REMEMBER THAT extraordinary little place on Westlake called the Arrowhead? Some 10 or so years ago a lot of us counted ourselves regulars there for its enchanted hand with Southwestern food. I remember egg-and-chorizo breakfasts with great fondness, along with a shocker of a salad I'd never seen anywhere before or since: onion watermelon. Bick's Broadview Grill
10555 Greenwood N, 367-8481 dinner 4-10pm daily MC, V; full bar I know, it sounds horrific. That it wasn't horrific, but exhilarating, was emblematic of Arrowhead's singular charm and culinary vitality. So you can imagine my distress five or so years ago when I returned to Seattle after a long absence and found it closed. And my delight when I wandered into a neighborhood joint in North Seattle last month and discovered it to be Arrowhead's reincarnation. Well . . . sort of. A year or so after owner Greg Beckley closed the Arrowhead—too small, he thought, and no deck—he went looking for a neighborhood joint and found it in Broadview, just north of Greenwood. Unlike the narrow, wedge-shaped Arrowhead, Bick's Broadview Grill is capacious and open, flanked by a long bar on one side and a breezy deck on the other. It's the perfect neighborhood drop-in spot, imbued with a jolly, publican's spirit of welcome, though this is no pub; you can order the hard stuff here. Perhaps this explains the invariable crowd. It definitely explains the jolly. Even the servers are fun, and—on two of our three visits, anyway—very efficient. One steered us into the fry bread appetizer ($3.95) and immediately I was off in nostalgialand, dreaming of Arrowhead's sensational version. Would Bick's be as fine? Alas. The version here is a little leaden, a shade more redolent of the fryer than it ought to be. This turns out to be a distressing pattern. An appetizer of spring rolls, which we sampled stuffed with spicy rock shrimp ($6.95) and Dungeness crab ($7.95), tasted too greasy, although the former offered sporting competition in the form of sheer fire. A dinner of crab cakes ($17.95) also tasted too fried, though its conception as a plate recalled some of Arrowhead's verve. Chef Stephanie Lynch, who worked under the great Leslie Dillon at Arrowhead, placed three of the crusty cakes atop a perky, creamy slaw of Napa cabbage and daikon radish, and encircled the tableau with a green swirl of cilantro pesto and dollops of nicely offsetting sweet-and-sour tomato sauce. Wonderful complementary flavors. But, unfortunately, flavor isn't always Bick's strongest suit. Many creations hit just high or just shy of the mark. An appetizer of Thai curry chicken skewers ($6.95) featured spears of bland chicken over a cake of delicious but too oily coconut rice, all alongside spicy Asian slaw and sweet-and-sour hot chili sauce, the latter of which was asked to provide the lion's share of flavor. Similarly, smoked duck quesadillas ($7.95), though stuffed with large chunks of roasted vegetables and a salsa fresca of tomatoes and habanero chiles, managed somehow to register as bland. Ditto a dinner called flattop chicken ($13.95), in which a half chicken marinated in sage, thyme, and garlic was flattened on the grill, flavored with basil and tarragon, and served with horseradish-garlic mashed potatoes, herbed goat cheese, and saut饤 lemon spinach. Such a creation had no business tasting boring, but did—perhaps due to over-seasoned potatoes that fairly walloped every other flavor on the plate. Too often in this kitchen, flavors you expect to taste noble and distinct are modulated wrong, with results going muddy or brash. Witness the star vegetarian item: a ginger-lemon grass flavored portobello mushroom ($12.95) served over vegetables and coconut rice with asparagus and cilantro pesto. Way over-gingered, the fascinating potential of the dish was squandered, and this diner, dreaming in vain of her lost Valhalla of flavor, was deflated. THANKFULLY, this was not the end of the story. We sampled a risotto primavera ($13.95) that was sprightly and deft, studded liberally with asparagus, broccoli, carrots, and squash, and seasoned stylishly with sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Five lovely prawns lolled elegantly offside. Delectable. Sandwiches were equally grand, particularly the triple-deck oyster club ($9.95), in which bacon, lettuce, tomato, and plenty of sweet chipotle mayo showcased the plump cornmeal-crusted little beasties. Alongside came a zesty black bean and corn salad my palate fondly recalled from Arrowhead, which complemented nicely. We also liked the burger ($8.95), whose menu description offered no hint of its excitement. Good ground beef held melted jack cheese, shredded lettuce, a heap of grilled onions, salsa, and a wedge of avocado. A whole mess of fries added to the fun. Salads were another happy surprise, particularly the unlikely grilled Caesar ($6.95). Though I vowed in a recent review never again to try a salad billed as "grilled," this one was killer, perhaps because lightly grilling the romaine for a minute actually does bring out the flavor of the lettuce, as our waiter told us. Anyway, half-a-head of said romaine was served like a filet, topped with crostini and Parmesan and drizzled with a sensational roasted garlic/balsamic vinegar dressing that I only wished had circulated around the lettuce more. Likewise, the garden greens salad ($6.95) was a major mountain of a meal, tossed with Gorgonzola, candied walnuts, grilled pears, and terrific frizzled shallots. Desserts left us in an elevated mood, particularly a big golden square of peach cobbler ($5.95) and a slice of lemon honey cream cheesecake ($5.95), which was built on a moist and buttery graham cracker crust and gritty with fresh lemon. Clearly a lot of guests leave here in a happy frame of mind, judging from the droves who come back. Its failings notwithstanding, Bick's is a place to come back to, given its large menu and something-for-everyone appeal. If you compare it with its neighbors in those far reaches of Seattle's North End, Bick's is a player, no doubt. It's just when you compare it with its predecessor that it . . . well, don't compare it with its predecessor.