On the ground floor of the Fairview Building in South Lake Union (the one that houses Mbar on the 14th floor), Bar Harbor (400 Fairview Ave. N. #105, 922-3288) seeks to fill a unique niche, delivering food inspired by the Atlantic Northeast, rather than serve the much-celebrated Pacific Northwest fare that currently dominates, for obvious reasons, the culinary scene.
It’s a conceit that could have easily piqued my interest and palate as a Northeast expat who often misses Maine lobster and blue crab. However, the rather sterile space, more of a bar than a restaurant, with the usual concrete and steel industrial chic and one floor-to-ceiling wooden shelf with jars of pickled items, growlers, and some nautical ephemera, misses the mark. And because there’s no wall to separate it from the first-floor arcade where other shops reside, it feels somehow like an afterthought, or a place to merely pass through on the way to somewhere else.
Though lobster, crab, and shrimp rolls are here, they’re all rather sad, served on a smallish bun—like a sandwich you’d find in a kid’s lunchbox. I ordered the Oregon (not exactly Northeastern) Bay shrimp-stuffed one, and the tiny shrimp were not just bland, but unpleasantly fishy. The rolls come with one of three sauces: mayo, butter, or mayo/celery/chive. The butter, instead of seductively melting lightly into the grilled bread, instead was soppy. We relayed our dissatisfaction to the server, and it was kindly taken off the bill. She also suggested the lobster roll—it’s better and their most popular, she said. That may very well be true, but if so then lose the shrimp roll altogether. Bar Harbor does serve New England clam chowder (plus a seasonal chowder, squash-based on my visit), and it’s a pretty decent version, with plenty of clams and a broth that is not overly creamy and thick, with a savory, smoky bump from the addition of bacon.
Though not seafood-based or particular to a region, I couldn’t resist trying the Cheeseburger Tartare, which comes doused in cheddar cheese, “special sauce” (of the mayo/Thousand Island Big Mac ilk), and a pickle. Due to the special sauce, it does give the suggestion of a cheeseburger, but it was impossible to tell how good the meat itself was since the sauce dominated. After a few bites, its one-note character renders it quite resistible. I left more than half on the plate. The crab & kale Caesar was solid—very lightly dressed and not skimpy on the Dungeness crab, which I appreciated. However, if you’re selling yourself on the Atlantic Northeast angle, go the extra mile and secure some blue crab. The burrata with seasonal accompaniments, in this case figs and squash, both of them mushy and bland, fell short on flavor and contrast. Burrata, beloved for its ultra-creamy, gentle flavor, pairs best with stronger, salty elements or very rich, sweetish ones that enliven it. These, however, lacking both, add nothing to the dish; and, perhaps for the first time ever, I was able to turn down another bite of seductive burrata. A pity. None of these dishes, in fact, have anything to do with the Northeast.
Drinks, on the other hand, are nice, and I could perhaps see Bar Harbor becoming a pit stop on the way to Mbar or an after-work cocktail spot for Amazonians—though with so many new bars cropping up in the area, it may not have enough appeal to compete. Ultimately it seems like a lost opportunity to play around with the East Coast theme, or even to just do it classically but well. As the restaurant scene revs up in South Lake Union (and all over Seattle), there’s simply no space for the mediocre.