Arriving at Ivar's Salmon House on Lake Union, it's hard not to notice the view: nothing but silvery lake water, dotted with a few sailboats, between you and downtown Seattle. Unfortunately, this type of stunning view is all too often inversely proportional to the quality of the food. With a little care and some scheduling help, though, you can be sure to get in, get your view on, and get out without feeling that you paid too high a price.
Copper River salmon season is on now, and it might make you feel a little like you're going to break the bank. Even just for the sockeye meal at Ivar's you're looking at spending over $25 on your entrée. Upgrade to the king--a fattier, tastier fish--and you're moving the needle over $30. Due to different diets, the king has a much less 'fishy' flavor, a difference you can test with the excellent Grilled Copper River Salmon combo option, which gives you a grilled slice of each, king and sockeye.
How does this become a good deal? Because Monday is half-price wine night. When you're paying only $20 for your $40 dollar bottle of wine, that salmon seems a lot more reasonable. The wine list reads like a who's who of Washington wineries, with Walla Walla hits like L'Ecole and Leonetti, as well as budget-friendly Columbia Valley options, like 14 Hands and Sagelands.
It's a good deal, with the views and the wine, but don't go in unwarned: Stick to the simple seafood and you'll succeed. Opportunities to venture off that path are consistently met with overly sweet, flat flavors. The cornbread could just as easily be dessert as bread plate. Excellent oysters would be tragically marred if you were to use accompanying strawberry mignonette, as much waffle topping as oyster accoutrement. Even potato sides seem sugary. But the salmon, that which is the namesake of the restaurant? There--along with the view and the discounted wine--Ivar's has the secret to success.