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Service problems abound, but Stanley and Seafort’s does deliver a stunning view

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Nov. 29, 2013 at 12:00 am | No Comments »
December 3, 2013 8:43 am
The view from Stanley and Seafort's is one of the finest views in Tacoma. Dean J. Koepfler/Staff photographer
The view from Stanley and Seafort’s is one of the finest views in Tacoma. Dean J. Koepfler/Staff photographer

More than 40 years ago, Walter N. “Mickey” Hogan intended to turn a slice of McKinley Hill into apartments. But the would-be apartment builder and his then-wife Lynda shared a delightful evening at Seattle’s Canlis Restaurant.

A new idea percolated: A restaurant with a stunning view of Tacoma.

Today, Tacoma diners know that view restaurant as Stanley and Seafort’s. Back when it opened in 1971, it was Walter N’s Ltd.

Hogan still lives here, but also calls California home. He still owns the building and land where Stanley and Seafort’s operates. He operated Walter N’s for eight years before selling it to Arnold Shain, a legend in Seattle circles as a restaurant concept man. It briefly landed back in Hogan’s ownership after Shain exited, and then Restaurants Unlimited took over in the early 1980s, branding the restaurant Stanley and Seafort’s, part of its chain of restaurants that serve similar menus of steaks, seafood and American chophouse classics.

As when it was founded more than 40 years ago, Stanley and Seafort’s provides that this-is-why-we-live-here view, an unparalleled glance from its perch atop Tacoma. Water, mountains, the working waterfront, downtown Tacoma, visions of commerce and community — it’s all on display from McKinley Hill.

Stanley and Seafort’s is a restaurant I love for that view — I just wish I could extend that love to the food and service. In five visits spread over seven months, I found occasionally uneven food and consistently sloppy service. Overall, I’d say Stanley’s is “good,” but with dinner items solidly around $30, it’s a restaurant that should rate “great.”

Recent visits were much better, presumably from the addition of new general manager Shawn Murphy.

Since his summer arrival, Murphy has made improvements to surfaces that were showing wear. On one spring visit, a slab of wood molding precariously hung by a nail just over my shoulder and a faucet in the restroom wobbled something fierce. The former has been fixed, but not the latter. Murphy said last week that the interior will soon see improvements, including new carpet.

With a dual mission as general manager and executive chef, Murphy also has streamlined the menu to make entrées move quicker out of the kitchen. I appreciate that because on three of five visits, dishes took too long to arrive, despite a gaggle of servers on standby at that bustling display kitchen.

On one visit, a server promised to excise a beef carpaccio from our tab because of that long delay. As the hired belly for this newspaper, I don’t accept freebies and I was prepared to argue to leave the dish on the bill or leave a hefty tip compensating for the dish. I didn’t have to worry about that – she didn’t make good on her promise.

That sort of careless treatment was the status quo for three of five visits. We suffered through disappearing servers, forgetful servers and servers who overshared embarrassing information. (Tip: I don’t want to hear about your DUI when I’m dining in your restaurant.)

One stellar lunch and a decent happy hour visit almost made up for the shortcomings of one server who steered my dining party to the diet section of the menu without being asked. Did I mention the server who approached from behind and served dessert over my shoulder? He’s lucky I didn’t jump and make him topple that side dish of bourbon caramel sauce.

Ignoring service gaffes, there’s plenty to like on that surf-and-turf menu, but enough consistent failures to make me believe Murphy’s got some work ahead of him. Some items described here no longer are on the menu.

A showpiece of the kitchen is the smoker, which turned out luscious cold-smoked salmon ($9.95) threaded with capers and red onions, like a Sunday morning lox version of the classic beef tartar. An appetizer of smoked beef carpaccio ($10.95) was supple and delicious, despite that one frozen piece (perhaps the defrosting was why it took so long to arrive).

A starter of raw oysters ($13.95) was ethereal, served with a charred lemon and a horseradish-heavy cocktail sauce – as perfect as I’ve ever had in Tacoma. But with the best of times come the worst of times: An appetizer of steamed clams ($11.95) held sandy grit, a crab dip ($15.75) tasted more artichoke than crab, and a wedge salad ($7.95) came with dressing that tasted like blue cheese-flavored water.

That magical smoker was put to good use for dinner entrées. The supple sirloin ($27.95) had a smoky flavor and buttery texture. A magical prime rib ($29.95 petite cut) is made daily, started in the smoker-warmer at 6 a.m. so that it’s ready and melt-in-your-mouth good every afternoon by 4.

Less successful from that smoker was the land-and-sea combo of brisket and ribs with coconut prawns ($29.95). The smoked brisket tasted leathery, the ribs swampy, the shrimp mushy.

The bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($18.95) also was overcooked.

Regional interpretations came with unusual presentations. Instead of being smothered, a southern-style seafood étouffée ($28.95) was served with a side dish of sauce, separate from mussels, clams and scallops expertly handled by the kitchen. Shrimp tasted overcooked.

The hot pastrami sandwich at Stanley and Seafort's is made with a quirky touch straight out of Pittsburgh - French fries tucked into the sandwich.
The hot pastrami sandwich at Stanley and Seafort’s is made with a quirky touch straight out of Pittsburgh – French fries tucked into the sandwich.

A seafood Louie salad ($25.95) had the intriguing addition of grilled salmon atop what usually is a chilled salad. Had the salmon not been overcooked or wilted the lettuce, that dish might have worked. The Louie shrimp tasted splendid.

An entrée of seared scallops ($30.95) was silken, sweet, plump and seared medium rare. But that dish was sullied by lukewarm potatoes — off-temperature side dishes were a problem on two visits.

For a first-time visit, consider lunch at Stanley’s, a destination for some of the highest powered suits in town. The Chophouse burger ($12.95) on a glossy brioche was perfectly flame-grilled. A trio of Cubano sliders ($12.95) had perfect porky punch from braised pork and smoked ham. A hot pastrami sandwich ($14.90) was the best I’ve encountered in Tacoma – layers of thinly sliced beef on lightly grilled rye with the quirky Pittsburgh-style addition of fries right in the sandwich.

The service at lunch? As impeccable as that view.

Sue Kidd dines anonymously. The News Tribune pays for all meals.

Moscow Mule and scenic Tacoma. This is the cocktail to try at Stanley and Seafort's.
Moscow Mule and scenic Tacoma. This is the cocktail to try at Stanley and Seafort’s.

Stanley and Seafort’s
Where: 115 E. 34th St., Tacoma
Contact the restaurant: 253-473-7300, stanleyandseaforts.com
Hours: Lunch served weekdays, dinner served daily, brunch on weekends.
Spirits: One of the best cocktail menus I’ve encountered in recent months. Try anything with the housemade ginger beer. The Moscow Mule ($7.95) was a tip to nostalgia, served in a copper cup and full of ginger. The Dark and Stormy ($8.95), a rum-and-ginger concoction, was the best I’ve encountered outside of Tacoma Cabana. A complex cucumber-and-whiskey cocktail called the Light and Sunny ($10.95) sparkled with the addition of ginger beer and lime.
Wine list: Heavy on California and European varietals, with a decent show of Washington and Oregon reds. The by-the-glass selections were offered in 3- and 6-ounce pours — a nice attraction for oenophiles who like to sample.
Noise: Manageable, but noticeable when at capacity.

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