Liam’s is the boyfriend your parents love. Good looking, smartly turned out, personable and comes from a good family. You really want to love him, too, but he just doesn’t make your heart do half-pipes.
One of several new restaurants clustered in a new addition at the south end of University Village, Liam’s is part of the Sugar Mountain clan. Siblings include Beecher’s Cheese, the food truck Maximus/Minimus, Bennett’s on Mercer Island and — coming later this year to South Lake Union — Max’s.
With that pedigree you know the ingredients will be high-quality and thoughtfully sourced. (It helps that Sugar Mountain is also the parent company of Fraunhofer Meat & Fish, wholesalers of a full range of meat, fish and game.) What happens to them in the kitchen results in various levels of success.
Braised lamb shank and seared ivory king salmon were both excellent. Lovely roasted root vegetables accompanied the meat, which was properly yielding. The sauce, made with riesling, tomatoes and a touch of lemon, tasted bright and light.
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The white-fleshed salmon was herb-rubbed and seared very rare. A swipe of muted blueberry sauce on the plate was as flattering to a crisply browned, lemon-zesty risotto cake as to the fish.
Those are among the more substantial plates on a menu geared for sharing. It opens with a selection of cured meats and cheeses that you can mix and match, and with “tidbits.” Of these snacks I recommend the Wagyu Zabuton Batons, spendy (at $18) but sublime steak strips festooned with brittle rings of fried shallot.
I’d skip the clunky ceviche, made with tough scraps of halibut and soft bits of scallop drowning in jalapeño-spiked lime juice. Gummy fried risotto balls also held little appeal, even stuffed with Beecher’s smoked flagship cheese.
Beecher’s cheeses are well-employed otherwise. “World’s Best” is no empty boast for the mac and cheese, which can be ordered plain, gluten-free or gussied up with things like crab or bacon and pickled fennel, or kale and Mama Lil’s peppers.
Brussels sprouts roasted in duck fat wear a lacy veil of melted peppercorn-studded Marco Polo cheese, but there’s not enough of it or of the hazelnut breadcrumbs for the flavors to register. When you do get a bite of all the elements, it’s brilliant.
No Woman cheese definitely makes its presence known, lending a warm jolt of Jamaican jerk spices to a hefty pork-and-beef burger. Its fixings include crisped prosciutto; terrific house-made potato chips come alongside.
Fried prosciutto puts some salty snap and crackle into the Dungeness Crab Cobb salad. The pop is provided by citrus-jalapeño vinaigrette moistening the toss of chopped romaine hearts, sweet shellfish, avocado, roasted red pepper and Flagship cheddar.
Cheese isn’t listed among the ingredients for gemelli, one of two pasta offerings, but flagship cheddar bolsters the light sauce. I fished at least a dozen whole cloves of garlic from my dish but spicy chicken sausage contributed most of the flavor, along with roasted mushrooms, cut awkwardly large for the dainty twisted noodles. The few leaves of Brussels sprouts seemed thrown in just for color.
Flagship cheesecake is the obvious dessert choice. It doesn’t disappoint, with a black-currant sauce and honey-sweetened hazelnut crumble. But chocolate pudding, layered parfait-like with chocolate cookie crumbs, a hint of Bailey’s liqueur in the whipped-cream swirl on top, was the dark-horse winner. Think tiramisu, done American-style.
Most winning of all is the service. Waiters greet you by offering a taste of the featured wine. It’s welcoming, and no doubt boosts sales of all wines by the glass, a generous 6 ounces poured into stately stems.
In the bar, where Happy Hour reigns from 4 to 6:30 p.m. daily and all day Tuesdays, skillful bartenders are equally engaging. I watched one squeeze drops of bitters on the back of a customer’s hand so he could taste the different flavors. Just like Nordstrom’s perfume counter, only you lick instead of sniff.
The restaurant’s spacious layout includes a heated patio with a fireplace and a posh private event space. Like U-Village itself, Liam’s seems more suburban than urban. You’ll like it. Your parents will love it.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.