Seattle Times food-and-drink writers Bethany Jean Clement and Tan Vinh tried out every single spot at the Eastside’s new food hall. It’s upscale, but it’s still eating at the mall: Is it actually any good?
Bethany: Billed as “ALL THE FOOD YOU CRAVE IN ONE GREAT PLACE,” Bellevue’s new Lincoln South Food Hall pushes current food-trend buttons with a half-dozen open-air restaurants, plus a coffee bar, all within a stone’s throw on the second floor of the Lincoln Square South mall. Make no mistake: These are carefully crafted “concepts,” not Hot Dog on a Stick — in a flourish of marketing hyperbole, they’re also calling it “downtown Bellevue’s lively feasting collective.” But making the food great is more difficult than the cosmetic stuff. We went and tried it all: Every. Single. Place. (OK, we didn’t get coffee. Sue us.)
Tan: They’ve got their bases covered, don’t they? Burgers, pizzas and tacos for those who want the safe and the familiar. Poke and ramen for the cool kids. The menus are straight from the latest trendy food lists played up in glossies; there’s avocado toast, roasted cauliflower, cereal milk.
Malls aren’t just about shopping anymore. Look at the headlines coming out of our shopping centers in the past two years; most of the buzz is about big-name restaurant openings. Din Tai Fung and 85°C Bakery Café at Southcenter mall; Ba Bar and Hokkaido Ramen Santouka at University Village.
Lincoln South Food Hall
Lincoln Square South, 500 Bellevue Way, second floor, Bellevue; 425-362-6002; lincolnsfh.com
In Bellevue, Lincoln Square gave Seattle chef Jason Wilson reign to come up with two bar/restaurant concepts. Now comes this new food hall, next to Nordstrom Rack. But this isn’t a food court; it has its own identity. It stays open as late as midnight. There are some European influences: the aperitivo hour, the baguette and gourmet cheese you can get wrapped to go.
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Bethany: There’s also a lot of subway tile. Each spot has its own carefully manicured décor elements, but just to double-plus signify that we’re dealing with the upscale culinary space: subway tile.
Fat & Feathers
“New style bao sandwich and ramen slurp shop”
Tan: The noodles in my roast duck ramen ($13.50) were cooked about 30 seconds longer than they should have been — but there was still some chewy consistency. Your thin noodles were way overcooked, Bethany. The isles of foie gras butter floated on top of my tonkotsu-and-poultry broth. The duck meat came in copious amounts. And the gooey yolk tasted like soft cheese. It all made for a rich, succulent bowl. The cook was a bit heavy-handed on the foie butter, but that’s like whining, “Waiter, there’s too much bacon on my dish.” The ramen was tasty; the flavors were just not balanced.
Bethany: Tan’s ramen was better than my ramen, for sure. Food envy at the mall! My just-this-side-of-too-salty tonkotsu broth tasted rich enough, and hooray for still-crunchy bok choy. But for “pork belly ramen” (and for $13), the chashu — pork slices — leaned far to the lean side. And Tan’s right about the noodles: overdone to the sad point of mushiness. Two roast ducks on a huge butcher block lent an air of authenticity; the “street” mural painted on fake brick above the bar, not so much. Note that you can get a $195 bottle of ultra-premium Daishichi Castle Gates sake at Fat & Feathers, if that’s the way you roll at the mall.
“Prime steak burgers + Gravy fries + Brews on tap”
Tan: The décor didn’t bother me. It’s just another cookie-cutter, industrial-chic spot with a butcher-shop aesthetic that you see in gastropubs these days.
Bethany: The general faux-Portland thing, OK, but the rusty-tools beer-tap handles here cross the line. One of them was an old-timey eggbeater!? We know we’re in a mall. That being said, the bartenders here were funny and nice, and they knew their beer.
