TWO YEARS AGO, Kirkland Patch made its debut with an article about the changing face of Kirkland dining. Since then, Kirkland has gained a few restaurants and lost a few, and holes remain in the city's dining options. Top Shelf Broiler recently opened in the prime Kirkland Avenue location of the former Olive You, seeking to fill an important downtown void -- a good steakhouse.
Most passersby probably haven’t noticed Top Shelf, largely because the signage has yet to be changed. Owner Melony Halenbeck, who bought the restaurant in November, claims the slow transition is to make sure all of the kinks are worked out before making the change official. One peek inside should clue anyone in to the transition.
Gone are the tacky white slip-covered chairs and the fluffy clouds interspersed with red umbrellas. Halenbeck, a 23-year veteran of the restaurant business, made sure the dining room facelift went the more elegant route -- dark red walls and cherry wood tables with heavy (and heavily scuffed) cast iron chairs.
Perhaps food and service will distract, I mused, frm the smooth jazz blaring through the speakers, making conversation a bit challenging. In a recent interview, Halenbeck declared service to be an important aspect of the changeover, in addition to creating a homey feel with historic Kirkland photos.
My server was sweet and friendly and in over her head as the only staff person in the dining room that day. She heroically greeted customers at the door, seated them, took orders, filled water glasses, bussed plates, ferried drinks from the neighboring Trevelli bar, delivered food from the kitchen and, eventually, brought our check.
The menu is fairly standard. I probably could have predicted every salad without even looking at the menu -- house salad, Caesar salad, the iceberg wedge with blue cheese and bacon, and a caprese salad. Appetizers like fried calamari, coconut shrimp and clams in white wine sauce should feel familiar as they grace just about every menu on the West Coast.
The chef’s take on crab cakes was visually appealing -- deep fried balls stuffed with a good portion of crab meat on a drizzle of balsamic reduction with a side of chopped avocado. It was pretty, though a little confusing from a culinary standpoint with the balsamic pulling in a very different direction than the avocado (which was already turning brown).
But never mind the salads and appetizers, Top Shelf Broiler is in the steak and seafood business. At our table, the cedar-planked salmon (served on top of the mashed potatoes though still on the cedar plank) was cooked nicely -- very moist but also without much seasoning; the steak came topped with an herb butter but was overcooked. Mashed potatoes whipped to a wallpaper-paste consistency accompanies every entree on the menu, while other sides like asparagus and grilled tomato could do with a seasonality check.
Overall the menu feels like the chef threw together a list of things seen in the average steakhouse without considering important elements like what vegetables might be best in winter or what sauce might complement a certain cut of meat.
A new restaurant is a blank slate. It is an opportunity to do something differently -- to fill a niche we didn’t even know we needed. Top Shelf Broiler feels achingly familiar, although I’m sure most people who walk through the door are perfectly happy with familiar.
Furthermore, most new restaurants are worth more than one visit. We hope time will mature Top Shelf into a first-rate steakhouse worthy of its first-rate location, overlooking the shimmering waters of Moss Bay.