Wildfin American Grill wants to be Issaquah's go-to place for everything from burgers and fries (both are top-notch) to bridal showers. If bloody mary's are your thing, try the do-it-yourself "Bloody Mary Bar" at the Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Usually I have to be coerced into weekend brunch, but Wildfin American Grill had me at the words “Bloody Mary Bar.” The Issaquah restaurant allows customers to concoct their own. To that end they provide a shot of Absolut (regular, Citron or Peppar) and an ice-filled pint glass with a salted rim (regular, spicy or bacon salt). Then you toddle off to the bar to fool around with an inspiring array of mixes, more than a dozen hot sauces, and garnishes galore: house-pickled vegetables, olives, sweet gherkins, cherry peppers, fresh celery and even crisp bacon rashers. It’s a drink and hors d’oeuvre in one, and it’s just $6.95.
Back at the table, there was a gift from the kitchen: deviled eggs with bacon crumbles. You don’t expect an amuse bouche at a suburban eatery where kids color busily and older folks linger over the lunch combo (half a sandwich and a cup of soup or a salad for $11.95).
Wildfin wants to be Issaquah’s go-to place for everything from burgers and fries (both are top-notch) to bridal showers (a private room is available.) Not long ago, this rambling building housed a FedEx store. Now it looks like Hollywood’s idea of an Alaskan fishing lodge, rustic but highly styled, with decorative posts and beams throughout and a double-sided stone fireplace dominating the dining room surrounded by tables and booths. The kitchen is visible but removed; the bar and lounge is its own separate world where happy hour happens twice a day.
The menu gives front-page coverage to goings on about town: high-school sports, the monthly downtown wine walk, Rotary Club events. Unfold it and find a roster of food that is American in the broadest sense: from “Washington nachos” to “New Orleans Fettuccine” to meat loaf billed as “Not Your Mother’s.”
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Terrific house-made potato chips are the local twist in nachos amply endowed with chopped bacon, tomato and scallions, blue cheese and chipotle cream. There is the option of adding barbecue-pulled pork, but I suggest you have that supple, sweetly sauced meat in slider form, with crunchy coleslaw and a potato chip tucked under its soft Hawaiian bun.
Jambalaya arm wrestles with egg noodles in New Orleans Fettuccine. Surprisingly the noodles hold their ground. The thick red sauce packs potent heat, plenty of good andouille sausage, but very little chicken and no discernible shrimp.
Meatloaf is spicy, too. Tamed by smoky tomato cream sauce and mashed potatoes, the slices are finished on the grill but the texture was uneven: mushy in some spots, firm in others.
I found seafood to be the surest path to pleasure. An impeccably grilled fillet of Kenai River sockeye was simply adorned with oil and lemon to best show off the innate richness of this Alaskan salmon.
A lovely seafood scramble at brunch had a touch of lobster hollandaise along with smoked salmon, crab and spinach. Huge — and hugely satisfying — the plate included a creamy lake of corn-flecked Parmesan grits, a buttermilk biscuit, plus an English muffin with strawberry jam so good it begged to be eaten with a spoon.
Thai-style lime-chili sauce was fillip for tiny beer-battered bay shrimp nested with fresh mandarin orange in a sesame slaw lively with cilantro. Exhilarating jalapeño-lime aioli sauced tender strips of lightly breaded fried calamari with crisp coins of fried jalapeño tucked in among them. Smoky corn salsa accompanied fine fish tacos that sang with cilantro, avocado and tomatillo, soothing seared, Cajun-spiced rockfish distributed among three corn tortillas.
“Is everything great?” our server asked more than once. We had to confess it wasn’t. Half of our sausage and mushroom flat bread was burnt to an acrid crisp on the bottom. She insisted on bringing another, even though we demurred. “Take it home,” she said, and boxed it to go. A manager came by to apologize. The charge was taken off the bill.
Enjoying a warmed-up slice later that weekend, I thought that is the kind of response likely to endear a restaurant to its neighborhood. A first-rate bloody mary may get people in the door; superior service will bring them back.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org