Seattle Restaurant Week began October 17th, and we dined at 94 Stewart, a restaurant located on Stewart just above the Pike Place Market. As you head inside the restaurant, look downhill, and you will see the Puget Sound stretching out in front of you. It’s a picturesque location, but the restaurant could kick up their offering just a touch to compete with like-priced eateries in the area.
Seattle Restaurant Week is sponsored by the Seattle Times with heavy advertising costs and food costs absorbed by restaurants. Renowned restaurants and some rising stars occupy the growing list of restaurants participating in the Eat Week. This is a chance for restaurants to wow customers who normally don’t dine in their businesses, and it’s an opportunity for customers to visit new-to-them businesses.
I’ve been anticipating dining at 94 Stewart, because I had a chance to talk to one of the staff members months ago about the chef’s vision for her food. Chef Celinda Norton is creative and involved with her food, which she describes as “pangean” on her website. The unusual layout of the restaurant is divided by curtains and nooks into which tables have been placed. The layout makes it feel more intimate, although all the walls and corners cause restaurant sounds to swirl around certain spaces.
The Restaurant Week menu was generous. Essentially, almost everything offered at the restaurant was fair game. That was nice, because it gave us a chance to see the vast options Chef had created. On the other hand, it was hard to settle on one item. Our server offered some thoughts, but since he hadn’t tried some of the selections we were curious about, we sort of winged it. He brought our items out quickly, but I hadn’t finished my crusty bread and mussels before my entree was placed and my first course was removed. My hands were still pulling the bread apart when our entrees were placed at our table.
Our starters were delicious. The Fried Pork Belly was crisp, the sauce was sweet, the fennel was tender. The Mussels were bright, tender and meaty. Our Entrees could have used an extra eye, because although most of the flavors blended, they could have used some more seasoning to enhance the natural flavors. The braising sauce for the Salmon was bland and thin and lacking in the Burgundy that we had expected. In contrast, the mashed potatoes were full of basil, fluffy, and filling. The undercooked brussel sprouts were almost distracting. The Duck Confit was crisp, oily, and rich. The accompanying butternut squash was squishy and chaotic, not creamy, sweet, and firm as I was expecting. The white bean base upon which the duck leg was placed exploded with rosemary, but the beans themselves were dull once you got past the herbal qualities. I don’t recall any candied walnuts or nuts of any kind, though the menu mentioned them. The dessert tart was sweet and chocolatey, but since it came unadorned on a plate and the back crust had fallen off, it wasn’t especially exciting.
I wanted to love 94 Stewart. I had developed a kind of crush on the chef based on the website and my conversation with her staff. She has a great vision, but the food fell just shy of “wow.” The food was honest, pure, and basic. Maybe that’s what she was going for. Maybe the serving staff should note that. I’m used to saltier, fattier, fuller flavored foods, so perhaps it’s my palate. If friends suggested 94 Stewart, I wouldn’t resist them. I’d like to give it a second chance.