Ben Paris | ★★½ | New American | $$ | 130 Pike St., Seattle; 206-513-7300, benparis.com; Sunday-Thursday 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. reservations available.
Even after five meals at Ben Paris, I still can’t say with great certainty what $60 buys you in the Supper Club meal deal. Apparently, neither can the waitstaff.
The first time I ordered this ‘prix fixe” meal, my server said to expect some pasta or other grains — there’s definitely some pork or protein with that, unless of course the chef gives you the fish, she added.
On another occasion, I was told to expect two more dishes; then three appeared.
On another meal, I was told three more dishes; five tapas plates arrived.
Some dishes weren’t even listed on the regular dinner menu as I was told they would be.
But for all of its maddening mystery, the Supper Club special is the best way to dine at Ben Paris, the sleek New American cuisine kitchen, located inside The State Hotel at the elbow of Second Avenue and Pike Street. The $60 gets you a sampling of the house favorites along with whatever the kitchen cooks up.
Come between 5-6 p.m. and the restaurant even runs a happy-hour version of Supper Club for $45 — a “pre-theatre” special. I was told that special included four dishes, and naturally, I got seven. My meal: a full-size poutine serving with chunks of braised pork, crispy hush puppies fresh out of the fryer, gazpacho with lobster chunks; a Prosciutto di Parma-wrapped burrata, two roasted carrots topped with harissa, yogurt and mint. And to teeter you on the edge of a food coma, you also get a three-ounce ribeye with fingerling potatoes and broccoli heads covered in hollandaise sauce. Dessert was a matcha ice cream sandwich.
That was an order for one. It could have fed two.
You can order those dishes separately from the regular menu, but it would cost at least twice as much as this deal.
The Supper Club is an implicit nod that you have left your dining fate in the hands of talented chef Quinton Stewart, who worked for Maria Hines’ acclaimed Tilth 13 years ago before moving on to the Big Apple, where he bounced from the estimable Waverly Inn to the late, great Luksus restaurant in Brooklyn, among other stops.
He left white-tablecloth dinners behind when he signed up to run this kitchen. Here, it’s fancied-up comfort food that’s more like — and I mean this as a compliment — elevated Cheesecake Factory dining: familiar dishes served in large portions.
There is fried chicken served extra-crunchy, slightly spicy, although even better is the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich: brined dark meat, dotted with smoked paprika and cayenne, layered with kimchi and Fresno chili peppers. It would crack the top 10 list of best fried chicken sammies in many big cities.
Gooey mac-and-cheese comes with a thick, bubbly-brown crust; meaty chunks of poached lobster are served over a sludgy cucumber-tomato gazpacho.
You’ll want more spongy bread to mop up that white-wine-butter broth from the bowl of steamed mussels, redolent of licorice from arcs of fennel and fortified with smoked andouille sausage, cherry tomatoes and Aleppo chili.
And his rough-cut pasta — folded over strands of crab meat, briny roe and fried shallots for an allium taste — looks like some after-shift dish a cook whipped up to splurge. It’s delicious and maybe the best representation of what Ben Paris strives for: elegant but simple.
But eight months into its run, inconsistencies remain. Those springy, fresh pasta sheets on the second go had the texture of an industrial washcloth. The signature grilled octopus, with creamy beans and garlicky chorizo, was exceptional on two occasions but a mushy Mediterranean mess on another.
In a downtown littered with mediocre dining options, Ben Paris, for all of its flaws, is still good enough to save you from another boring steakhouse.
Opened in March within a stone’s throw from Pike Place Market, this hotel restaurant is part of the city’s recent record-setting development boom.
You can grab a table by the towering windows, chow down on wild mushroom risotto and clink glasses in the din, but the city’s growing pains will still stare at you from the other side of the glass. Across from the restaurant, north of Pike Street, panhandlers loitered around the recently boarded-up watering hole, Ludi’s Restaurant and Lounge; on the other side of the street sits the newly minted, Tom Kundig-designed apartment complex, where $19,000 gets you a month’s rent on the 38th floor penthouse suite.
There you have it: Seattle’s plight and growth in a nutshell.
The State Hotel/Ben Paris project is another glossy sheen in this tourist district. Columbia Hospitality, Inc., which also manages Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie and The Inn at Langley, gave this century-old Eitel Building its second act.
Unlike most new hotel-restaurants that have sprouted up around town, this doesn’t look like your cookie-cutter corporate set up — high, coffered white ceilings in a sleek, wood-and-brass dining room; walls plastered with wildlife renderings that could have leaped from the pages of the Taschen Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.
Her cocktails are very good.
But why, oh why, does a management team that fusses over the details seems so inattentive in matters of service?
Bar manager Gullo’s First Salute is a smoky play on the daiquiri, (rum, mescal along with grapefruit, lime and cinnamon), one of the best riffs I’ve tasted on that rum classic this year.
But that same cocktail lacked acidity on one outing and was too sour on another because another bartender was eyeing instead of measuring the ingredients for one of the bar’s marquee drinks.
I was also billed $44 for a glass of white wine that was supposed to cost only $11. A shrimp cocktail we ordered at the start of the meal finally appeared midway through our entrées. On another visit, my seven-course Supper Club special came to a screeching halt midway, and after 20 minutes of waiting, a horrified server noticed and murmured, “let’s see what’s going on there,” and hurried to the kitchen.
Some servers don’t sell the Supper Club special very well. That’s a shame, because it is the best thing going on here.
The printed menu was equally confusing, pitching the $60 deal as a“four-course” dinner, when the meal ranges from seven to 10 shared plates. (The website menu has since been updated to omit any mention of number of courses.)
Part of the confusion is that the Supper Club special doesn’t follow any culinary theme or narrative thread.
This food bonanza is more of an open-ended, family-style meal. The “freestyling” allows Stewart and his kitchen to riff.
In a phone interview, Stewart said the deal usually includes a sampling of the menu’s greatest hits, along with seasonal specials and small portions of dishes with which the kitchen is experimenting.
In a Supper Club meal, a party of two might get at least five salads, sides and snacks, followed by a pasta or risotto with a fish or steak.
A party of four gets at least five small plates, along with a pasta or risotto and three entrées (if you were to dine now, likely the salmon, Wagyu steak and a bucket of fried chicken, he said.)
A party of eight buys you Babette’s Feast; “you get the entire dinner menu,” Stewart said.
I’m not sure how the economic arithmetic works on this, but you might need a doggy bag.
Ben Paris: 130 Pike St., Seattle; 206-513-7300, benparis.com; Sunday-Thursday 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. reservations available.
Highly recommended for the Supper Club special, about seven to 10 shared plates, $60 per person, and also the “pre-theatre” deal between (5-6 p.m.), essentially a happy-hour version of the Supper Club special for $45. For lunch, the fried chicken sandwich with fries.
Reservations recommended. The hotel restaurant sits in a heavy-foot traffic area. Hard to predict when the dining room fills up.
Prices: $$ appetizers and small plates $7-$15; entrées $19-$33.
Noise level ranges from tranquil on weekdays, when the pace is slower and the hotel isn’t packed, to loud during happy hour and during the busy dinner service.
Service is erratic, and if you order the Supper Club special (and you should, it’s a screaming good deal), the pacing of those courses is unpredictable.
Drinks: beer, wine and cocktails.
Access: a bit of a walk, down a flight of stairs to the hotel side. There are elevators. Women’s and men’s restrooms, accessible.