Monday, April 14, 2008

Crown Bar

Chef Charlie McManus-- arguably Tacoma’s best chef-- has recently expanded his restaurant holdings by opening a comfortable neighborhood bar located just across and up the street from his justly famed Primo Grill. He named the bar after supposedly the most beautiful bar in all of Belfast.

The interior space is cozy and intimate, all dark wood paneling which gives the room a rich masculine feeling, and there is a nice bar. But as if to say-- we don't want you to think this place is "too nice"--they have painted the river rock fireplace a garishly bright silver, and hung some fun art as if to say-- we don't take ourselves too seriously--let's have some fun.

Charlie calls the menu “world street food”.

I say it's Tacoma’s first gastro-pub.

After eating 4-5 meals and Bar Apps here with friends, I cannot recommend the place highly enough. And although Charlie himself is not cooking in the kitchen, I almost always find his charming wife and partner Jacqueline working the floor, or behind the bar, taking food orders, making wine recommendations, bussing tables—in short doing whatever it takes to get the job done!

Sunday, my dining partner was to be Chef Matt Colony— my Executive Chef at The Beach House for many years, also my first Chef at Pacific Grill --before exiling himself to the San Juan Islands –to cook at a small Bed & Breakfast in paradise for awhile. Thank God Tacoma got him back, as Matt is seriously talented!

Now Matt is back in Tacoma to helm the new deco/lounge restaurant Maxwell’s opening in a couple of weeks on the ground floor of the renovated Walker condominium building -- at Sixth and St Helen's. Can’t wait.

But back to Crown Bar:
We ordered 3 items from the “Street Food!” listings, [their exclamation mark not mine] and one of the Crown Kebabs, and a couple of drafts to go with the spicy foods. We told the Bartender to bring the food out in “any order” and not to bother coursing anything-- as we were hungry and sharing the food. We could see into the kitchen, and there was only one cook on the line. It was about 7:30. There were two other deuces in the bar, and 2 tables in the dining room [a 4-top and a deuce].

A server tried to deliver a big bowl of the yummy-looking Cougar Gold Mac & Cheese mistakenly to us. I was so hungry that I almost let him, but the couple to our right screamed that it belonged to them! But boy did that look good!

After about 15 minutes, and we still didn’t have any food, I asked the Bartender to make sure the Kitchen wasn’t waiting to send us all 4 items at once—that it was OK to send us whatever was ready. We were starving. But it was still another 10 minutes before any food arrived. I want to emphasize that this is the only time that I have had timing issues out of this kitchen.
The first plate to arrive was the Zihua [Zihuatanejo] Mushroom Quesadilla, with serrano Tomato Salsa $8

I am secretly glad my mother was not there to witness the display of bad manners, as we tore into that delicious quesadilla. Mmmmm I said to Matt, very mushroomy. Delish.

And the salsa is good too, Matt replied. Yeah , I agreed. I would call this salsa “charrabecause it tastes like they charred the serranos, tomatoes & the onions. I maybe would have grilled the onions a little longer-- really crunchy, but this is delicious.

Next came the Charmoula Beef with Pita bread, and Cous Cous. $9
I like that the beef has a good crusty char to it.
Yeah, agreed Matt, but the beef could use some seasoning.
Yep, it is lacking a bit in salt I agreed. But the pita have a nice crunchewy texture.
How’s the cous cous?
All I can taste is cinnamon, Matt said. No salt... It’s really bland. And it isn’t light and fluffy, it’s all clumped together. When the cous cous was made it wasn't fluffed right after it was steamed it was allowed to sit too long. I had to agree. This dish is disappointing.

Every time I’ve eaten here I always make a point to order my favorite dish:

The Currywurst with grilled bread, and curry ketchup $6. It arrives next and doesn’t disappoint. The bratwurst has been bias-cut into several large slices, and several crostini have been arranged over the top, and a large pool of sweet/spicy curried ketchup ladled over.

You have to try this, I say to Matt, the flavors are so good.
Is this just a Brat? And the curry is in the sauce?
Or is it a curried Brat?
....I’m not sure-- but it tastes like the curry is in the brat itself. And knowing Charlie (he makes his own pancetta at Primo-- (on at least one of his memorable pizzas)—he probably makes his own brats too, I reply.

Yeah this is so good...

....ok little thing I am disappointed about on this dish:
I could swear that the last time I had this dish the bread was actually grilled like it says in the description and not griddled or baked. There is not a single grill mark anywhere to be seen on this bread. [That is why I called this crostini].
And I am a HUGE fan (as is Charlie) of all things being better if you add grilled rustic bread to it. [Much like if you add bacon to any food item—it is pretty much guaranteed to improve it!]

Plus these crostini are much too thin to hold up to the rustic ruggedness of the brats. The grilled bread needs to be thick to saw through it with a steak knife, and then sop up this delicious ketchup--not shatter into brittle sharp shards to be scooped up with fork or spoon. I imagine the cook in the kitchen has pre-prepped these crostini to expedite things and make the dish easier to assemble, but in so doing-- he has robbed the dish of some of its rustic charm. Still delicious. But I miss the original. Charlie? Please bring back that delicious thickly cut grilled bread!

