So the food at the Safe is anything but and the janitors serving it don't wash their hands. How's it taste? Six intrepid stomachs roved Safeco Field on a couple of nights during a recent home stand to find out. Herewith, some observations.
* First and foremost: Skip High Cheese Pizza. The slices ($3.50) are bad, bad, bad. Soggy crust, rubber cheese. Enough said.
* The made-to-order sandwiches and grilled things at the Hot Stove Grill are a little better. Eight bucks bought me a grilled chicken sandwich and a cup of floppy, saltless, munchable fries. Low expectations were perhaps most responsible for my satisfaction with the sandwich, which featured a surprisingly moist chicken patty and a tomato slice with a nest of lettuce on a stiff white bun (packet of mayo on the side). The bun was somewhat challenging, but the moistness of the chicken continued to surprise me all the way back to my seat.
* Those who like barbecue will find the sloppy pork, beef, and chicken sandwiches at Porter's stall behind the bullpen just fine; those who love barbecue will be unimpressed. Dry meat and a sweet-sweet, ketchup-y sauce characterized the pork sandwich ($7.75), whose bun we identified as an antique—or at least a collectible—until it soaked up all the red sauce and we couldn't tell anymore. Those who don't like barbecue won't mind visiting this stall anyway for its cool bullpen location.
* "Is that cookie worth it?" asked three separate people as a friend roved the Safe munching on a Cougar Mountain Gourmet Chocolate Chunk cookie, sold in numerous stalls throughout the stadium. The $3 confection, chewy and studded with designer chocolate from Brown and Haley, is nevertheless oddly tasteless and decidedly mediocre. "It's not even worth $1.50," she replied.
* While season ticket holders can reserve a spot in right field's Hit It Here Cafe, regular joes must wait in the ever-present line to snag a table. Our advice—for those determined to eat here—is to grab something edible on your way to the line, then turn the wait into your appetizer course. The line goes faster than it looks, but not as fast as they tell you. (We were told 30 minutes and waited 40.)
Is it worth it? For a dazzling incoming view of Junior's homer, yes. For the food . . . nah. The place uniquely blends culinary pretensions (for a ballpark, understand) and lowest common denominator bland. We asked about the "chef-selected rolls" in the "slow-cooked hand-carved meat or poultry selections carved daily with chef-selected rolls and our house-made potato salad," and our waiter shrugged. "It's a bun," he explained.
Indeed it was, piled high with ham and served with do-it-yourself relishes ($12.95). It was fine; it was a sandwich. The burger ($9.95) was fine, topped with both Tillamook cheddar and Monterey Jack; it was a burger. A Greek salad ($7.95), though small, featured baby field greens and white asparagus; similarly sophisticated, though overdressed, was the house salad ($5.95), which featured hearts of palm. A fried calamari appetizer ($7.95), though drizzled with aioli, was underspiced and served tepid. Ditto the grilled chicken quesadilla ($7.25), which offered the further insult of desiccated chicken chunks.
For dessert we ordered a berry tart ($5.95) and a chocolate decadence cake ($5.95), but what we got were a couple of masqueraders. The tart was more like a berry-topped almond cake; the chocolate a really rich Ding Dong. They were presented beautifully, all drizzled and powdered, and we asked our waiter if they were made in-house. "That's what they tell me," he replied, puzzled. "But they look good."
* Really, unless Your Highness requires table service, you can do much better than the Hit It Here. Head for one of the Ivar's stands. We sampled a salmon sandwich ($6.75) that was definitely in need of every ounce of moisture a mound of cole slaw and a packet of tartar sauce could convey, but pretty toothsome in the end. Ivar's also featured either fast, efficient service or a dearth of customers, depending on how you looked at it. Doesn't matter: Take advantage of the quick access while you can.
* I don't know quite what I was expecting when I ordered a dish of five-buck cheese fries, but what I got made Cheez Whiz look like actual food. The fries weren't awful—the same floppy things I'd had before—but the flood of neon sauce over the top was offensive in the extreme and bore no resemblance to cheese. I couldn't get to a garbage can fast enough. For the wary diner, these came from a stall back by the bullpen that had no apparent name. I don't think "Foul Food" has been taken yet.
* A word about wieners: At the ubiquitous Rolling Roof Refreshments stalls, you've got your Mariner Dog, you've got your Super Dog, and you've got your Polish sausage. The humble Mariner Dog is $2.75, and tastes, in the words of our 5-year-old hot-dog taster, "like a smoked hot dog from a barbecue."
Even as he uttered this generally positive assessment, he was merrily tearing away bits of its unyielding white bun (hawked as "fresh-baked") to throw at unsuspecting adults. This practice, known among my childhood crowd as "bun-stunning," would not have been possible with the old steamed Wonder bread-style soft buns that clung sweatily to King Dogs—remember those? I have to admit, these big bready monster buns make me a little wistful for those bad old days, smoked-hot-dog-from-a-barbecue or no smoked-hot-dog-from-a-barbecue.
Furthermore, the first hot-dog vendor we encountered outside the stadium served up a tastier $2 hot link than anything we tried inside. So there you go.
* My favorite dish of the lot turned out to come from Tokyo Teriyaki, the stall run by the International District's Sakura Restaurant. A bowl of chicken teriyaki ($6) featured tender, moist chicken over steamed rice and a melange of cabbage and carrots, all in a sweet (my friends thought too sweet; I didn't) teriyaki sauce. Nice flavor, nice crunch, actual freshness: These all count for quite a lot inside the Safe.
The ironic downside is that it is possibly the most inefficiently run operation in the stadium, if not the world. One guy dishes up the food one grain of rice at a time while another stands there smiling and a third runs back and forth taking people's money and giving the change back to the wrong customers. I waited a full 25 minutes for them to serve about 10 people.
Lest any reader determine that Seattle Weekly has now pronounced Tokyo Teriyaki the best food in Safeco Field, however, let me hasten to disclaim: This unscientific taste-test has found no such thing. Much food went untested at the Safe, most for the simple reason that we got full. We didn't try the ice cream because the lines were consistently the longest around. The broccoli chicken at Intentional Wok looked fresh and great, and is perhaps the only ballpark food in the world cooked in a windowed display kitchen (a fact that must surely belong in the only-in-Seattle category).
As for the sushi behind home plate, we tried to try it, but the woman behind the counter ominously intoned that it was closed for the week. Hmm. Wonder what that means?
Snide inferences notwithstanding, let the record show that not a one of us became sick or had to be hospitalized after eating at Safeco Field. This ought to count for something. (Indeed, if all the folks who professed horror at Safeco's array of health-code violations knew about the health-code records at their favorite restaurants, they might be surprised.)
Of course, most of the food at Safeco Field is surpassingly unhealthy simply by virtue of being fried or greasy, which is, all things considered, probably the more legitimate worry. But don't sweat it too much; you'll get plenty of exercise running from trains.