Great Moonbot/Chipotle trailer

Outstanding work by Moonbot for Chipotle. Love the art direction (and the message) here. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Chipotle a bastion for quality food against corporate food; this is definitely a bit of a greenwashing attempt. That said, it is nice for them to come out publicly for real food.

Chez Shea

Chez Shea dining room.
Chez Shea dining room.

For years we’ve stood waiting at Matt’s In The Market and pondering what was behind the door at Chez Shea. We knew that it was supposed to be nice, but we never got around to eating there until recently. We were pleasantly surprised at the size (it is quite small and cozy), the environment (similar to Matt’s old vibe when it was smaller, but more romantic) and the staff (friendly, but not to the point of being annoying). I was very happy that I didn’t feel out of place wearing a suit, the other diners (for the most part) were dressed for special occasion meals as opposed to the shorts and t-shirts you sadly see too often in high-end restaurants around here.

The food was good with some touches of excellence, but not enough to be a draw on its own at this price range. If you are into “Big Flavors”, you can skip Chez Shea. The food was fairly subtle but solid; tasty, but not overpowering. Two elements of what I ate remained with me (admittedly these were the biggest flavors in my meal): I had a Hamachi Crudo which came with some sliced Jalapeno that added an interesting kick to an otherwise bland dish; and a Muscovy duck that was prepared two ways, one of which was a Confit Crepinette that was simply amazing.

The menu is fairly standard high-end northwest cuisine: seasonal, fresh ingredients, featuring seafood and northwest game. The menu itself was a little small, but it was ample enough that we were able to find good choices for four courses each. As with many higher end restaurants, the portions are smaller, but we didn’t leave feeling hungry. If we’d skipped a course, we might have left seeking some extra food though. The wine list was good as well, but not extensive.

Overall, we liked Chez Shea, but probably more for the atmosphere than the food. The food was good enough that we’d definitely consider it again for a special romantic dinner, but not so good that we’re already planning our next visit. I would definitely like to come back and try the Bistro some other night. It is even smaller than the restaurant and may be a great “date night” destination.

Chez Shea / Shea's Lounge on Urbanspoon

Bennett’s Pure Food Bistro

Bennett’s has an interesting concept (from their website):

At Bennett’s we are committed to serving pure, all natural, additive free food. You won’t find artificial preservatives, colors or sweeteners. No flavor enhancers, hydrogenated oils or processed foods. What you will find, are the freshest most authentic ingredients we can offer.

Most of our ingredients are deeply rooted in the Cascadia region – an area extending from northern California to southern Alaska, and the coast to the continental divide, taking in Washington, most of Oregon and Idaho and part of Montana

For the modern foodie, this is very attractive: Slow Food, sourced locally, organically grown. An interesting concept around the quality of the ingredients doesn’t make for an interesting restaurant, however, unless they can back it up with the quality of their cooking. Bennett’s, for the most part, delivers. Our party of four was unanimous on our appetizers and deserts, all quite good. The entrees themselves were somewhat less consistent. I had a razorclam linguine (razorclams being fresh and available that day). The linguine included some cooked greens that were flavorful, but overwhelmed the rest of the plate, the clams themselves contributed little to the dish. Also, it was served luke warm. The rest of my party was happy with their entrees, although the small portion sizes were commented on.

The one serious issue with Bennett’s is that it has a bit of an identity crisis. The environment feels like a nice family restaurant. It has a bar area that runs into the restaurant. On a Saturday night, there were as many families there as there were couples. The ceilings are high and the lights are bright. The room isn’t large, but in tone it feels more like the Five Spot than Rover’s, including the volume of the conversations in the room. This is not a bad thing in itself. As we were there with our infant daughter, it actually felt comfortable, like we didn’t need to worry about disturbing other patrons. The service isn’t formal, although it isn’t completely informal either. The food itself is more formal in presentation, portion-size and pricing. Our 3 course dinner for four including wine came to around $50 per person. So, you have formal food and prices and informal ambiance; hence, identity-crisis. I’m not the first to point this out, this is a consistent issue in their other reviews.

Based on the pricing and the quality of my entree, normally I would suggest avoiding Bennett’s; but I like their concept, and my other courses and the rest of my party’s meals convince me that I shouldn’t judge them too hastily. Another comparison worth making would be Tilth, their ideolical peer in Wallingford. I can’t make that comparison yet, but I hope to soon.

The question is “Is Bennett’s worth the trip?” I’d say, if you like Slow Food without the pretention and you have that kind of money to spend on a good meal (that isn’t a special event), yes. We will be returning. If our food is at least as good next time as it was this time, Bennett’s will certainly be added to our collection of eateries worth visiting.

Bennett's Pure Food Bistro on Urbanspoon

Update – April 18, 2009
We returned to Bennett’s for a brunch last weekend (and a second opinion). Again, I thought the food was a bit uneven: the french toast was amazing; the salmon benedict, less so, but not horrible. The breakfast prices were much more reasonable though, $8-$12 for an entree. The second opinion is about the same as the first. With the more reasonable prices, we will definitely return for brunch and will hope to find other dishes as awesome as the French Toast. We will probably return for another dinner as well, but I don’t know yet if this will become a regular occurrence. We’re still figuring this place out.