It’s an ongoing problem for me. Friends and acquaintances who find themselves in Queen Anne e-mail to ask where they should eat. While I cherish my lovely, quiet neighborhood, we may have some of the worst, or at best mediocre, restaurants in the city. Sure, there’s Lloyd Martin if you want to drop some dough, Betty with its boring but dependable menu, and Eden Hill, with an ambitiousness that can dazzle but sometimes goes off the rails. My default is answer is usually Ethan Stowell’s How to Cook a Wolf, because, though not my favorite Stowell restaurant, it’s solid. So a few months ago when Grappa (2 Boston St., 466-1027, grappaseattle.com), a Mediterranean restaurant with Greek and Turkish owners, opened on Queen Anne Avenue, I felt a flurry of excitement.
I decided to dip my toes in first, and tried the happy-hour menu, available in the bar only. The souvlaki was the first dud, a tiny stick of maybe two overcooked chicken kebobs and a couple of sad-looking pieces of onion and green pepper—all of it flavorless. I guarantee your dad grills better kebobs in the summer. The meatballs, too, are ho-hum. Fortunately, everything was $5.
Still, I figured the dinner menu must be better. There must be a reason the place is so often quite crowded. Among the starters on the dinner menu, I inquired to our friendly but harried waitress about the Spaniard Octopus. She explained that they fly in a whole octopus, rub it down with lemon and olive oil before charring it on the grill, and that we’d get a whole tentacle from it. She recommended the dish, saying it was something you don’t see on other menus. The dish arrives with a pretty pool of orange slices, their juices commingling with a grass-green gremolata to create a watercolor-like effect. The tentacle is cooked nicely (not rubbery) and benefits from the bright citrus, but two of us got two and a half bites each, which seems ridiculous for $18. Also, I’ve had octopus like this all over the city, so I’m not sure what makes it special—or Spaniard. A Caesar salad is decent, but on the small side for $9.
The menu also features quite a few pasta and risotto dishes. My daughter went for the gnocchi, to which you can add Bolognese, pesto, marinara, or Alfredo sauce. She opted for the Bolognese, which is more a tomato cream sauce with some meat. The gnocchi themselves are huge and unappealingly pasty.
For entrées, we went with Greek Chicken and lamb chops. The Greek Chicken is, according to my server, very similar to the chicken piccata, pounded chicken breast with lemon but minus the capers—more a creamy dish with feta cheese. What it is, in fact, is three small pieces of overcooked, slightly lemony breast for $19. The creaminess is the addition of a few pieces of feta scattered on top. It comes with a side of bland pasta (did I get transported back to the ’80s?!) that even my daughter, who will tolerate almost any form of noodle, declared terrible. It made me suspect that there is likely some serious bean-counting going on at this place. The one redeeming dish, the lamb chops, are also mercilessly small, especially for $29. At least they’re cooked nicely, pink in the middle, seasoned well, and served with a tasty side of sautéed onion, fennel, eggplant, and olives.
The highlights of the meal were my grappa-based cocktail—a sunset-colored affair of prosecco, St. Germain, grappa, and strawberry—and dessert. Though they were out of baklava, our first choice, the cheesecake, made with goat cheese and molded in a ball with a lightly fried coating and served with a blueberry compote, is luscious.
Neighborhood people will likely keep coming back here; the room is stylish with copper pendant lamps, beautiful wood walls, comfortable chairs, and a curved turquoise banquette that runs along the center of the restaurant and provides backing to quite a few tables. There’s outdoor seating too, always a plus. But if you don’t live here, don’t bother. Head to Capitol Hill’s Omega Ouzeri instead, and get truly inspired Greek food.
As for friends asking me for a suggestion of where to eat in Queen Anne? Well, I’m back to where I started. Ethan Stowell, you’re still in luck.