A glass of complimentary sparkling wine handed to me as I sit down for dinner.
I could get used to that.
A server who can effortlessly explain every ingredient in a summery chicken fettuccini, followed by a commentary about the proliferation of rhone varietals in Washington state.
I could really get used to that.
In an era when diners are looking to spend dining dollars wisely, Brix 25 is a splurge restaurant that sinks serious effort into earning those dollars.
Husband and wife Thad Lyman and Katie Doherty purchased Brix 25 in May 2009. By then, it already had earned an ironclad foodie reputation spanning two separate owners since opening in downtown Gig Harbor in 2004.
It makes sense that two wine enthusiasts would purchase the restaurant.
Doherty and Lyman came here from Napa to purchase Brix 25, but their story began in Tacoma more than 13 years ago when the couple met at Stanley & Seafort’s, where she worked front of house, he worked in the kitchen. They moved together to California and worked for corporate restaurants small and large, eventually winding up partners in a Napa Valley restaurant – Napa Valley Grill – with an emphasis on pairing Napa wines with food from their favorite wine regions around the world.
That theme continues with Brix 25. The flavors, the culture, the staff of Brix 25 is immersed in wine culture and it percolates in every dish, and extends to the conversation with diners. Brix 25, under the previous ownership, won the Washington Wine Commission’s highest award in 2008 for wine restaurant of the year. Although Lyman and Doherty are new at the helm, they’ve continued Brix’s reputation as a shepherd of Washington wine. During two anonymous News Tribune visits, several Brix staff members shared information about Washington grapes, vineyards and winemakers with their wine recommendations. For seasoned connoisseurs versed in Washington wine, the 18-page wine book (complete with tasting notes) will impress in scope and depth. (A few Oregon bottles are offered as well.)
Brix 25 exudes a vibe that invites diners to sit back and get comfortable for a long, luxurious dining experience whether dining outside on the cheery patio or in the elegant, moodily lit dining room decorated in subtle, earthen hues.
Although Brix 25 has evolved under Lyman and Doherty’s ownership, some staples have remained: the complimentary sparkling wine, and the longtime favorite menu item, boeuf bourguignon. But Lyman has put his own twist on the food at Brix 25 – and it’s food made with wine in mind.
Salads and soups were impressive with deliciously layered flavors and playful presentations. A warm, puckery, pureed peach soup ($9), which Lyman calls a twist on Thai-style sweet and sour, was poured tableside, spilling gorgeously over a tangle of chopped raw ahi and a relish of diced, salted cucumbers threaded with mint. A blue cheese wedge salad ($10) turned on its side in a kitschy boat presentation held layers of tart cider vinaigrette, diced Granny Smith apples, creamy blue cheese dressing, chunky Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon, slippery avocado and sweet cherry red tomatoes – all nestled inside crispy romaine leaves.
Appetizers provided bargains with dishes starting at a modest $5. Stuffed Spanish piquillo peppers ($5) arrived in a vibrant display of fiery orange-red against a simple, black, rectangular plate. The three small roasted peppers, similar in taste to sweet bell peppers with just a glimmer of heat, were nestled with mounds of lightly spiced sausage. The dish was draped with a creamy orange romesco sauce, fragrant and nutty with Marcano almonds, and tinged with tomato and the sweetness of more piquillo peppers.
An overflowing bowl of Jalisco-style clams and mussels ($15) paired perfectly tender briny bivalves with a peppery broth boozy with brandy and chile de arbol, a fragrant, smoky Mexican pepper. We dunked the house focaccia into the deep reaches of the bowl to chase after those wonderfully bright and earthy flavors that fuel Mexican cuisine.
Slices of a memorable pear bruschetta ($10) fanned a white plate, topped with a crunchy, bitter frisee salad. A chutney of balsamic and honey-poached pears sweetly harmonized with the creamy, rich sharpness of barely melted cambozola cheese. The creamy sweet duo kissed their crunchy companions: chopped hazelnuts and crisply toasted crostini.
A Kobe beef meatball appetizer ($5) was one of only two missteps. Two Kobe meatballs arrived loose, with a rubbery, pebbly texture, and pulverized upon contact with the fork. The Oregonzola blue cheese stuffing rivaled – bitterly – for attention with an overly acidic house-made marinara. In the end, they both lost.
New York Strip Steak a la Florentine ($31) was advertised as fork-tender by our server, which almost never is true. (I wish servers would stop saying that about steak.) The grass-fed meat was grilled medium rare as requested, but was chewy, tough and too lightly seasoned. Lyman reported in an e-mail that he intentionally seasons lightly with a simple sprinkle of sea salt and a charred lemon spritz. We found ourselves chasing the seasoning in alternating bites. A flavorful side of garlicky sausage – made in Olympia by Tri-City Meats – paired with sautéed peppers outshone the dry steak. Sinfully delicious whipped Yukon gold potatoes – which Lyman uses because of the potato’s rich flavor and minimal waxiness – were simply seasoned with salt and white pepper, and carried just a lick of tang from buttermilk.
The same creamy potatoes, with just the slightest texture to hold interest, showed up with the filet mignon ($35). The filet, hand-butchered by Lyman (he butchers all steaks and fish in-house), arrived medium-rare as requested, perfectly seasoned and unctuously tender. The steak was paired with a rich ragout made with silky sweetbreads and velvety beech mushrooms – a nutty, earthy mushroom with an appearance resembling leggy enoki – and a sauce flavored by marsala wine, veal stock, tomatoes and an herbal finish from oregano, thyme and basil.
Ocean troll-caught pan-seared King salmon ($29) was sublimely silken, and made even more so from a buttery, smooth hazelnut beurre blanc sauce. The accompanying al dente risotto was creamy rich and studded with chewy bits of slab bacon. Zippy peppercress and caramelized oven-roasted carrots didn’t last but a moment on the plate.
Seared chicken fettuccine ($23) was a dish made for summery evening noshing. Ribbons of delicately chewy house-made pasta – sweetened with a carrot puree – pooled in a light pan jus made with chablis, chicken stock and butter and topped with grana padana cheese. Snappy asparagus, carrots and peas hit just the right summery tone to pair with the light pasta and sauce.
Pork loin ($19) can turn leathery in the wrong hands, but three generous medallions of grilled orange and lemon-marinated loin were tender and juicy, perfectly paired with a meaty mushroom marsala sauce, those sinfully creamy mashed potatoes and crisp baby carrots. The entrée was one of the bargains on the menu.
After a year at the restaurant, Doherty and Lyman have settled into a role as food ambassadors for Gig Harbor. Last summer, they hosted dinners for musicians who played the city’s summer concert series. They host monthly wine dinners bringing well-known Washington winemakers to meet with Gig Harbor diners. This weekend, Lyman will host a cooking demonstration at the Gig Harbor Wine & Food Festival.
Gig Harbor is lucky to have them.
Where: 7707 Pioneer Way, Gig Harbor
Info: 253-858-6626 or harborbrix.com
Hours: 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4:30-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Insider tips: Reservations recommended. Half-price bottles of wine offered Wednesday nights. The name Brix 25 is a nod to brix, a unit of measurement used to determine the sweetness level of fruit. Brix 25 is thought to be the optimal measurement for red wine.