This public house could be the new community focal point in Kirkland.
Friends tease Chad and Jessi Waldher that the birth of their first child prompted their decision to open a family-friendly pub, but the Kirkland restaurateurs say it was pure coincidence that their son arrived a few weeks ahead of Park Lane Public House.
The laid-back pub opened in January in the former Jalisco space on Park Lane, an address the couple had long coveted. It’s the flip side of dim, sexy Bottle & Bull, their no-minors-allowed homage to Ernest Hemingway just around the corner on Lake Street. Chad designed the comfortable, brick-walled 90-seat space with an open floor-plan. The bar and kitchen are both visible from the dining room. Front glass walls slide open to connect with sidewalk seating for 30 more.
Apparently, Kirkland was starved for a concept like this. Getting a table on a Saturday night wasn’t easy. They don’t take reservations, but one of my guests had Yelp’s restaurant waitlist app, “Nowait,” and we were seated on arrival. (For this to work, you need to be within 10 miles of the restaurant and hope the parking goddesses are smiling on you.)
Park Lane Public House ★★
115 Park Lane, Kirkland
Reservations: not accepted
Hours: dinner 3-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 3-11 p.m. Friday & Saturday; lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; brunch Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Happy Hour 2-6 p.m. daily
Prices: $$$ (soups and starters $5-$15, entrees $12-$24)
Drinks: full bar; original and classic cocktails; beer and wine lists focus on Washington and Oregon
Parking: on street or in nearby lots
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Our table was on the bar side, a kid-free zone just as packed as the dining room. This was possibly because two of the restaurant’s three TV screens are above the bar and March Madness was in full-court press, or because, as at Bottle & Bull, the drinks are excellent. I offer, as Exhibit A, the “Urban Bourbon,” a cocktail with more layers of bitter intrigue than a season of “House of Cards.”
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The menu takes a broad view of pub food — perhaps too broad — embracing salads and sandwiches, seafood, steak and chops, pasta and flatbread pizzas, even falafel and tacos. The restaurant’s launch was not as problem-free as the Waldhers probably would have liked, given the new baby at home and two other restaurants to run. (They also own Marcy’s Bar & Lounge in Walla Walla). Mid-March, they replaced their opening chef with JJ Ullakko. His decades of experience at Pearl Seafood & Oyster Bar and Daniel’s Broiler, among other places, suggest he’ll be able to smooth out this kitchen’s remaining rough patches.
They get several big things right. Every pub needs a good burger, and you’ll find one here. Mine was well-charred yet still medium-rare, as ordered. It had lots of pickles, thick bacon and a tangy, mayo-based “fancy sauce” that helped lubricate a potato bun that I wished had been toasted.
Skirt steak was as carefully grilled as the burger. It comes atop a salad or with frites. I chose the steak salad and loved the jolt pickled, chopped-up broccolini gave to the mixed greens and creamy vinaigrette. A meatless Mediterranean salad was equally well-conceived. Though quinoa is listed first among the ingredients, it’s a minor player in the lively, Greek-inspired ensemble of arugula, baby kale, kalamatas, mint, feta and more.
Whole stalks of pickled broccolini sprawled between a pair of terrific boneless pork loin chops and grits enriched with melted cheese curds. The vegetable’s puckery punch was especially welcome as the meat’s brown sugar and molasses brine and its whiskey glaze both skewed sweet. Sherry-spiked mushroom bisque, one day’s special, had a pleasing sweetness too. A first-rate chowder was clam-packed and liberally flecked with smoked salmon.
Fish and chips, another pub classic, were better than average. What the menu calls rémoulade, I would call tartar sauce, but either way, it enhanced the three good-size pieces of Alaskan cod in a puffy, golden-brown crust. The pile of hand-cut fries will be most appreciated by people who love Dick’s.
It’s the rare pub that extrudes fresh pasta for its mac and cheese. Truffle masked the cheddar flavor a little too much for me, but the rich cheese sauce was surprisingly lightweight and filled every hollow and groove of chifferi, ridged, curvy tubes of pasta. Equally supple rigatoni were well-matched to a wild-boar Bolognese sauce that tasted leaner and spicier than traditional beef Bolognese.
There were weak spots. The underbaked crust on a flatbread pizza and the scorched pastry on a pear and blueberry galette suggest the kitchen hasn’t quite mastered the formidable heat of the gas-fired Wood Stone hearth oven. Roasted cauliflower fared better, but it came with a cucumber yogurt sauce too thin and weak to cling to the tender, charred florets, rosy with harissa. Poorly made sauces undermined a few other dishes. Harsh-tasting malt-vinegar aioli was so dense we couldn’t have dipped the floppy fries or the greasy fried calamari in it even if we’d wanted to. Bland carrot-ginger puree lacked any hint of ginger, doing no favors for a filet of pan-seared wild Columbia River steelhead.
The fish was new to the menu. When asked how it was prepared, our waiter said she’d have to check, adding “I’ve never even heard of steelhead before.” In her defense, she’s from Texas, but her cheerful enthusiasm was matched by everyone I observed in the front of the house, from the bombarded hostess to the server who swept up a hailstorm of Cheerios one toddler left behind.
Early in the evening families occupied many of the dining room’s generous U-shaped booths, but by 8 p.m. grown-up date-nighters, diners and drinkers had taken over. At lunch on a weekday, the light-filled restaurant hummed with the mellow conversation of adults dressed to impress. A public house is typically a focal point for a community. It appears this one could become just that for Kirkland.