Eastside Comfort

Pomegranate Bistro makes Redmond feel right neighborly.

Here's something you don't see at a lot of Eastside restaurants: A long, communal table, with bench seating for maybe 14 or 16, meant to be shared by several small parties. After all, this is the land of single-occupancy vehicles, mile-high fences, and pedestrian-free sidewalks. But on a Friday night at Redmond's Pomegranate Bistro, this table is crowded with small groups of diners happily sitting within salt-sharing distance of each other. This is the kind of place Pomegranate is: busy and neighborly. According to its Web site, it aims to be "Redmond's new kitchen," and through a combination of appealing design, a versatile menu, eager (if unsophisticated) waitstaff, and fabulous food, it succeeds. Nothing about the exterior of Pomegranate prepares you for what's inside. It inhabits a faceless building in a Redmond office park—just down the road from a Home Depot and a cemetery—but its airy dining room is colorful and inviting. Its walls are painted tomato and rosemary, and an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven warms one side. Another wall is taken up entirely by large windows looking onto the industrial kitchens of Lisa Dupar Catering—the sister business run by Pomegranate's owners, Dupar and Jonathan Zimmer. Dupar is a seasoned caterer and owner of the special-events space, Julep, in South Lake Union. At Pomegranate, her seasonal menu currently ranges from small plates like taquitos and gazpacho, to entrées such as roasted halibut and rib-eye steak, to "firebread" pizza. Many of the dishes have a subtle Southern twist: hushpuppies, Cajun mustard, and Key lime all make appearances. There's also a brunch menu, "TV dinners" for kids (served in fun, compartmentalized trays), an espresso bar, a long list of fruity specialty cocktails, and a full array of desserts. You might think with this much going on in the kitchen, the results would be spotty. But in two visits to Pomegranate, nearly everything we sampled was not just good, but delectable. (The one odd exception being the Caesar salad bowl, $7, which was underdressed and flavorless.) Standouts among the small plates are a chunky gazpacho topped with sweet dollops of shredded crab ($11), and a white cheddar snap-pea pie ($7)—a super-creamy quichelike tart, garnished with ultra-thin-sliced fried onions. Appetizers this enticing boost your expectations for the main course, and Pomegranate's large plates don't disappoint. The grilled wild salmon ($22) is a perfectly just-cooked chunk of fish resting on an aromatic bed of coconut-cilantro rice. The mac & cheese ($15) is made with twisty pasta and some oughta-be-illegal combination of dairy products that renders it velvety in the middle, yet lightly browned and crusty on top. The firebread pizza warrants a page in the menu of its own and is so good an entire restaurant could be built around it. Its chewy, bubbly oval crust may be dressed with any one of eight toppings—anything from plain cheese ($7) to tequila rock shrimp with roasted garlic, cilantro, and sliced red jalapeños ($10). The pizzas work well as dinner for one, or they can be shared as a starter. And though it's hard to imagine that same, chewy firebread wrapped around a sandwich, that's an option, too. With prices ranging from $6 to $9, the sandwiches and various salads are the only items on the menu that don't seem a bit steeply priced for lunch. And you could quibble with Pomegranate's service, too, which is very accommodating, but a bit green. I asked one server whether the crisps adorning the mac & cheese were fried plantains, and she chirped, "I don't know! Aren't those fun? I'll go ask." But if she ever got an answer, she didn't deliver it to me. Other reservations about Pomegranate? For one, they don't take any. Reservations, that is. That makes for a frustrating wait on weekend nights—especially when you find yourself bumped down the list to make way for an unexpected visit from a party who knows the owners, as we were once. But when you walk out the door at the end of your meal, back into the anonymity of that suburban parking lot, it won't be the wait you'll remember. It'll be the great food and beautiful room, tempting you to come back and rub elbows with other Pomegranate regulars as soon as you possibly can. ljacobson@seattleweekly.com 18005 N.E. 68th St., 425-556-5972, www.pomegranatebistro.com. REDMOND. 11 a.m.– 2 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun. Espresso bar opens at 7 a.m. daily.

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