at Barking Frog. Current executive chef Bobby Moore began cooking there under Tom Black in 2002; they had been a team previously at Fullers. Moore succeeded Black in 2005, becoming by far the longest-tenured chef to run this busy kitchen, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
My visits focused on dinner. The menu is an exercise in opulence with prices to match. To be sure, Barking Frog has never been a cheap date. A dozen years ago, entrees topped out at $35 for beef tenderloin, $34 for rack of lamb; today’s tenderloin will set you back $52, the five-rib lamb rack $60.
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I was impressed with both meats. They are cooked sous vide (vacuum sealed in a water bath), then pan seared and oven finished to order. The process gives them a phenomenally tender texture, and a remarkably even doneness.
The steak, sauced with a veal demi as dark and bitter as fine chocolate, had a large supporting cast: beautiful sautéed mushrooms and rapini, bland sweet potato gnocchi, and a cloying puddle of shallot sauce. The lamb was more simply arrayed with tiny heirloom potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and a dab of puréed garlic and fennel, but its demi-glace had turned to demi-glue on the plate.
Accouterments accrue sometimes to the detriment of the dish. Seared scallops paired with spaetzle-like, prawn-infused noodles benefitted from the earthy companionship of mushrooms, Brussels sprout leaves and salsify purée. But black cod, extravagantly rich on its own, sat in a bowl of fennel, carrots, turnips and pale green leaves of artichoke pasta bathed in a butter sauce that needed a bit more preserved lemon for balance.
Appetizers and desserts have the same over-the-top tendency, but it works better on a smaller scale.
Though I would argue that embellishing a dessert plate with sprouts and microgreens is pushing the creative envelope too far, I liked pastry chef Matt Kelley’s other juxtapositions: the tang of goat cheese in Bavarian cream coupled with soft pistachio cake and crisp brown sugar crumbs; candied peanuts and peanut powder alongside dense, intensely chocolate pudding.
On the meal’s front end, marinated white anchovies rode the crisp backs of tempura-fried cauliflower into a satiny fondue of roasted garlic and tangy sheep’s milk cheese. Veal sweetbreads were dredged in flour spiked with pink peppercorn and smoked paprika, then deep fried. Dragged through spiced honey and candied parsnip purée, they tasted like exotic chicken nuggets.
Arugula, apple and pickled shallot underpinned duck confit salad garnished with a soft-cooked duck egg yolk mounted on a brioche crouton. But the duck, though nicely crisped, was severely salty.
Grand Marnier prawns, long a signature dish, are as spectacular as ever and so popular they are also on the bar menu, a short card offering burgers, mac and cheese, and other casual fare. Here’s a tip you won’t get from a waiter: You don’t have to sit in the bar to order from it.
“If one of the guests is in the mood for a burger while their friends are enjoying something more upscale by all means they can get their burger fix,” says chef Moore.
I say, why not just blend the two menus? The extravagant dinner menu’s emphasis on white-tablecloth cuisine feels out of sync with the restaurant’s informal air.
Dinner can feel rushed rather than relaxed. Servers get distracted. Tables are reset with a clatter of metal, china and glass, as at a busy diner. Covered plates go from this kitchen across the courtyard to Fireside, the lounge off the hotel lobby. A spring revamp of the hotel’s banquet kitchen to service Fireside should remedy that, and Moore says other changes are coming. That’s good news if Barking Frog is going to keep up with the neighborhood.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.