2001 4th Ave
Seattle WA 98121
Where Tom Douglas Started It All
By: Robin P
Nestled between Belltown and Downtown, the Dahlia Lounge is warm and vibrant, featuring a beautiful interior and an ostensibly Asian style. Lanterns, dark wood, modern artwork, red walls all greet you as you make your way inside.
As one of the five Tom Douglas restaurants in town, Dahlia Lounge seems to take cues from several types of cuisine, but all are reinterpreted to create something truly original. The varied menu, with about half a dozen starters and entres each, changes daily. It is great to see fresh, in-season ingredients used, but it also had a downside--on the day we visited, two of the dishes our party of four ordered were not available.
However, the dishes we did get were for the most part quite good and featured impressive chef skill. My asparagus sandwich was neither slimy nor crunchy, but perfectly enjoyable; Grant's ribs were grilled to just the right degree, retaining their tenderness and flavor. Several dishes brought novel combinations of flavors together, yet they all worked well.
As befits an upscale venue, service was very prompt and professional. Our server was attentive and on top of everything, and especially helpful in steering us toward alternate dishes when a couple of first choices were unavailable.
I would recommend Dahlia Lounge for business lunches, dates, or any nice meal out, when you feel like paying a premium for polished interiors and a celebrity chef-created menu.
I'm not a big fan of Tom Douglas restaurants. Every time I walk into one it just seems like a big promotion of Tom Douglas related items such as cookbooks and so forth. I've been to Etta's and Serious Pie, and neither really impressed me, so when we decided to go to Dahlia Lounge I had some reservations about how great the experience would be. Surprisingly, they did a fantastic job.
The House cured Kurobota Ham Sandwich ($13.00) was quite the treat. At first glance, the bread looked really tough and crunchy but once I sunk my teeth into the bread, it turned out to be quite soft and fluffy. Kurobota ham is considered by many to be the Kobe beef of pork, but sadly I didn't taste much of it as it took a back seat to the gruyre cheese and dijonaise sauce. I'm not saying it was a bad sandwich--it was one of the best I've had--but the main ingredient seemed to take a back seat to the fresh bread and condiments. I definitely recommend it, but I would have preferred a cheese that isn't so overpowering that it mutes the flavor of the ham.
The Creamy Tomato Soup (cup $6.00/bowl $8.00) was a tasty starter that had a tomato-y flavor without being too acidic. Pured soups are often blended into uniformity, but this one still retained some texture, which I found I liked quite a bit.
I was pleasantly surprised with my vegetarian sandwich--tired of bland veggie burgers and hummus plates, I was delighted to be able to try a meatless dish that was truly original. The inspired Grilled Asparagus Sandwich combined some normally powerful flavors (asparagus, arugula, and green onion) into a perfectly balanced, delicious dish.
The Coconut Cream Pie ($9.00) was a delightful way to end the meal. Sweet but not too sweet, and with both raw grated and toasted coconut, this was a superbly made dessert. It was refreshing to try a dessert with an array of flavors, not simply sugary-sweet.
My initial choice off the menu was the enticing handmade papparadelle with rabbit ragu, but the server apologetically informed us that the kitchen was all out for the day. Since Robin and Steve both opted for sandwiches (which comprise most of the lunch menu, along with salads), I decided to ride the Asian-inspired theme of Dahlia Lounge and try the Korean Spare Ribs ($13.00).
"Tom Douglas" and "Korean cooking" are phrases that I never imagined pairing, but now I'm able to add "surprisingly good" to make it a trio. The short ribs were tender, perfectly grilled and treated with a not-too-sweet marinade. Long slivers of vinegar-soaked julienned cucumbers gave the meat a tart compliment, while providing a crisp and fun noodle-like texture to the dish. Even the rice was cooked using short grains, showing that Dahlia Lounge paid commendable attention to detail. Of course, it wouldn't have been a true Korean dish without kim chee, which was short on the heat but measured up well on the pickling.
Lastly, I had the pleasure of sharing the coconut cream pie with Robin and was afforded the firsthand opportunity to experience the renowned Tom Douglas coconut pie. The filling had a custard texture, delivering the intoxicating flavors of creamy banana, silken white chocolate, and coconut slivers. I didn't care much for the crust, which required some hefty fork work to break apart, but did appreciate the airy frosting, which didn't require a post-meal insulin shot.