Eating at a club has always had a certain cachet. The quintessential club-dining experience is probably still the Rainier Club, with its wood-paneled walls, hushed corridors and many fireplaces.
But dining at one of Seattle's many clubs or associations offers more than just exclusivity. There are some real culinary treats out there if you are lucky enough to get invited — or willing to become a member.
The Rainier Club, 820 Fourth Ave., Seattle, 296-6848: Lunch at Seattle's Rainier Club turned out to be much more enjoyable than one might expect if you last went decades ago. It started with a greeting by name for the member and a handshake welcome for the guest. Staff remained remarkably attentive for the entire stay. We ate in the main dining room, which was quite bright and airy.
The Rainier Club has a soup, sandwich, salad and cookie bar lunch available in its lounge. The halibut and monkfish entrees that we had for lunch were well accompanied (by polenta fries and mushrooms for the monkfish) and the Caesar salad came in edible bowls of fried cheese.
We were there for lunch, but we checked out the wine list, which was surprisingly reasonably priced. The Rainier Club has a wine committee, which prides itself on finding interesting wines and good values.
We did not give into temptation, but the dessert menu looked excellent, including a wide variety of sorbets and ice creams made on site. And, if you simply cannot decide, the club features "a symphony of desserts," bringing a platter from the pastry shop, including chocolates, fruits, cookies, and tastes of the ice cream and sherbet. We will want to return for that.
But remember, when dining at the Rainier Club, the dress code is business casual (no jeans).
Washington Athletic Club, 1325 Sixth Ave., Seattle, 622-7900: The WAC offers a vintage, Seattle club experience. We recently lunched at Torchy's (464-4626) on the second floor. Although the ambiance is old school, and the décor a little heavy, it was nicely alleviated by a table next to the window. The contemporary cuisine is complemented by an award-winning wine list.
The server was friendly and attentive; the service and food quality solid. The charmoula steak salad avoided the usual ho-hum steak salad ingredients. This salad was served with nicely arranged slices of a grilled flat iron steak, fennel, orange segments, almonds, chèvre, kalamata olives, frisée, and spinach with a light charmoula vinaigrette (marinade of oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and herbs such as cumin, coriander and sometimes saffron). An adherent of the caveman diet would be thrilled with this selection.
While vegetarian menu options were sparse, our server graciously cooperated in crafting a vegetarian version of the southwestern Cobb salad, made with romaine, mint, frisée and Cotija cheese, which came with a peppery chipotlé dressing. While a little overzealous with the green onions, the unique chipotlé dressing and Cotija cheese were a welcome and interesting variant on this classic salad.
Dom Polski (aka PB Kitchen), 1714 18th Ave., Seattle, 322-3020: Most places we review in this column are commercial. They exist because they want your money, and in exchange they feed you and/or provide you with a "dining experience."
Dom Polski (the "Polish Home") is not in that category at all. Dom Polski exists to give expatriate Poles and their families a place to gather, celebrate Polish culture and history, pass on Polish traditions to their children growing up American, and perhaps to feel a bit homesick together.
There is a cafeteria on the ground floor of Dom Polski, which is open for dinner (and Sunday brunch) to members. "Membership" in this context turns out to be a convenient fiction: pay $1 and you are an instant member for a day and can dine in the cafeteria.
The menu is limited to standard central European fare: pierogi in several varieties, pickle soup, borscht, sausages, breaded pork cutlets and "stuffed pigeons" (actually cabbage leaves stuffed with meat). The pierogi made this reviewer weep with joy they were so delicious. The pickle soup was good, but could have been hotter.
Homemade pies and cakes cover the bar counter, which also is where you go to order Polish beer (try the Zywiec — pronounced "zeev-yech"). Prices are very reasonable, but bring cash, as no credit cards are accepted.
This place has no pretensions: Please do not come here expecting a quiet, romantic meal and a servile waiter. The floor is wood and the ceiling is high, so it gets loud (you will not hear your mobile phone ringing) and the service is charmingly amateurish and overwhelmed during peak times. Come here for authentic Polish food and, with the sound of Polish being spoken all around you, the illusion of eating in a bustling restaurant in a small market town by the banks of the Vistula.
A brief digression while we are on the subject of Polish food: here's a shout-out for George's Deli: 907 Madison St., Seattle, 622-1491. It is a very pleasant walk from downtown Seattle on those rare days when it is not drizzling. This Polish deli has quite simply the best deli-style sandwiches this reviewer has found in Seattle, and the prices would be very reasonable even for a sandwich that was only half as good (and half the size — these are overstuffed monsters).
Try the pastrami sandwich on rye for a piece of carnivore nirvana. The corned beef sandwich is also excellent. Here's a secret for those in the know: While it is not on the menu, they will make you a head cheese sandwich if you ask nicely.
George's has a refrigerated case with sausages, jars of pickles line shelves on the walls to the left, and candy and boxes of cookies can be found on the right. Buy a box of "piernicki" biscuits with your sandwich, to munch on later in the afternoon. There is no place to sit and eat here — everything's strictly to go.
If you are looking for a club happy hour, a membership to the Columbia Tower Club (701 Fifth Ave., Columbia Center 76th Floor, Seattle; membership director, 219-6747) will leave you feeling on top of the world. The Columbia Tower Club is situated at the top of the tallest building in Seattle and has breathtaking views of our fair city.
Happy hour starts at 4 p.m. and comes with a fabulous wine special: only $1 for the first glass. The food is more than acceptable, although tries a bit too hard. The grilled cheese sandwich was somewhat over-constructed with the addition of almonds to the comfort food. Yet the Korean barbecue quesadilla was an adventure in unique flavor combinations. Served with either seasoned pork or tofu and jack cheese, it also comes with a side of perfectly spicy kimchi and a jalapeño and apple salsa. The spiciness of the kimchi and salsa offset the quesadilla nicely, making the entire dish an excellent happy hour treat.
Food at all of these clubs (and at George's) receives Dining Out With Schwabe's seal of approval.
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a multiservice, Northwest regional law firm with offices in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Bend. For comments on this article or to share your favorite places to eat or drink with the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt attorneys, contact Christopher Howard at email@example.com; see also www.schwabe.com/dining_out.aspx.