Puck's

When Wolfgang Puck's gaudy, overpriced, mediocre Harbor Steps restaurant went under, several people I know heaved a sigh of satisfaction. Maybe karma does work. The emergence of a new Puck's cafe in Benaroya Hall, open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (and two hours before events), actually furthers the karma theory, since this is precisely the kind of setting where the celebrity chef's SoCal-accented casual-dining concept functions best: a place filled with people on the go who aren't expecting too much. That's not meant as faint praise, because Puck's is pretty good. Their "cream of" soups ($3), in particular, are excellent. The asparagus version arrives piping hot, crisscrossed elegantly with what appears to be crème fraîche; unlike lesser asparagus soups, it's flavorful without deriving its zest primarily from salt. The mushroom soup is even better: Big chunks of shiitake and other semi-exotic 'shrooms swim in a creamy (but not heavy) broth that tastes faintly, wonderfully, of sherry. You can also get somewhat soggy strips of garlic- and shallot-marinated portobello mushroom in your Caesar salad ($6; $6.50 with mushroom), along with skippable croutons and, happily, anchovies in the above-average dressing. Among the sandwiches, the veggie ($6) goes too heavy on herbed goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, but the grilled cheese ($5) comes through. Puck's version winningly pairs mozzarella and white cheddar with basil aioli on well-grilled sourdough. On the whole, Puck's is a decent lunch idea for downtown workers who've run out of other options. Maybe that's faint praise, but it's praise nonetheless. 200 University St., 206-748-7800. DOWNTOWN

 
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