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Early impressions: Taking first bites out of three new cafes – Devoted Kiss Cafe in Gig Harbor, Choripan by Asado at MoG and the Staircase Cafe in Proctor

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Feb. 17, 2012 at 5:56 am | No Comments »
February 16, 2012 2:07 pm
Eggs Benedict at the Devoted Kiss Cafe with a this-is-why-we-live here view of Gig Harbor's waterfront. Photo by Lui Kit Wong/Staff photographer

Three new cafes have opened in as many months.Today, I take a first bite out of Devoted Kiss in Gig Harbor, Choripan by Asado, the new cafe at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, and Staircase Cafe, a restaurant that has replaced The Old House Cafe in Proctor.

Devoted Kiss Cafe
Where: 8809 N. Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor
Phone: 253-851-0055
Hours: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Sunday; closed Tuesday

For better or worse, the restaurant world is close-knit. When restaurant workers are locked into small spaces for long hours, lifelong friendships can form, relationships begin with a flame or end with a fizzle.

Sometimes, business partnerships are created and new restaurants are born. Such is the case with Devoted Kiss, a nearly three-month-old cafe put together by three alumni (plus one spouse) of Anthony’s in Gig Harbor. Devoted Kiss opened in November in the space that formerly housed Harbor Kitchen. Partners Debi and Jim Viers, Christina McGahan and Devon Dengler own the restaurant, which was born out of the idea of a catering company.

The unusual cafe name is a play on the childhood nicknames of McGahan and Dengler, who were called “Kiss” and “Devo.”

The menu features classic breakfast and lunch cafe items executed with polished flair by chef Dengler, who formerly was sous chef at Anthony’s. McGahan worked front of house there with Debbie Viers.

I paid a visit during the initial weeks of business and was impressed with the sunshine-soaked cafe with an adorable fireplace and knock-out view of Gig Harbor’s water life.

Business has been brisk since the start. “It’s busier than we expected for now,” said McGahan by phone last month. “We were expecting to start off slow, and (we thought) spring and summer would be busy.”

A breakfast burrito at Devoted Kiss Cafe.

I can understand diners’ enthusiasm for the place. Breakfasts are well presented, service is friendly and the price is right. A breakfast burrito ($8) was filled with hearty layers – eggs threaded with avocado, peppers, ham and bacon, punctuated with pepperjack. A finishing touch I appreciated: The burrito was grilled before it was served, ensuring a toasty interior. Herbed red potatoes on the side were soft with the lightest crisp on the edges.

Smoked salmon Benedict ($11) came with a hollandaise that tasted heavy on butter and light on lemon, and a hefty portion of smoked salmon kissed with a sugar glaze. Pillowy eggs spilled ribbons of yolk over the crusty English muffins with the slightest push of the fork. The Benedict also came with red potatoes.

I had a difficult time believing the heart-healthy omelet ($9) was all that heathful because it tasted as delicious as the fuller-fat breakfast items. But the ingredients fell solidly in the good-for-you camp, with spinach, sundried tomatoes and feta tucked into an egg white omelet. A whole-wheat toasted bagel came on the side.

Choripan by Asado
Where: Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma
Phone: 253-248-4263
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday, open late for third Thursday art events

The Thea Foss waterfront became a destination once again last July when Social Bar and Grill, a lively restaurant with vibrant flavors created by a trio of executives from the Tex-Mex restaurant Matador, opened in the space vacated by Woody’s on the Water. Now Choripan by Asado offers a flavor-drenched next-door neighbor to Social. The Museum of Glass cafe is a project of Asado and X Group Restaurants, which also owns Masa and Engine House No. 9. It opened in mid-January. (Read my previous stories here and here).

X Group Executive Chef Joel Mertens designed a menu that’s a casual extension of Asado’s more refined Argentine steakhouse concept. The restaurant borrows from Argentina’s choripan sandwich carts, which Mertens described as “almost like hot dog carts here.” The name cobbles together two Argentinean words: “chori” for chorizo sausage, and “pan” for bread.

