Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2+
Dahlia Lounge is famous for being famous. That’s what appearing in a Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie will do to a place. And just like those ’90s superstars, who were at their peak in Sleepless in Seattle, the Dahlia hasn’t had a smooth transition into the new millenium.
For locals, Dahlia Lounge is the kind of place only tourists frequent. And my most recent visit there explained why. There’s an unmistakable assembly-line air about the place, both in food and service. We were swiftly herded to our table, seated, and made comfortable with a brisk efficiency that made me think of flight attendants. Our food arrived so quickly, I wondered just how much of it was premade.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. The Sea Bar sampler ($21), for example, was a fun and tasty assortment of little bites that showcased Douglas’s forte: his knack for inventive sauces and bold flavor combinations. The Kona Kompachi, with horseradish, apple, and yuzu were little jewels of ruby tuna. The Dungeness Crab consisted of crab memorably tossed with lemongrass, chili and mint. The smoked black cod with hot mustard was savory and hauntingly smoky. The Ahi tuna with Meyer lemon and smoked Manila clams with skordalia were also delicious tastes of bold flavor.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.
The shrimp-scallion potstickers ($13.50) were good–definitely a step up from your average fried potsticker. But the White Salad ($9), a mix of frisee, cucumber, parmesan, tuffle oil, and lemon was just strange–clumsy and out-of-balance.
The dinner entrees were very generous–which isn’t good when the contents of the plate are only OK. The black cod was tasty enough, but the large pile of crisy noodles it sat on was thoroughly uninspiring. The same problem–excess noodle–marred the savory five-spice roast duck. Wide noodles wok-fried with large florets of broccoli and served in a heaping pile–not exactly a lovely or inspired presentation. Both dishes made me think of Chinese diner fare: hot, greasy, filling. But not cheap: At $28, both entrees should have been far more restrained and elegantly executed.
But maybe restraint and elegance are not what the Dahlia does? I ask this question because I’m not quite sure what niche this restaurant is supposed to serve–aside from convention-goers and tourists. There’s a whiff of bygone splendor in the dishes from the kitchen, to be sure, but not enough to inspire a return visit anytime soon.