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Critiquing a Retro Grillhouse, the Daily Grill at  the Sheraton Seattle
By Nancy Leson, Seattle TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sep. 7, 2007 - Retro grillhouse! Enormous menu! Portions to match! Potent libations! What a concept!

It certainly was 20 years ago when the Daily Grill made its debut in Los Angeles. Now trading on the Nasdaq, the GRIL also trades on such specialties as Certified Angus Beef steaks, chicken pot pie, meatloaf and fresh fruit cobbler. It's a place meant to offer modern-day comforts -- espresso martinis, free wireless and plasma-screen TVs -- while evoking the Great American grill of yesteryear.

The local version, unveiled in June as part of a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Seattle Sheraton, is the latest in a lineup from Grill Concepts Inc. -- parent company of the original L.A. eatery the Grill on the Alley, and its offspring, the Daily Grill.

Having no first-hand knowledge of either, I invited a friend, late of La-la-land, to dinner. In a spacious dining room whose clean-lined decor shouts "Corporate version of Old School-chophouse!" we shared a comfortable leather booth with progeny of our own.

Staring down the lengthy menu, our boys insisted we start our meal with popcorn shrimp. Good call. The tempura-fried rock shrimp were chubby, crunchy and heaped high. Their later pick, not so good. The young gents insisted we order a trio of mini-strawberry shortcakes whose cloying sauce tasted like something you'd find on a Dairy Queen sundae.

Between start and finish, I tried a lackluster Caesar salad and a marinated charbroiled skirt steak as good as (but not any better than) something charbroiled in my Sears Kenmore oven, at home. And a fine chicken piccata, the breasts pounded into matching medallions and served with honeyed carrots the likes of which I haven't seen in a restaurant since the '80s.

Back then in L.A., my friend recalls, a visit to the original Grill meant you'd be tended to by seasoned pros who served "incredible" Caesar salads so crisp and exciting they were the talk of the town. She remembers enjoying one while Mary Tyler Moore's producer-wasband Grant Tinker held court in a corner. On another visit, actresses Holly Hunter and Amy Madigan sat at a banquette table swilling cocktails, sharing a huge platter of fries and shrieking with laughter.

Fade to Seattle, 2007. The scene: a 7,000-square-foot restaurant that caters to hotel guests and the Convention Center crowd. No stars, but bit players -- like a friendly expediter whose starched coat came perfumed I Marlboro. And a bored waitress who went through the motions: dropping off a half-loaf of cottony bread and foil wrapped butter, perfunctorily tending to us as if we were just another foursome from Fresno, never to be seen nor heard from again.

But there's no such thing as a single visit in my line of work, and after several, I learned that if I were going to smile my way through a meal here, I should certainly have the key-lime pie. And to skip the $20 Dungeness crab Louie with its salty crab, rubbery boiled eggs and wan hot-house tomatoes. (At the height of tomato season? Hate to see them in January!)

The fresh sheet can be hit or miss. The hit: a grilled Castroville artichoke, its leaves prettily trimmed for dipping into red pepper aioli. The miss: baby back ribs and gulf shrimp scampi ($21.95), a clunky, oddly sauce-free combo that would have impressed me -- if I'd been traveling first-class in the friendly skies.

Do have the whole stuffed Idaho trout. It's a classic of the genre, carefully dressed and generously stuffed with jumbo lump-crabmeat, the skin seared to a crisp and anointed with roasted-hazelnut butter. And don't miss the chicken pot pie. Big as a Frisbee, capped with a crust that has more pull than flake, it hides a multitude of riches -- including a gentle bechamel and tender hunks of chicken.

I overheard a charming waiter expound upon the joys of the aged rib-eye ($27.95). Had he waited on me, I'd have bought the up-sell. Meantime, I'm sold on the 12-ounce "Classic Cheeseburger" -- a thick patty offered with a double dose of fries (shoestrings on the side, onion rings on top, $13.50).

My husband, on the other hand, would point you toward his childhood-favorite: chopped steak. This full pound of coarsely ground chuck, pink-centered as promised, arrived on a sizzling cast-iron platter circumscribed by piped mashed potatoes. I was willing to overlook the pale "caramelized" onions that came with the chopped steak, but he refused to overlook the fact that his side of creamed spinach was cold at its center.

Nor was he willing to forgive our server, who was so busy waiting on an extended family reunioning midroom, we were forced to flag down someone else to complain about the spinach. Which was kindly whisked away and swiftly returned -- still chilled at its center.

I never made it to the Daily Grill for breakfast. But I did enjoy a leisurely lunch in the company of retirees in Hawaiian-print shirts and conventioneers in company logo-wear. Had those out-of-towners asked this critic what was good, I'd have pointed them to the many only-in-Seattle restaurants within walking distance of the Sheraton. But first, I'd have given them a bite of my chicken pot pie.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com. More reviews at www.seattletimes.com/restaurants

Sample menu

Popcorn shrimp $9.95

Iceberg wedge $8.50 lunch/$8.95 dinner

Chicken pot pie $14.95 lunch/$15.95 dinner

Chopped Beef Steak & Onions $15.50 lunch/$18.95 dinner

Baked stuffed trout $24.95 dinner

Key lime pie $7.50

American 1.5 stars$$$ Daily Grill

629 Pike St., Seattle;

206-624-8400,

www.dailygrill.com

Reservations: Recommended.

Prices: Breakfast entrees $5.50-$18.95, lunch starters $4.75-$12.95, entrees $8.95-$19.95, dinner starters $4.95-$12.95, entrees $12.95-$29.95, desserts $7.25-$7.75, children's menu $4.95-$6.95.

Hours: Daily for breakfast 6-11 a.m.; lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; dinner 4-11 p.m., happy hour 4-7 p.m.

Drinks: Top-dollar top-shelf cocktails, wine list with a broad mix of West Coast and Old World labels plus many by-the-glass options.

Parking: Public lots nearby.

Sound: Moderate.

Who should go: Hungry hotel guests, conventioneers, business lunchers.

Credit cards: All major cards.

Access: No obstacles.

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To see more of The Seattle Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Seattle Times

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA. NASDAQ-SMALL:GRIL,




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