Restaurant Review: Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar in Seattle's South Lake Union has a comfortable dining room and a wide-ranging, globally inspired menu on which the seafood stars. Top-notch service and wine list round out this three-star review by Providence Cicero.
John Howie’s original Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar debuted in downtown Bellevue on the heels of the economic downturn after Sept. 11. Undaunted by even more dicey financial times, Howie has opened a second Seastar, very much like the original, next to the Pan Pacific Hotel in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.
With its art-glass bubbles and aqua accents, the comfortable dining room resembles a tropical aquarium drained to accommodate people. The kitchen, led by chef de cuisine D.J. MacIntyre, is capable and confident in executing a wide-ranging, eclectic menu.
There are meat, chicken and vegetarian options, but seafood truly stars, in vibrant ceviches and carefully wrought sushi rolls from the raw bar; in the fiercely concentrated flavor of a Madeira-spiked crab-and-corn bisque; and in entrees that spotlight mahi mahi, Idaho rainbow trout, or lately, Columbia River spring Chinook.
That salmon, a recent special, was pricey at $35, but so worth it for a sublime fish becoming all too scarce. Crisscrossed with char and tasting faintly of apple wood, the thick fillet was oily and lush with no fancy sauces or sides to get in the way — just perfect garlic mashed potatoes and a heap of buttered green beans and snap peas.
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A moist fillet of rainbow trout, also apple-wood grilled, anchored an appealingly earthy ensemble that embraces hazelnuts, brown butter, asparagus and a crunchy wild-rice and wheat-berry pilaf. Mahi mahi is a much busier plate that pits curry, lemongrass and sweet Thai chili flavors against a crunchy, refreshing relish of corn, cucumber and macadamia nuts.
Those entrees have less-expensive, lunch-menu versions, too, alongside lunchier fare such as burgers and a terrific ahi steak sandwich.
Lunch or dinner, if you head to Seastar with a group, opt for the appetizer tower of scallops, shrimp and crab cakes. The trio is ideal for sharing and easily stretches four ways, making the $30 price tag more economical. Tropical-fruit chutney — with mango, macadamia nut and a hint of banana — plays up the sweetness of seared diver scallops. Fried shrimp wear a frilly cocoon of saifun noodles, their crispness undaunted by a puddle of beurre blanc dotted with sriracha. Wonderful little crab cakes sit in beurre blanc tinted pink with Thai chili sauce. Each is a treat and each is also available separately.
Sushi rolls and ceviches are shareable, too. “Super Dave Roll” accurately describes a bundle of crab, scallop and tobiko wrapped in a pretty pink-and-green mosaic of salmon and avocado. A bracing ceviche of Japanese hamachi could have done without pimento-stuffed green-olive slices; orange segments and red onion were enough for the pale slices of fish dressed with lime juice and habañero.
Given the menu’s globe trotting, choosing a wine can be challenging, but wine director Erik Liedholm fields an experienced staff, and the wine list is exceptionally diverse in both varietals and price. Numerous options by the glass come in 4- or 8-ounce pours.
One sommelier not only gave thoughtful wine counsel, she also advised a table of tourists wondering where else they should eat during their brief stay. They left with a handwritten list of her favorites.
Other staff members go the extra mile, too. A busser not only supplied the score of the Mariners game, he recapped the highlights. A waiter appeared unbidden with a fresh cup of coffee, concerned that the first had cooled during my long absence from the table.
The restrooms require a hike, but I was glad for the exercise when dessert arrived. White chocolate coconut cream pie for two? Don’t believe it. It would take a village to polish off that ivory tower of excess.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com