How many is too many restaurants for the Huxley Wallace collective? Recent visits to Saint Helens Cafe in Laurelhurst suggest they might be taking on too much.
The Huxley Wallace Collective has a lot on its plate. Earlier this year, the team behind Westward and Quality Athletics opened Bar Noroeste, a taqueria with a Northwest twist, two outposts of Great State Burgers, and Saint Helens Cafe, billed as an American-style brasserie.
The prolific restaurant group headed by chef Josh Henderson is working on five more concepts expected to launch this summer. Scout and The Nest, a restaurant, bar and lounge, are destined for the new Thompson Hotel at First and Stewart. Going into the new Amazon building at Westlake and Mercer are Cantine Bottleshop & Bar, Poulet Galore, a rotisserie-chicken takeout shop, and Vestal, a full-service restaurant where Henderson himself will command the kitchen.
Is Huxley Wallace biting off more than they can comfortably chew? Recent visits to Saint Helens Cafe in Laurelhurst suggest that might be the case. Barely three months after opening, the cafe still seems like a work in progress, albeit a promising one. Originally conceived as an all-day eatery, Saint Helens recently scrapped weekday breakfasts to focus on lunch, dinner and — beginning this weekend — brunch.
Saint Helens Cafe ★★
3600 NE 45th St., Seattle; 206-775-7050; sainthelenscafe.com
Hours: dinner 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 5-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; Happy Hour 2-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Prices: $$$ (lunch/brunch plates $8-$18; dinner small plates $8-$14, larger plates $18-$24)
Drinks: cocktails, wine, beer, cider, tea, espresso
Service: warm, accommodating
Parking: on street
Who should go: If you live nearby or walk the trail, drop in to refuel, revive or even ignite a romance.
Credit cards: all major
Access: elevator from street level to restaurant; restrooms accessible
The brunch menu will merge the weekday lunch menu’s soups, salads, sandwiches and tartines with an expanded breakfast lineup of egg dishes, cornmeal pancakes and braised beef hash. The dinner menu touches the necessary bases for a neighborhood cafe: chicken, fish, beef and vegetable options.
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The Saint Helens burger is the one constant day into evening. It’s great. Made with coarsely ground beef smothered in Beecher’s Flagship cheddar (made meltier, I’m told, with the addition of sodium citrate), it’s dabbed with the house XO sauce — a magical, much-reduced potion of caramelized meat scraps and (among other things) tomatoes, red wine, Worcestershire sauce and Coke.
Served with crisp, salt-and-vinegar jojos, the burger is effective bait for the joggers, bikers and dog-walkers who traverse the Burke-Gilman Trail, which runs right by Saint Helens’ upper deck entrance. A gas firepit (by now a Huxley Wallace signature) blazes at the deck’s farthest end. A soon-to-be-completed build-out of the rooftop deck will more than double the seating capacity.
It’s cozier inside, where a tufted, gold velvet banquette divides the narrow, windowed room, separating the marble-topped bar from marble-topped tables charmingly set with mismatched vintage china and flatware.
Chef Josef Kothenbeutel, part of the opening team at Quality Athletics, heads the kitchen. He has good ideas, though a few things suffer in the execution or in the details.
Asparagus, striped from the grill, had the right snap and swell companions: leaves of wood sorrel; crisp, house-made pancetta; pureed watercress; and a fried duck egg with lacy, brown edges that crackled under the fork. Finger-length roasted carrots with hazelnuts had two sauces: carrot puree and yogurt, smoky with charred bread.
Good as they were, both dishes could have used more acidity.
The yolk of a chicken egg quivered atop pasta, adding a rich gloss to bucatini harboring hen of the woods mushrooms, fresh peas, pecorino and a good hit of red pepper. (Westward sous chef Aras Dailide makes the pasta for all Huxley Wallace restaurants.)
Whole roasted trout with brown butter, smoked lemon and rye croutons could have been a knockout dish, but the perfectly cooked fish lacked lemon, and burnt rye croutons provided the only trace of smoke. The waiter offered to have the kitchen fillet the fish. They did, then reassembled it for presentation with many bones remaining.
Roasted carrots $8
Charcuterie plate $14
Burger and jojos $18
Asparagus, pancetta, duck egg $19
Whole roasted trout $22
Chicken and chuck are cooked sous vide (vacuum-sealed and held in a water bath until done) then browned. The chuck wore a robust demi-glace but had an uneven tough-tender texture. The chicken was excessively salty and a thick coating of vibrant salsa verde couldn’t mask its bitter, severely blackened skin.
A delightful charcuterie array included Creminelli salami, well-marbled house-cured pastrami and superb chicken-liver mousse, along with pickled celery and rhubarb. Pickled cauliflower accompanied slices of seared albacore presented with a lemony, metallic-tasting sauce more akin to aioli than the promised rémoulade.
Lunch tartines (open-faced sandwiches on grilled Columbia City Bakery bread) are generously topped. One day’s alluring special paired warm slices of New York strip steak with horseradish crème fraîche, watercress and crumbled blue cheese. A soup-and-salad lunch combo featured grilled asparagus and smoked shallots floating in murky tomato consommé. Slices of spongy, bland baked ricotta were not an asset to an otherwise excellent lemon-dressed yellow squash and zucchini salad, bright with tarragon and basil.
The desserts meet with varying success, too. Lemon pound cake was moist and pleasingly tart. Chocolate cake was intensely chocolaty but a little dry, despite four layers of wonderful Italian butter cream frosting. Craquelin, a dense, muffin-like pastry kissed with orange, was heavier than the brioche-style popover I expected.
As Saint Helens finds its footing, they have an asset in the calm, sharp-eyed presence of general manager Marissa Jones. She and her staff work hard to please guests. (It’s worth noting that this is a “no tipping” restaurant that adds a 20 percent service charge to each bill.) Though their levels of experience vary, you can see they’ve had training. The young woman struggling to open a bottle of wine knew how to do it properly, she just wasn’t practiced enough to do it quickly.
St. Helens needs to work out a few kinks in the kitchen but it has the potential to become the neighborhood’s default all-day destination, a place to refuel and revive, perhaps even ignite a romance. With the Huxley Wallace team behind it, I’m betting on its ultimate success.