Pubs, those bastions of cheeseburgers and fries, are not known for serving anything green, except maybe green beer in March. So it was a surprise when I found myself saying to my wife recently, "Let's go back to that pub. You know, the one with the great salads." I was talking about the Madrona Eatery & Ale House, a 5-year-old restaurant and bar that has filled a niche on the 34th Avenue strip by not just serving burgers and ale, but also quality New American food and, indeed, fabulous salads.
Take the panzanella, with goat cheese, strips of grilled, buttered bread, and currant vinaigrette ($6 small, $8 large). Purists might declaim loudly that panzanella is supposed to be made with cubes of stale bread, but it is hard to declaim with one's mouth full of creamy goat cheese and tangy, pungent greens.
"I never craved a salad before I started working here," our server confided. With tempting options like the panzanella and a house salad with blue cheese and shallot vinaigrette, who can blame her? The Caesar ($6 small, $8 large, with optional grilled chicken or anchovies for $2) may not be the best of its class, but it's fresh and good. If the place didn't already have a name, you could call it the Salad Bar. (Sorry.)
The rest of the Eatery menu suggests that chef Michelle Heinrich is a realist: She'd really prefer you try the seared red snapper with apple and caramelized onion hash ($14), the delectable marinated flank steak with smoked tomato coulis and arugula ($14), or any of the several daily seafood or meat specials, but she's willing to make you a pizza or a burger (it is a bar, after all).
The meat and fish entrees were markedly more successful than what I tried from the bar eats side of the menu. Pizza is popular, but also doughy and bland. The burger is decent but unexceptional and offers none of the clever flourishes that make the entrees so good. (I'm fully aware, of course, that there is no accounting for taste in pizza or burgers, and a lot of people clearly enjoy them here, but you are not going to be reminded of Cafe Lago or Red Mill.) Service is friendly but rushed: On two visits with two different servers, our main dishes arrived long before we had finished our appetizers.
Many restaurants have toyed with the "restaurant and bar" formula, most coming down firmly on one side or the other or segregating their functions into separate rooms, but the Eatery & Ale House straddles the fence as resolutely as its name. The well-lit space is always full of families, and sports fans crowd around the bar to watch the Mariners. When the visiting team hit a home run, a concerned hush fell over the bar. You can also sit and read by the fireplace (unlit, probably because it's summer).
There are a dozen ales on tap plus a lager, a stout and a delicious hard pear cider. An unadventurous but respectable wine-by-the-glass selection is also offered.
For a place that tries to please so many constituencies, the Madrona Eatery & Ale House can't help but excel in some areas and lag in others, so perhaps I haven't made clear how much I like the place. Stick to the entrees, have a beer and a salad, and relax. The chef's in the kitchen, Ichiro's at the plate, all's right with the world.
Mixed green salad: House salads are supposed to be boring. This one, with a roasted shallot vinaigrette, blue cheese and a wedge of spicy homemade flatbread, is memorable.
Parmesan-mushroom soup: This homey puréed soup was light on the tongue but full of mushroom and cheese flavor. May I have the recipe?
Marinated and grilled flank steak: Give me flavorful flank steak over tender but tasteless cuts any day, and especially give me this version, cooked perfectly with just enough char. Served with a heap of arugula salad and paprika roast potatoes.
Grilled king salmon: A nice chunk of fish in brown butter with roasted shallots and barley "risotto" with fennel. The fish was moist and flavorful; the ample portion of barley cheesy and filling.
Apple crisp: Perhaps I am spoiled by homemade apple crisp, but this dessert, served à la mode, wasn't moist enough and didn't have much apple flavor.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Mixed green salad: $5
Parmesan-mushroom soup: 5
Flank steak: 14
King salmon: 14
Apple crisp: 4