Critic's Notebook

Restaurants That Look Like “Before” Pictures

Ray’s Boathouse reopening reminds us of a few other restaurants screaming for a remodel.

By Kathryn Robinson January 22, 2013

Nobody's messing with this part.

We know it’s a tough business, restaurateurs. Diners are a loutish bunch, using your space hard then never even offering to help clean up. Some of you have been in business for decades—a feat that merits applause, but unfortunately leaves some of you stuck in an earlier era. Chained to your own properties, a few of you aren’t getting out enough to size up your competitors.

Reality check: Some of your properties could use good makeovers.

Ray’s Boathouse was one of those—but it reopens a week from today, upgraded rafters to pier. Chef Wayne Johnson says expect a 31-foot bar in the middle of the room, private dining rooms on the north side, and more traditional seating along the south end, with booths along the wall. Everything will be hauled into the 21st century, carpets to upholstery—even that interface where décor meets food: plating. Johnson says to expect “more airiness on the plate,” as opposed to the vertically stacked preparations that now feel so ‘90s. “You will see more Picaso,” promises Johnson. Whoa.

Who else could use upgrades? Allow me to nominate Leschi’s BluWater Bistro, which is so nearly unchanged from its ‘80s run as Leschi Lakecafe it feels like Hall and Oates ought to be enjoying some salad bar with Duran Duran in the next booth. A lot of International District places are pretty rough around the edges, but dim sum magnet Jade Garden takes top honors; its carpet alone looks like it could tell stories of the Xia Dynasty. Judging from the crowds on the sidewalk every weekend—nobody minds.

Indeed, some of the most high-end spots in our area are beloved by many—and notably frayed. A recent visit to Ponti Seafood Grill on the Ship Canal featured all that only-in-Seattle view, along with interior views of shabby carpet and dingy surfaces. My vote for most-in-need-of-refreshment is Café Juanita, Holly Smith’s otherwise masterful destination Italian restaurant tucked into the wilds of north Kirkland. If there’s another restaurant maintaining such a vivid disconnect between level of cuisine and condition of surroundings, I don’t know it. I’ve spied ripped upholstery and stained menus in this restaurant—which, taken together with its bleakly un-landscaped entry, is not worthy of a place charging $36 for a meat course. 

Anyone else dying to go on a secret midnight landscaping run—or some other enhancement—at their favorite eatery? Share with the class.      

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