Tan: Just leave me on this bar stool. In fact, I’ll just park myself here next time I have to take my out-of-town cousins shopping. The 26-tap lineup ($3.50-$8.25) includes hoppy favorites such as Black Raven Brewing’s Trickster and Bale Breaker’s Top Cutter. The whiskeys run a couple bucks cheaper than at other bars around Bellevue, especially for the local booze ($6 for a 1.5-ounce pour of the rye from Woodinville Whiskey, $7 for the bourbon from OOLA Distillery).
Bethany: You could park me here with the Seared Foie Gras + Curds + Brown Gravy Fries ($9.75). It’s topped with four decent-sized pieces of perfectly seared foie (sorry if I ate more than my share, Tan), and I’m pretty sure that “brown gravy” means “luxurious, winey demiglacé” at Burger Brawler.
Bethany: I have never encountered a hamburger as terrible — as actually disturbing — as this one. Distressingly squishy, way too buttery, overwhelmingly smoky-pungent, awfully salty … it seems like they’re going for an extra-fancy version of a drive-in-style burger, but they’ve massively overengineered this thing. Also: There’s a reason you don’t see Taleggio cheese on burgers.
Tan: On paper, it looked well-conceived: a “custom blend” of ground chuck for “texture,” brisket for “beefy flavor,” short ribs to “add richness” and dry-aged rib-eye for “umami flavor.” But the burger was inedible. The pickles were missing, though that wouldn’t have saved it. It was one of the saddest burgers I’ve ever had.
“Al pastor tacos and other street favorites”
Tan: I ordered a plain old margarita instead of the signature margarita for you, Bethany.
Bethany: I was saving us seats in the weird bower of fake plants behind Avo-poké. And Tan knows that for me, a fancier drink is probably not a better drink. Thanks, Tan!
Tan: But the cashier informed me he only had the ingredients to make the signature margarita, Lucha Libre (tequila, grapefruit, lime and cayenne simple syrup). So I ordered it, only to be told they didn’t have the ingredients to make that, either.
Bethany: I ended up with a Smokey Mysterio ($10.25), supposedly made with mezcal, lime, strawberry purée, orgeat syrup and ginger beer. It was intensely sour and extremely smoky, almost like they didn’t have the last three ingredients, either. If you’re at the mall, and you’re weary, and you just want a cocktail, this is only going to make you more unhappy.
Tan: The sauces at the salsa bar were listed out of order. So we made a game of it, guessing which sauces went with which placement cards.
Bethany: One label said “pico de gallo” — there was no pico de gallo. Another salsa was mislabeled as mild, and it was definitely very hot, and I don’t want to profile anyone, but I’m guessing your average mallgoer is not going to be happy with that surprise.
Tan: The smoky charred beef (carne asada) taco ($3.75), cut with a squeeze of lime, was one of the best things I had at the food hall. It actually resembled the street food this stall is going for. The other taco meats were either stringy or flavorless.
Bethany: The “Airstream” trailer looks fake, the plants are fake, and all the tacos except the carne asada tasted about as “street” as the second floor of an upscale mall. Even the guacamole was blandly super-creamy, in desperate need of salt and lime. And Tan, I’m looking at their website as I write this, and it says “Carne Asada — Grilled Chicken.” With a drawing of a cow’s head next to it. It’s this kind of attention to detail you can expect at Barrio Luchador.
Crosta E Vino
“Craft pizza + Salumi boards + Small plates + Wines on tap”
Tan: Artisanal cheese and charcuterie are showcased here. The two pizza ovens are strategically placed along the sightline of the dining area to highlight the seriousness to which this food station takes its craft. Bethany, your back was to the pizza workstation, but I noticed our pizzaiolo, with his furrowed brow, was very focused on kneading our pizza dough. He took his job very seriously as he composed our pizza (organic tomato, $10.50). But, uh, it tasted like a $6 flatbread I could have gotten at any sports bar. It’s a thick, crunchy crust topped with some soupy tomato sauce and little of the bufala mozzarella and pecorino romano that were advertised on the menu.
