FOR A VARIETY of reasons too numerous to chronicle, I recently found myself needing to luncheon in Bellevue. (For the purposes of this review, let "luncheon" serve as a verb meaning "to dine midday in ladylike fashion.") I immediately thought of 22 Fountain Court. 22 Fountain Court
22 103rd NE, Bellevue, 425-451-0426
Mon-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat 5-9pm
AE, DC, MC, V; full bar I hadn't heard much about it lately, but in past incarnations when the place was known as Azalea's Fountain Court or, previously, simply the Fountain Court, it luncheoned beautifully. The food was just fine, I think, but what left the impression was the charming setting: a former home off Main Street transformed into an elegant cottage complete with loft, two cozy patio dining areas, and burbling fountain. It was a Martha Stewart dream, made for luncheoning. Would it still be? Last year the owners changed the name to 22 Fountain Court; what else might have changed? We arrived for lunch and noted that ol' Martha would still approve. Pretty antiques, dried wildflowers, and Grandma's mismatched china sustained the tone of quaint sophistication, the only jangling element being nondescript wall art that didn't seem to fit with the rest. Then the lunch menu provided another start: Where the decor of the place might lead you to expect the usual lunching-ladies lineup of dainty salads and soups, you find instead the likes of a rib-eye steak with Roquefort dressing, a rich pasta with mushrooms and smoked salmon, a big old Reuben. Urp. We began our lunch with an appetizer-sized serving of crab cakes ($10, entree-size $14), which were served smushy and golden alongside red pepper aioli and a nice little arrangement of lettuces in a tasty gingery dressing. We also tried the crab sandwich ($12), which was a better showcase for the same onion, pepper, and cilantro-kissed crab cake recipe, here topped with melted Gruy貥 on a buttered, toasted baguette. Fine. The aforementioned manly rib-eye ($14) was all right, inhabiting a plate shared with a Caesar salad, but cooked longer than our request of medium rare should have warranted. Finally, we sampled the Union Pasta ($11): penne in a balsamic butter sauce tossed with smoked salmon, red onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Remarkably, this one tasted fishy—remarkable since the dish was relatively lean on salmon—and was otherwise plain dull. In short, our first meal at 22 Fountain Court was plain fine—an inoffensive yet undistinguished yawn, foodwise. There were grace notes: The bread that arrives when you sit down comes with a couple of scoops of whipped butter, one enlivened with herbs. Service inclines toward the formal and hovering, which can become its own brand of annoying but is at least faultlessly polite. WHEN WE RETURNED for dinner, the ambiance of sunlight streaming through paned windows was replaced by twinkling candlelight, and was every bit as charming. The evening menu was just as robust and high-end as lunch's had been. There was a $27 pepper-encrusted filet mignon, a $20 apple-Roquefort stuffed pork loin in merlot syrup, and a $19 maple duck breast paired with a mushroom-Andouille sausage ragout. (Is it me, or does this read more like an autumn than a spring menu?) We began with an appetizer-sized portion of Buddha scampi ($14, entree-size $23), and were impressed at the skewer of fat, fleshy prawns that arrived, swathed in a piquant coconut-curry sauce brightened with bits of tomato and carrot. This dish woke us up, and the sauce, though perhaps oversweet, was lush and large. My companion, meanwhile, appeared perplexed. What had looked weird on the menu revealed perfect truth in advertising: an apple and olive salad with chopped tomatoes and "a hint of Southwestern flair" ($6, entree-size $9). That hint turned out to be chile powder rubbed on the apple slices, which turns out to be a pretty criminal thing to do to an apple. The dressing, sweet with hazelnut oil, did nothing for the green olives, and as the crowning indignity the tomatoes were mushy. The evening's special, risotto with crab, sea bass, and halibut served in layers with a marinated portobello mushroom ($26), wasn't bad at all, served in a towering presentation with a moat of golden sauce and spokes of asparagus fanning out from the center. The risotto was nicely done, the fish flavorful and generous of proportion, the portobello excellent. My dinner, pan-roasted Chilean sea bass with mashed potatoes and a trio of sauces ($22), was also good, though flawed. The fish was nicely prepared, as light and tenderly roasted as you please, flavorfully crusty without, and full of all of this rich fish's wonderful oils. However, the accompanying sauces—toasted mustard oil, vodka vinaigrette, and aioli—gilded the lily; why drench an oily fish in more oil? The accompanying mashed potatoes, livened with bits of potato skin, added a textural variant. In short—OK. Desserts continued the trend, the best being a critter called Gentleman's Sandwich ($6) in which a couple of delectably gooey chocolate-toffee cookies sandwiched a fat scoop of vanilla ice cream and Kahlua cr譥 anglaise. The other two desserts we sampled were perhaps too keen on putting their distinctive signature on the classics: a little cupcake-sized lemon cheesecake ($6) floating in a boozy soup of berry liqueur and a cr譥 brl饠($6) studded with apple slices. All just fine of a spring evening, within these classy surroundings, but not, alas, exceptional in any way. And more not-exceptional at lunch than at dinner, which is a shame since this place continues to have "luncheon" written all over it.