ONCE UPON A TIME, diners expected hotel restaurants to be barely tolerable for one simple reason: That’s what they were. Over the years I have developed a similar sentiment about restaurants in Kirkland. Despite—or perhaps because of—Kirkland’s well-heeled patrons and delicious real estate, the town has not produced destination restaurants with food to lure serious diners back. (Stop reaching for your pen: Café Juanita is a stunning exception, as is the underheralded Lynn’s Bistro on Central Way.)
Imagine my sinking feeling, then, at the prospect of a new Kirkland hotel restaurant. It is true that hotel restaurants have spent the last two decades becoming culinary destinations. It is also true that this was going to be a Heathman Hotel, whose sister property in Portland boasts a restaurant that’s as fine as they come. But Kirkland? Land of the overpriced lake-view bistro and the frat-boy bar?
These trepidations lay heavy on my heart as I dropped the keys with the valet and crossed the Heathman’s threshold, through an outdoor portico warmed with heat lamps. “Wow, the Heathman’s heating downtown Kirkland!” marveled my companion. Inside, a private party of computer-industry execs balancing canapés and wine stems filled the sleek lobby, at one end of which opened the Heathman’s Napa-style restaurant, Trellis.
The place glowed with a California patina of slick blonde surfaces and tan upholsteries, achieving a vaguely midcentury aesthetic. Wine bottles were stacked across one wall. Out wraparound windows, a patio awaited the alfresco diners it reportedly gets in the dead of winter. Even the clientele looked like Palo Altans, the twentysomething wunderkinds, thirtysomething millionaires, and forty-something retirees that Silicon Valley—and the Eastside—turns out like widgets.
The food, however, was quintessential Northwest. Or so our server insisted in a windy homily about chef Brian Scheehser, his three-acre garden in Woodinville, his vision of farm-to-table dining, and the fingerling potatoes and peppery arugula and heirloom tomatoes Scheehser himself wrested from the earth to serve to us that night. As the server went on (and on), I felt myself becoming cynical about this Dedicated Chef’s Commitment to Freshness and Sustainability, since that happens to be the trend of the moment in Northwest restaurants.
Until the food arrived.
There before me sat a plate of oiled ravioli, its sturdy pasta stuffed with an herby-sweet winter-squash puree, swathed in a smooth beurre blanc starring lightly crisped sage and sautéed winter squash. It was a marvelous rendition of this classic combination, the squash and the sage hitting perfectly concordant notes, but even more than usual.