Coldwater Fish

Trolling the Westin's house-restaurant makeover.

Hotel bars and restaurants can be lonely, anonymous places, but you're sharing the estrangement with the whole room, so the mood often evens out quite nicely. You're all in it together; you share the same detachment, restlessness, ennui. That's why hotel watering holes are used in literature and in film—just the idea of them is evocative of that odd, palpable sense of warm, contented isolation. Sitting in the bar at the Westin's Coldwater Bar and Grill, I soaked in it. In the lobby, a sign announced the convention currently under way. "Long Term Renal Allograft Success: Realistic Goal or Idealistic Fantasy." That would certainly be something to discuss, should I happen to interface with any of my fellow drifters. I ordered a chopped Chelan salad (mixed greens, bacon, Oregon blue cheese, and roasted Bosc pear; $7) to start and a Bombay Sapphire martini ($7.50)—straight, no olive. After subsequent visits, I concluded that the bar at Coldwater is a particularly good place to be, especially if your visit intersects with a bartender named Jeremy. He knows how to make you feel comfortable without getting in your way, and he makes a damn good drink. Have one with an appetizer of brick oven bread (baked in house for just $5); served with roasted vegetables, tapenade, and Cambozola cheese, this is—oddly—the only bread that Coldwater offers. Coldwater offers several specialty drinks (all are $8), and while I don't always advocate fussy ingredients in my cocktails, their glacier "martini" (Teton vodka, fresh mint leaves, but c'mon, only gin will get you a real martini) strikes a perfect balance. The bubbly oyster shooter (champagne served with a fresh Pacific oyster) makes all kinds of sense, and sourcing can be one of the kitchen's stronger suits. Shellfish in particular were fresh, plump, perfect Northwest specimens when I encountered them in the nice but not exciting Neah Bay paella ($24) and in the Makah canoe ($18), an appetizer plate with breaded and fried razor clams, singing scallops (the kind whose shells open and close as they swim), mussels, crab cakes, and shrimp skewered really nicely on rosemary sprigs. Coldwater offers raw bar selections and a mostly seafood menu, with preparations that sound enticing (fennel saffron emulsion with the arctic sable, pan-fried oysters with an anise lemon sauce) but too frequently fall short of expectations. Seared ahi tuna in black trumpet jus with lemon-drizzled asparagus ($25) turned out to be too much salty sauce on a too-thin cut of ahi. The essence of black trumpet was obliterated, the fish was dry and overdone. During a lunch visit, a special of halibut in a mango cilantro puree—served with crab risotto for $21—arrived too greasy to work with the too-subtle hints of sweet fruit and green herb that dressed it. A shame, since the fish was otherwise well selected and nicely prepared. The risotto wasn't perfect—a little overdone and bland; the crab, like the black trumpets in the ahi sauce, was MIA. For dessert one visit, I took a recommendation to try the kitchen's tiramisu crème brûlée ($7). The burnt sugar bite didn't quite work with the soft glide of the creamy mocha underneath it. When flavors have to fight each other, no one wins. WHEN THE WESTIN reshaped its house restaurant—formerly Roy's, before that the Palm Court, before that I lose track—and debuted Coldwater a few months ago, it boasted that it wanted to become the city's premier seafood restaurant. Chef du cuisine Renatto Medranda is a native of Lima, Peru, and you might find hints of his background on the menu, but the Northwest-centric approach makes sense: Visitors to Seattle want seafood—exceptional, fresh, gorgeous seafood. That's why it's so disappointing when Coldwater makes a misstep. During my trio of recent visits, I couldn't get my hands on any Copper River salmon even though the season had just gone into full swing. First I was told the kitchen was sold out, then that the delivery was late, and then, no, they just didn't have it that day. During the recent changeover, the Westin didn't do too much restaffing. Older, gentlemanly servers dominate the floor (one told us he was on his third restaurant there). While service is friendly and, when not fully knowledgeable, very willing to find answers, it's rarely very busy at Coldwater, and a parade of workers will stop to check and recheck on your experience. Although it can be a bit exhausting, I'm sure they mean well, and hey, maybe they're feeling a little lonely, too. Coldwater Bar and Grill, 1900 Fifth Ave., 206-727-7697, DOWNTOWN. Breakfast 6–10 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner 5:30–11 p.m. daily.

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