A New Leaf

A North Seattle eatery offers its neighborhood one-stop ethnic dining.

On the official map of Seattle neighborhoods, Maple Leaf looms fairly large. If you don't actually live there, however, odds are your mental image of the neighborhood is quite vague. The freeway cuts it off pretty effectively from an approach from the west, while the snarl of streets and traffic where Roosevelt meets Lake City Way confuses comers approaching from the south. This may account for the fact that though I have long heard of (and heard good things about) the Maple Leaf Grill, I had never dined there. But the Grill is under new ownership and management, and has, moreover, engaged a publicist of terrifying enthusiasm and efficiency. So, having missed a celebratory supper for the press, I felt almost obligated to drop in soon thereafter. Is the little business district at Northeast 90th Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast the commercial as it is the geographic heart of Maple Leaf? If so, it is clear the residents do not do a lot of their shopping close to home. Apart from the Grill, the immediate streetscape offers the Snappy Dragon Chinese restaurant, a small storefront proffering educational aids to the math- challenged, and the skeletal remains of what might once have been the miniest of minimalls or a failed self-storage operation. Inside the Grill, though, all is well. The well-lighted, spacious bar is dotted with drinkers with the comfortable look of regulars, the greeting to even first-time visitors friendly bordering on effusive. Promptly seated and provided with drinks (a glass of South African sauvignon blanc, $6, and the house double martini, $7), we fell to perusing our menus. The first word that came to mind was "eclectic": Honey-glazed pork tenderloin with peach compote ($15.95) hints at nouvelle americaine; sake-steamed clams and mussels ($10.95) of the once-mysterious East. Paella ($16.95), described as a "seafood and sausage stew . . . in a saffron-tomato broth," suggests an almost cavalier reconception of the Spanish classic, while Mars oyster stew ($14.95) may be, as the menu says, "a Maple Leaf Grill tradition for 15 years," but given the artichoke hearts, ham, and spinach listed among its ingredients, that must be the only traditional thing about it. Apart from an appetizer portion of quesadillas ($6.95), we chose to let our effusive—well-nigh flirtatious—server suggest our meal. He chose two specials: a beef tenderloin ($19.95) and a creamy chicken pasta ($15.95). All three were decently cooked, passably presented, and—apart from the beef proper, which my companion, by her own testimony, "inhaled"—underseasoned and -spiced to the point of blandness. (Yes, the salsa with the quesadillas, too.) A shared dessert portion of bread pudding ($6.95) was solid and heavy as a brick, also underflavored, but redeemed to a degree by sopping in its little pool of whiskey cream sauce. On a second visit, we ranged more widely: Our appetizer choice was a kind of autumn caprese: grilled eggplant topped with melted mozzarella ($7.95). The eggplant was lovely, but by the time it got to our table, the mozzarella dabs atop it had congealed to the flavor and texture of tile caulk. The "roasted red pepper pesto" was not in evidence; instead, each slice of eggplant was accompanied by a slice of wan autumn tomato. Our main dishes finally produced a hit: The "Southeast Indian Seafood Curry" ($16.95) was a bargain, a big bowl of coconut-milk- seasoned broth full of nuggets of scallop, prawn, and whitefish. My companion wasn't as lucky with her "Moroccan Chicken Stew" ($16.95), which afforded the sweetish undertone common to North African cooking but failed to offset it with the necessary peppery antidote. Even if the flavor hadn't been so cloying, there wasn't enough "stew" to moisten the mound of couscous it was poured over. To finish, I ordered the bread pudding again (I'm a sucker for bread pudding), hoping that the disappointing first portion had been a fluke. It hadn't been. How to sum up the Maple Leaf and its diverse, half-fulfilled ambitions? We concluded that delivery was too inconsistent to qualify the Grill as a destination, but that its one-of-everything survey of world cuisines, even its avoidance of vehement seasonings, may make it just the place for one-stop ethnic dining for the immediate neighborhood. The pleased family groups, smoochy young couples, and contented single drinkers certainly seem to say so. rdowney@seattleweekly.com Maple Leaf Grill, 8929 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-523-8449, MAPLE LEAF. 11:30 a.m.– 10 p.m. Mon.–Sat.; 3–9 p.m. Sun.

 
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