SOME THINGS NEVER change. Some things never should. The Deluxe Bar & Grill on Broadway has just undergone a major change—new decor, new room, fancy new menu. Want the good news or the bad news? The Deluxe Bar & Grill
625 Broadway E, 324-9697
dinner 5pm-midnight (weekday lunches and weekend breakfasts coming soon)
AE, DC, MC, V, no checks; full bar Since I didn't hear what you just said, I'll give you the good news: the new fries. Big improvement. The old plank fries were mushy and starchy, with an unfortunate tendency to go menacingly gray if left too long on your plate. The new ones are golden, crunch satisfyingly when you bite them, and taste of rosemary and parmesan. They arrive in a monster pile beside your burger or your sandwich, and they continue tasting delicious long after you should have stopped eating them. They recall the Deluxe's famous baked potatoes, the second-best thing about the fabled old Broadway joint. Who didn't enjoy those monster bakers, stuffed to the skins with fatty fillings and vivid flavors? Alas, those big kahunas are not on the new Deluxe menu. And that's the bad news. Actually, I regret to report, it's more like the tip of the bad-news iceberg. When we visited the Seattle classic, it had been reopened three weeks since the remodel, long enough for this seasoned kitchen to have a handle on its new menu. But in two piggy visits, we encountered many more misses than hits. Roasted corn and lobster fritters ($6.95) were too bland and doughy, and not near enough redolent of lobster to have earned their name. Another appetizer, smoked salmon over potato pancakes topped with dill cr譥 frae and scattered with capers ($7.50), featured shamefully leaden latkes. Tamari chicken satay ($5.95) was plain awful: skewers of dry, oddly bitter marinated meat and a pineapple salsa with an off-the-mark sweet-to-spicy ratio. A rock shrimp tostada ($7.95), the day's special appetizer, was also poorly modulated: tender shrimp layered with tomatoes, green onions, and crisp flour tortilla discs into a sort of tower that was not only unwieldy to eat, it was alarmingly dressed in a fiery cilantro-lime dressing. The onion rings ($4.95), a holdover from the old menu that tasted like doughnuts (but not in a bad way), were better. Vegetarian spring rolls ($5.25) won the modest distinction of being the best of the appetizers we sampled: a crispy casing stuffed with lots and lots of fresh vegetables, dusted with sesame seeds, sprinkled with too little sweet garlic sauce (ask for more of it—it's good), and served atop a festive little slaw. As much as I hate to report it, both salads off the fresh sheet were also badly flawed. Sesame-crusted tuna with soba noodles ($9.25), though featuring a generous and generously treated hunk of seared fish, flogged you with its wasabi dressing. And why were its noodles so chewy? And why, since I'm asking, was there so little goat cheese in the grilled chicken and goat cheese salad (8.95)? (I counted five blueberry-sized dollops.) And why were the spears of chicken breast grilled to death and beyond? And why was the spicy dressing pooled in some parts of the salad and missing from others? And why did this unintegrated, overpriced, undersized disappointment of a meal appear on Deluxe's menu in the first place? MAYBE MY EXPECTATIONS were unfairly high or my memories misleadingly rosy, but the old, unimproved Deluxe was just a whole lot better than this. Having opened as a tavern at the close of Prohibition, it added a little grill in the '50s and gradually worked up to its recent reputation for good hefty burgers, the aforementioned baked potatoes, and very happy hours. Decoratively, the place had long been challenged, its long narrow room cleaved down the middle by a big etched glass partition. The resulting interrupted sight lines, along with the ever-present crowd (they've never taken reservations) and packed-in tables, made a meal at the Deluxe an adventure in claustrophobia, an experience that reflected the teeming civilization of Broadway and was therefore oddly right—or, at least, not half wrong. That said, the physical improvements do add comfort. They've busted out into the hair salon next door, adding a generic setup of eight or so new tables and puffy-plush banquette booths along with two pool tables in back. In the main room, removal of the etched glass partition adds welcome airiness. In short, the Deluxe is still a paper-napkin place; it's just the menu that has moved uptown. There's a fresh sheet, for instance, and from it you could order grilled halibut marinated in lemon and thyme, and served with confetti vegetables and wild rice pilaf ($12.95). Just know that you might be disappointed, as we were, by the dryness of the fish. Or you might order grilled top sirloin with horseradish mashed potatoes ($10.95) and be generally impressed. Or you might choose chicken and wild mushroom saut頨$9.95), and find before you a complete mess of overcooked chicken with sage and red wine sauce making a soup of the roasted garlic mashed potatoes. THE MORAL, OF course, being this: You don't go to the Deluxe for chicken and wild mushroom saut鮠You go for the burgers and sandwiches, which are, from our experience, still worth eating. The spicy chicken club ($7.95) features avocado, peppered bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a too-fat hunk of grilled chicken breast on foccacia bread. It's a big yummy mouthful. Ditto the BOA burger ($7.50)—that's peppered bacon, sweet vidalia onion, and avocado—with Swiss cheese on a kaiser roll. And those fries. Then you finish up with dessert, which at the Deluxe is reliably great. Order the chocolate layer cake ($4.95), a big airy wedge of black cake with crunchy-fudge frosting and white chocolate mousse between the layers. Or the New York cheesecake ($3.95), which is classic and creamy and fabulous. Or a tart little slice of refreshing Key Lime pie ($4.25). Or a big autumnal bowl of apple cobbler with nutmeg cr譥 frae ($5.50). These items, along with the baked potatoes the management says may soon return, are reason enough to drop into the Deluxe again—as long as you know to avoid the more hifalutin of the menu's pretensions. If they asked me, I'd advise them to undo all the menu upscaling they just did and focus on making the food reflect the first best thing about the Deluxe, which is, of course, its irresistible, historical jointness. The servers, quirky individuals whom we found unfailingly engaging and efficient, already reflect this. Why not let the food do the same?