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Stadium seating for gourmet meals

Tacoma Stadium District bistro is the little engine that will

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ANNOUNCER: As the city of Tacoma continues to expand out into neighborhoods with character, the Stadium District quickly rises as a dining destination.  The Harvester is no longer the only game in town.  Entrepreneurs who wield wooden spoons rather than slide rulers have decided to make this district along the bay a better place to live and eat.  Late last year the Stadium Bistro joined the team with a large space and a stylized menu to offer less of the same.

JASON: A bit inconsistent and in great need of an interior designer, don’t write off this bistro as down for the count.  The word among foodies is mixed, but I see great promise and have tasted several superb dishes, making it easy to believe that as long as the heart is there the reputation will grow in a positive direction.

JAKE: In my dream neighborhood, there are a few essentials: a good bookstore (King’s Books), a decent music store (come back Mother Records!), a place to buy awesome soups (Stadium Thriftway), and a friendly bar (Doyle’s Public House). A park would be nice (Wrights Park). And I want a dining spot with friendly service, late hours, impressive bar and gourmet food — a place like Stadium Bistro.

JASON: The menu choices are daring. Chef Pete Weikel and his father, the other Pete Weikel, skip the flow, attempting to create choices that defy convention. Take the lunch menu for example.  The only red meat choice beside open face sandwiches is a venison filet.  While wild game is the new black, it’s a red flag in capped letters for many diners.

JAKE: Having eaten at Stadium Bistro a number of times in the last few weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that Chef Weikel is one of the city’s most overlooked chefs.

Weikel’s culinary pedigree includes classic French cooking studies at the Pacific Culinary Institute in Vancouver, B.C., as a teen, a tour at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, and then a stint at Seattle’s Cascadia Restaurant. He’s one of the few restaurant chef/owners I’ve ever heard say “please” to employees. If you pay attention to the staff at Stadium Bistro, you get the sense that this is a happy and contented team. There doesn’t seem to be the dark management-by-fear cloud that can hang over restaurant kitchens.

JASON: That is good because the service has a way to go.  My first visit on an uncrowded Thursday evening took two hours to complete.  The server took two visits to complete our drink order.  He signed two of us up for wine and then departed, leaving our third diner without a vote.  He came back a few minutes later to finish up.  That pretty much sums up the evening.

JAKE: Are you sure he wasn’t just covering the real estate? Stadium Bistro expands the length of a stadium.  It’s a trek to the restroom.

My service went smoothly: proper tableside approaches, drink never empty, didn’t freak out when the elder Weikel invited me back into the kitchen for a tour.

According to Weikel, a rushed experience won’t be tolerated.  If they feel overwhelmed, they’ll lock the doors and concentrate on the folks inside.

Chef Weikel claims everything is made from scratch — pasta, pastry and mayonnaise.  A microwave doesn’t exist.

JASON: The servers always like you best.

JAKE: The fare at Stadium Bistro is mainly the French country cuisine typical of urban brasseries in that country — with a modern touch. A classic country cassoulet, for example, with white beans, duck confit and Portuguese sausage was divine. By the way, if you love French onion soup like I do but don’t necessarily want to wade into the immense bowl of cheese, I recommend a bowl of Chef Weikel’s French onion soup — made with slow-roasted sweet onions and a slice of demi baguette over the soup to divide the cheese.  Although it had a burnt taste on my first visit, the second go-round produced rich and hearty results. The best soup arrives before the meal in a tiny cup — porcini mushroom lobster bisque with cream. It’s bisque made for lovers, so delicious that I was tempted to pour it over my date’s most succulent parts for the sheer enjoyment of licking it off.

JASON: Please. The Stadium Bistro does a nice touch with the complimentary appetizer at the start of the dinner.  The night I visited we received a fried oyster shooter breaded with coarse rock salt. I adored the pan roasted Muscovy duck breast with candied yams and a black currant demi-glace.  The first bite tasted like Thanksgiving.  While the very center of the duck was undercooked, it wasn’t enough to put me off the meal.  I loved the sweet and crispy skin as well as the firm, fleshy yams. The pheasant, unfortunately, didn’t fare as well — from one end of the bird to the other our teeth traveled from overdone to underdone.  My lunch, however, reaffirmed my earlier comments that the Stadium Bistro is not to be dismissed.  They still have bugs on their bugs to work out, but my open-faced salami sandwich was sensational on a baguette with heavy mustard. 

JAKE: The seven-option lunch menu includes seared venison and wild mushrooms sitting on wide, flat pasta. Meaty, not gamy, lean yet incredibly flavorful, it was possibly the tastiest venison I’ve eaten.

JASON: Absolutely!

JAKE: Other lunch options include sautéed gnocchi, sautéed calamari with house-smoked tomatoes, and salt roasted pears and grilled chicken salad with roasted beet and yogurt dressing.

JASON: Mushroom butter gave extra flavor to the beautifully seared beef filet — medium rare just like I requested.  While the accompanying sautéed heirloom potatoes rocked my world, the $41 price tag seemed a bit high.

JAKE: Stadium Bistro offers a very interesting list of wines by the glass and bottle, starring Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($60), but the reasonably priced Domaine Laffont Madiran 2003 ($39) will do the trick, especially with the duck breast. Chateau Montelena Cabernets dominate the special reserved list, which is like purchasing a blue-chip stock. 

The talent in the kitchen doesn’t try to rewrite dessert, just exceptional crème brûlée, French vanilla ice cream and a trio of cookies with sipping chocolate.

Stadium Bistro

Where: 204 St. Helens St., Tacoma, 253.683.4150

When: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Menu: Chef Pete Weikel is adding new flavors to Tacoma with bistro fare that leans toward French country cuisine.  Meat is butchered, pasta made and pastries created on-site. A phone call can produce a vegan and vegetarian tasting menu.

Scene: A woman did not design this space.  The colors and space are a lot like a convention hall.  The kitchen is open for all to see, and they don’t mind if you watch.  A chef table sits in the kitchen that can be reserved for the entire night where diners eat at Chef Weikel’s whim.

Drinkies: An impressively stocked bar with many of the finer pours in life.  The worthy wine list carries four or five of each varietal with single pours and two reserved wine lists.  

Damage: Nothing unusual for fine dining — two people won’t escape for much under $100.

This review ran in the Feb. 8, 2007 issue of the Weekly Volcano.


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