Bethany: The crust somehow pulled off the unfortunate trick of being both crunchy and spongy; the sauce had an unpleasant sharpness to it; the toppings were tasteless. And more fake-out décor: fake marble, nonfunctional pipes as railings, nonfunctional barrels above the wine bar. You get what they’re referencing, but if you really drink it in, the effect is depressing. We know we’re in a mall.
Tan: The better deal might be happy hour (3-6 p.m. and again 9 p.m. to closing), where you get a complimentary board of crostini, cheese and salumi when you order a bottle (25 ounces) of its wine on tap, about $32 for most of them. Most of the 30 wines were from the Northwest or California.
Bethany: If you’re going to drink a bottle of wine at the mall, it should come with free meat, bread and cheese.
“Parisian inspired croques, toasts and sandwiches”
Tan: This was the most focused and well-thought-out concept of the six food stalls. The board menu is extensive but easy to follow. It helps that this is a deli, so we all instinctively know the layout — quiches, soups, salads and sandwiches. And for all your picnic needs, there are cheeses and fancy meats like duck salami and goose mousse sold by the quarter-pound. Baguettes and breads come from Grand Central Bakery, croissants and pastries from Macrina Bakery. Two sandwiches — the French ham-and-butter baguette with sheep’s milk cheese and cornichons ($9.50), and the baguette with prosciutto, fig and arugula ($12.75) — were both meaty and substantial, the kind of food you grab at a gourmet counter at the airport and can eat hours later because they hold up well. My only quibble: the soggy mess of a croque monsieur that I had to take home and fix on my iron skillet to get the bubbly, brown finish it deserved.
Bethany: I put my leftover half a croque monsieur under the broiler at home, and it went from gloppy and pale to beautiful and good! The mall lacks the technology to do this, apparently. The baguette sandwiches aren’t the super-simple snacks you’d get in France, which is fine — just don’t get misled by the sign saying “LA TRADITION” depicting a bicycle with a basket on the handlebars. The French ham-and-butter one seemed more like it was dressed with Dijonnaise, with the ham less French and more sweetly mapley. A side of mixed greens is a nice touch, though dressing seemed absent. Still, not bad!
“Pacific Rim Poke Bowls and Customizable Salads”
Tan: What a dizzying sensory overload: 72 different toppings and dressings. Step 1, choose one out of nine grains or veggies. Step 2, pick from 17 choices of proteins, seafood and veggie options. Step 3, pick up to five sides out of the 26 options (from boiled egg to truffled pecorino cheese). Step 4, pick one out of eight dressings, from Caesar to soy-sesame. Step 5 (you still with me?), top off the bowl with 12 different options from bacon to candied pecans. Mercifully, Avo-poké posts a public-service announcement suggesting patrons pick just one dressing for their bowl. I’m that weirdo who believes giving customers more choices is bad. There’s too much to process. People just want everything dumped in their bowl. Or they look at other patrons’ bowls for clues for fear they’re missing out on something. A rice bowl with some spicy tuna and some toothsome ahi sprinkled with wasabi peas for a kick would be perfect for me. Clean, fresh flavors.
Bethany: Ha! Seems like you’re projecting a little?! Didn’t you order like 17 things, “just to see how it worked”? I get that instinct, absolutely, and it sounded like yours was actually pretty good. That being said, Avo-poké has some bizarre options — dried cranberries, prosciutto, English cheddar?! I kept my order (medium size, $11.75) pretty simple to give the place its best shot for my tastes: white rice, avocado sprinkled with spicy shichimi togarashi, hamachi, scallions, pickled ginger, white sesame seeds and soy-sesame dressing. The rice definitely veered toward the sweeter side, but overall, it was fresh-tasting and good, with lots of nice, firm cubes of fish. And if there’s going to be poke everywhere, it’s nice to have it at the mall.