A bistro steak quinoa bowl at Choripan by Asado

Choripan offers a mix-and-match menu. Pick a protein (chorizo, chicken, steak, tofu or braised pork), then pick the style (baguette, quinoa bowl or salad). Prices range from $9.50-$11.75. The menu also includes more of the cafe cuisine you’d expect at a museum restaurant, including deli sandwiches priced at $6-$8.50, as well as macaroni and cheese.

A bistro steak quinoa bowl ($10.75) was built on a base of the chewy grain with a light nutty crunch. The flavor was tweaked with an acidic vinaigrette and punch from roasted yellow tomatoes, a bright companion to the hearty strips of grilled steak. Other flavor teases came from cilantro and chimichurri, a parsley-based condiment I call the pesto of South America.

A chorizo sandwich with butternut squash soup at Choripan by Asado.

A chorizo sausage sandwich ($9.50 solo, or $11.75 with a side or soup) was built on a crunchy baguette that sopped up the smear of chimichurri aioli. The sandwich offered a tease of heat with Uli’s chorizo, a Spanish sausage-style chorizo that tasted something more akin to andouille sausage than the ground chorizo you might be more familiar with. Creamy, sweet butternut squash soup on the side made for a flavorful dunk.

The Staircase Cafe
Where: 2717 N. Proctor St., Tacoma
Phone: 253-759-7336
Hours: Serving lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday- Saturday, dinner 5-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Staircase Cafe took up residence in January in the ladies-who-lunch space at The Old House Cafe, which Mark Bleckert previously operated. Gig Harbor resident Sal’An Weyer, who operated a restaurant in Oklahoma (which her daughter still runs), has turned the Proctor neighborhood restaurant into a lunch spot by day, steak-and-seafood dinner house by night (read my previous story here). The separately owned gift shop downstairs remains.

Trouble brewed on both a dinner visit and a lunch visit a few weeks after it opened. Weyer explained by phone after my visits that the kitchen is on its third chef and is in a state of transition. I found a casual restaurant with very friendly but unpolished service charging above-market prices for the experience. I left the restaurant feeling as if my money had not been well spent.

The lunch menu boasts sandwiches in the $11-$14 range, priced $3-$5 higher than competing sandwich restaurants that offer better quality and economy. (Nearby Rosewood Cafe comes to mind.)

On a lunch visit, spinach quiche ($13.99 with a salad) was a slippery stew with not a hint of cheese. A grilled Reuben showed up mostly ungrilled with unmelted Swiss cheese and chewy corned beef in a small portion for the $13.99 paid. A pecan chicken salad sandwich ($10.99) on a croissant was the only trouble-free dish. Sandwich sides of sweet potato waffle fries mixed with potato chips would have been better served warm.

The dinner menu has prices in the same range as some of Tacoma’s finer restaurants, such as Asado, Primo Grill or Pacific Grill. Yet the execution of dinner was far under the performance of those restaurants. A $29.99 ribeye steak that was watery, dull and unevenly grilled left me fuming at the pricetag. The salmon was an improvement in execution and with a more modest $19.99 pricetag.

Strange moments turned the meal awkward. When we asked for a wine list, we were told the only list was in use by other diners. When we pressed for Northwest vintages, our server paraded imports and California wines. And by paraded, I mean that she hand carried over bottle after bottle. The experience seemed as frustrating for her as for us.

A note to diners: The Old House Cafe had sold Living Social coupons, which the Staircase is not honoring. Living Social spokeswoman Jody Gavin told me diners can “call us at 877-521-4191 or email us through our website at help.livingsocial.com/contact_us and we’ll provide a full refund. Please note members should contact us before the Feb. 23rd expiration date on the voucher.”

Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune. Reach her at: 253-597-8270, sue.kidd@thenewstribune.com

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