The Falafel Sandwich with Greek Side Salad $8
When the falafel sandwich was served, the tahini sauce was forgotten. {see photo to left} I found it odd that the Bartender asked us whether or not we wanted it? Of course we wanted it. Although it is not listed in the menu description, therefore we did not know it missing, if Charlie wants the item on the plate and has designed those flavors to go together OF COURSE WE WANT TO EAT IT THAT WAY!

The falafel themselves were a bit under-seasoned. I wanted them to be a bit saltier. I am beginning to think this cook is a bit shy about seasoning. They were also a bit dry, and I surmised they had spent a little too much time bobbing in the deep-fryer. They had a nice crunch to them, but when I make falafel, I want the centers to be just the slightest bit liquid. Not runny certainly-- but if you’ve ever made hush puppies it is kind of a similar thing—if you over-cook them, they are dry and unpleasant. Slightly under-done they are moist and wonderful. The Greek side salad had a citrusy dressing that was slightly sweet, with a little bit of cheese that we assumed must be feta being Greek. But there was so little of it, we could not tell.

Although this meal was perhaps the most inconsistent of the 4-5 I have eaten at Crown Bar due to some seasoning issues and so on, this is a great neighborhood bar, with wonderful ambiance, interesting food, and is usually consistently delicious. Every neighborhood should be so lucky. The prices are reasonable, and the portions generous.

On previous visits I have also enjoyed The grilled Romaine Salad with the spicy Caesar Dressing $8; Charlie also does a great version of the classic combination of Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese $6; my friend Shirley loved the Trout with Bacon Breadcrumbs (who wouldn’t? you can almost taste it just reading that description!) and campfire potatoes; and Lyle loved the Organic Buttermilk Fried Chicken $18.

Besides being a supremely talented Chef, Charlie is one of the nicest people around and if you go to Primo you know this already. Between orders he can be seen wandering away from the fiery grill stopping by tables in his dining room making sure his guests are happy. On occasion he can also be seen crossing 6th Ave on his way to do the same at Crown Bar.

I’ve run into him both places, once even on the same night, when we decided last minute that the Leonetti Kathy was bringing, would go better with the delicious pizza at Primo Grill—the one he makes with homemade pancetta.

Currywurst $6
Quesadilla $8
Crown Kebabs $8
Falafel $8
2 Drafts $9.50
SubTotal $39.50
Tax $3.48
Total $42.98
Tip $10.
TOTAL $52.98

2705 6th Ave
Tacoma, WA 98406
(253) 272-4177


Tacomachefs said...

I have to agree. It's nice to to see your doing a "food" blog and not an extention of Us Weekly.
This is really cool!

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

Hey thanks TacomaChefs...not sure who you are. But Thanks for the compliment. I'm enjoying it. I love to write. I love food and restaurants. Makes me get out more often too to see what's going on. Thanks for your feedback.

Nick said...

Christmas every time you add an entry! More entries please! :)

Also Kudos to Chef McManus- if he's satisfied Chef Gordon's taste buds I'm sure mine will be having a party when I visit.

Thank you for the suggestions.

Anonymous said...

I love Charlies food!!! The pizza is 2 die 4.

Anonymous said...

I have to say I DO NOT like Jacqueline and I will NEVER eat at Primo Grill or Crown Bar ever again. I brought a friend to Crown Bar when they first opened and witnessed Jacqueline verbally abuse her staff. She is vicious and mean and those are nice words for her. I don't see how anyone can work for her. I have seen her make rude comments to her staff a few times and I have seen one poor server just about in tears. She walks around on her high horse like she is the best thing since sliced bread and I see nothing good about her. To verbally abuse your staff in front of customers is not only UNPROFESSIONAL but it's uncalled for. If I worked for her and she told me, "Maybe you aren't cut out for this place. You're better off working at The Olive Garden so maybe you need to go back there." I would have walked off the floor and threw my apron in her old wrinkly face! All of Tacoma needs to know the truth about this lady!

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

Thank you for writing.

Although I do not want to start censoring comments on my blog I would like to request that readers take their beef directly to the offending restaurant owner/manager as a better way to handle complaints.

I have dined in both Primo and Crown Bar many many times, and never witnessed anything like what you describe. Both Charlie & Jacqueline run one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Tacoma. And their new Crown Bar is great.

People under-cover of an anonymous name can make all kinds of accusations --whereas we in the public, blogging under our own names might have to exercise a little more caution about what we say…as we readers of the blog have no way of knowing whether or not you might have an agenda.

Plus the comment about the “wrinkly face” just is completely inappropriate and undercuts whatever valid criticism you may wish to discuss, and hurts your point.

I am sure over the course of my 30-yr restaurant career that I have barked at a server in view of public, and while never correct, I do not wish to be judged on the worst day of my life.

There has been much written recently on The News Tribune Food Blog, and the content has gotten so mean-spirited it is starting to sound more like the Jerry Springer Food Show. I choose not to participate any longer on Ed's blog as much as I enjoyed it for those reasons.

I am not saying you did not experience what you described, merely that I would like to talk about negative experiences in a more positive constructive manner on my blog.

Thanks again for writing.