The Legend Room: It's Full Of Memories

XX The Legend Room, Bon Marche, Northgate. American. Lunch ($5 to $9) 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner ($5 to $12) 5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; until 7:30 p.m. Saturday (holiday hours beginning next week: 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday). Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner: 3 to 7 p.m. Lounge, full bar. Major credit cards. Smoking in lounge only. Reservations: 361-2266. --------------------------------------------------------------- A Legend in our own times.

A friend walked into the Legend Room, once one of Seattle's most popular and fashionable dining spots, and looked around with widening eyes at the 1950s decor, the art deco touches, the dark paneled walls decorated with English hunting scenes, the four towering potted palms that visually (and botanically) buttress the center of the hall.

"How long has this place been here?" she asked.


"I didn't even know it was here. I love it. It ought to be discovered."

It was, I told her, but the discovery was a long time ago - when Steak Oscar was in fashion, when quiet elegance at a modest price was appreciated. When rap was something that happened to knuckles.

I don't know precisely what brought me back to the place. It wasn't the memory of long-ago lounge acts or reportorial rendezvous over repeated applications of gin and vermouth. I think it may have been over-intense shopping for a cut-rate vacuum cleaner

But after work, after the vacuum (nature abhors one and I was beginning to), I found myself wondering if indeed the Legend Room still lived. And, if it did, who was there. I found it, where it always had been, tucked under the southeast corner of the Bon Marche at Northgate - one of the first restaurants in one of the nation's first shopping centers.

The wait staff still wore black and whites. The spacious venerable room still looked refined, with dark green and brown accents of chairs and tables - some of the chairs a bit shopworn (and shopper-worn) and in need of a rubdown with some furniture oil.

Much of the clientele looked as if they would appreciate a rubdown, too. Like the room, most of them looked as if they had aged - gracefully. The Legend Room has its share of couples and children, but for the most part it reminds me of a dining oasis for ladies and their escorts.

The menu is as venerable as the crowd: London Broil, Chicken Pot Pie, Prime Rib of Beef, Quiche of the Day, Fresh Roast Turkey, Meat Loaf, etc. What's remarkable is that the prices are as old-fashioned as the dishes - almost nothing over $10, unless you order the "Lumberjack" portion of prime rib ($13.95).

There are only three starters listed: Onion Soup Au Gratin ($2.95), Shrimp Cocktail (same) and Sauteed Mushroom Caps ($3.95). Four warm rolls of dark rye, which I thought were uncommonly good, are served with cubes of butter and mini-tubs of Country Crock margarine.

I haven't tried the soup, but the shrimp cocktail is standard - and good, with a pleasant tang of horseradish. On one visit, the mushrooms were neither sauteed nor caps. Unstemmed, they had been briefly tossed with too little butter over too little heat for too short a time. They were barely tepid. The waitress noticed the disaster and swiftly removed it (and omitted it from the bill).

Turkey Williamsburg Soup, available as a choice with dinner, was a bit oversalted, but otherwise quite good - rich, creamy and satisfying.

"Comforting," said my research assistant. "If all of the people who go to the Beeliner Diner for comfort food - the kind their mothers used to make - came here instead, they'd not only find comfort food, they might even find their mother."

The Meatloaf Special ($9.95, including soup or salad, dessert or a glass of wine (!), was excellent; mildly spicy, light, and covered with a mushroom brown sauce. Mashed potatoes tasted commercial - but maybe not. A serving of ripple cut zucchini was nicely sauteed and crunchy.

The Bon Marche Chicken Pot Pie ($6.95) is huge, but the crust, noted my friend, was crumbly rather than flaky. The contents: "a little bland, but with some salt and pepper it's pretty dandy." Large chucks of tender white meat are attended by pearl onions, peas, potato cubes and carrots. Caution: It is served blisteringly hot. Poke a hole and let off steam.

The "Server's Choice" Steak Oscar ($11.95) is a culinary curiosity, an idea whose time has come - and gone. A perfectly good cut of filet mignon (about three-quarters of an inch thick) is topped with crab (meat rather than legs) and a slather of Hollandaise over a couple of asparagus spears.

It looks great. But the flavors didn't go together well in the 1950s (when the restaurant began) and they still don't. What you end up with is a fishy-tasting steak under a butter sauce that is guaranteed to break. Order the dish, if you like, but ask them to hold the crab.

The London Broil ($8.95) is probably the best bet. Tender, rare slices of flank steak are marinated in balsamic vinegar and wine, lemon and herbs, and char-grilled just enough. Foil-wrapped baked potatoes are fine.

The Legend room is a pleasant dining option, noted my friend: "A quiet refuge from the retail wars." (Copyright, 1992, John Hinterberger. All rights reserved.)