Dishin’: bin vivant’s Widow Maker and Halibut Baker

We went for the Widow Maker. We lived to tell about the healthier halibut.

But let’s back up a bit. bin vivant (yes, the name and lowercase letters are awkward), the new restaurant in Kirkland’s Woodmark Hotel, recently invited Seattlest to its opening party, where underseasoned scallops surprised us. So upon being called back for a more formal dinner, the kitchen, seeking a second chance, immediately sent out its vanilla cognac scallops and awaited a verdict. We’re pleased to report that they were much better seasoned and nicely browned. But while the apricot and spinach purees were worth a try, we prefer a simpler preparation (with fewer competing flavors) to fully appreciate a scallop’s natural sweetness.

Pig-in-a-blanket—bin vivant’s version of a spring roll, served with delicious char siu dipping sauce—tempted us (our favorite dish at the opening party!), but wanting something new, we instead ordered the grilled Caesar. Nicely dressed, and we devoured the succulent, house-smoked duck breast; our only suggestion would be to grill the romaine longer for a smokier taste.

That brings us to the entrees, including the much-anticipated Widow Maker: a burger with Kobe-style beef (we like the honesty, as real Kobe beef is really expensive), foie gras, truffle pecorino, and caramelized onions. It’s a serious sandwich. The first bite was moist, meaty, melty…and a magnificent mess. We could discern all the elements, and liked them all, but realized after a few bites that a slider (if only on the menu) would have been sufficient—especially since the dish also comes with crispy, thin-cut fries. Also, foie gras lovers might prefer to eat foie gras alone (it is on the menu) instead of having its taste and texture diminished by all the other ingredients on the burger. Still, we were happy to try the Widow Maker, and we were glad Chef Lisa Nakamura (formerly at Qube and ex-sous chef at the famed French Laundry Café) explained that “food should sometimes just be fun, and not so serious.”

When our server suggested we try the wild Alaskan halibut as our other entrée, we rolled our eyes, as we find it to be a somewhat boring fish that’s overserved, overhyped, and often overcooked. But while the Widow Maker didn’t quite live up to our own overhyped expectations, the halibut blew us away. The fish was roasted to perfection and served with carrots and asparagus in a buttery sauce that had the right balance of thyme, saffron and ginger. This halibut dish showed us what a quality kitchen is capable of creating.

Teaming with Nakamura at this “vinocentric” restaurant is wine director and sommelier Dawn Smith, formerly at Canlis. bin vivant boasts a stunning wine wall as part of the largest preservation system of its kind in the region; climate-controlled, it offers automated pours (choice of 1, 3, and 6 ounces) of over 80 wines by the glass. Smith and the staff provided great matches for our food. And soon, diners will have the help of handheld PCs to navigate the wine menu and choose pairings.

The Woodmark Hotel is beautifully situated at Carillon Point right on the shores of Lake Washington. The setting makes it an attractive place to hold a special event; unfortunately for bin vivant, this can create a visual and noisy distraction for diners wanting to enjoy peace and quiet on the lakefront patio or in the dining room. We tried to tune out the blaring sounds of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” (and the wedding party’s constant chorus of “Ya-hoos”), and instead celebrate the sunset over the lake while enjoying our Cabernet Bing cherry soup for dessert. With the Seattle city skyline in the background, we wondered how many Seattleites will make the trip over. It depends, in part, on how many halibut-like home runs Nakamura can hit out of the park. We’ll will be watching to see how she and bin vivant fare.

Cross-posted on Seattlest, where “we” = me.

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