May 31, 2009 by Erin Thomas
An American Steakhouse worth the drive to somewhere out in America
By Erin Thomas
The Iris Grill
317 NW Gilman BLVD STE 28A
Issaquah, WA 98027
If you use Mapquest directions from Seattle to the Iris Grill in Issaquah, the text reports a twenty three-minute drive, while the map looks as if you’re driving across the country. Covering three bodies of water and over two main highways, the question rises of whether another “American steakhouse” is worth the effort. Granted, Lake Washington is crossed twice, and you coast along the side of Lake Sammamish, but Mapquest is nonetheless deceptive and discouraging.
If you can get over this disturbing image of (shock!) leaving the “mainland” of the city and crossing the floating bridge, you’ll find out why all the retired Microsoft CFOs and Google engineers reside on the eastside of the water.
Massive and dreamlike homes gaze over hilltops at the quaint and snug businesses, restaurants and coffee shops that line the unobstructed roadways surrounded by beds of blooming flowers and hand-built babbling brooks. Jazz music plays almost tenderly throughout the open corridors of the Gilman Village, home to over forty shops and restaurants for the past thirty-five-plus years, including the Iris Grill. Comfort and hospitality ensues almost instantly as the soft breeze whispers: “Welcome, awkward Seattle transplant, to the Iris Grill.”
It could have happened.
The staff of three on this Tuesday night were animated and delighted to have customers in their intimate space. White linen tables were graced with the presence of the beautifully simple irises and dim candlelight.
We were nurtured by a manager and our server throughout the entire night, from the wine bottle corkage ($15 fee) to guidance through the menu. Originally coming for the “3 for $30” offer, we quickly vetoed that plan when we were swooned by the core of the menu via our gregarious server, Chris.
My recent economy-safe/I’m-a-snob Plan B is bringing a bottle to drink while perusing the wine list, with an analytical approach of comparing the selections to the food and, of course, seeing how well the restaurants rep their Northwestern labels. With a handful of both red and white wines by the glass, the bottle list was far from standard, consisting of many small-lot producing Washington and Oregon wineries. I saw one California wine on the list. Kudos to the wine director.
With wine out of the way, it was on to the beet salad that was compiled of yellow and red beets lightly coated in a honey-thyme vinaigrette dressing atop a mixed green salad and accompanied with smoked hazelnuts and a dollop of solid goat cheese. Staying in the same herbal category, we moved to the Penn Cove mussels that were presented soaking in a thyme-tomato broth, steeping with juicy artisan sausage.
After a five minute debate with myself over the rack of lamb with huckleberry jelly (my guiltless current obsession) or grilled scallops with a shellfish risotto sitting in a saffron-red pepper oil, Chris helped me to see the light with pure honesty: I am too poor to buy the elusive saffron spice myself and need to take advantage of this seasonal opportunity.
Great advice for the thrifty shopper—the scallops were grilled flawlessly, rich and succulent in the expensive oil that was soaked up by the al dente and equally thick risotto, which could have been a dish alone. Dare I say that this could have been the most satisfying scallops entrée I’ve had in the area, Seattle included.
I was having a fork fight with my boy over his hefty apple-rosemary compote pork chop with side carrots (sautéed in browned butter and very flavorsome) when the manager brought over a small plate to enjoy of my own, with no request and no charge. I was a little embarrassed they had noticed.
In my opinion and personal experience in the industry and as a customer, service isn’t weighed necessarily in how speedy the server, the drink or the food comes to the table, but in the dedication to the job. Whether they are watching for such opportunities as my carrot phase, knowing the appropriate group to chat up about Britney Spears’ recent on-stage faux pas or when to send a dessert on the house simply because they enjoyed you, that is what makes a waiter a server, and a server a professional.
It seems professionals are all the Iris Grill will hire.