I've often biked by the Cottonwood Grille patio in the summertime, pausing to watch the well-dressed clink their wine glasses as tufts of gauzy cottonwood coast down from the trees. The vibe, while elegant, has always seemed so country club-chic that I never gave the place a second thought.
But that ritzy rep has been concealing one very important fact: The place is strangely affordable--if you stick to the bar.
A girlfriend and I walked into the airy Cottonwood lobby for happy hour on a recent weekday afternoon, passing a pair of haughty young hostesses before slipping into the wood-accented lounge. Both in our mid- to late-20s, we were by far the youngest pair in the place. We snagged a raised bar booth amid a smattering of lawyer types and elderly couples. Fortunately, the wine list made us feel right at home. The menu features roughly 40 by-the-glass options, most of which cluster around the Northwest region. The choices are diverse and well-priced--you can snag a Brownstone pinot grigio for $4 a glass or a locally made Cinder chardonnay for $6.50.
I got equally excited scanning the bar menu, which offers items not available on the regular menu and can be ordered patio-side come summer. We decided on the Dungeness crab and salmon cakes ($6 bar, $9.95 restaurant), and a half-dozen oysters ($10.95). While the two fried cakes were filling and contained much more flaky meat than breading, the real gems were the oysters--six huge, super fresh Pacific cold water oysters served with a tangy mignonette.
When I returned to Cottonwood with my mom and sister for the full dinner experience, I was struck by the dining room's similarity to the lodge in Dirty Dancing--a big open room with stone accents, filled mostly with boisterous older men. We started things off with the baked brie ($9.95), a round mound of soft cheese encased in a crepe batter and doused in a jammy lingonberry chutney. The brie, though awkward to cut, was nonetheless pleasing once smeared messily on the accompanying bread. Our entrees--the medallions of Kobe tenderloin ($24.95), the grilled deep-sea Walu ($23.95) and the nightly special, wild-caught king salmon ($23.95)--were similarly pleasant, but not mind-blowing. My meaty white fish Walu came topped with a fresh red oniony avocado salsa and a heaping, oily square of herbed scalloped potatoes. Though the spuds weren't my thing, my mom was a big fan. My sis ordered her salmon "in a cage"--oven baked and half coated with crispy hashbrowns--which distracted from the fish's lightness, but didn't stop her from devouring the whole thing.
While waiting for a chocolate mousse ($6.50) to go, I daydreamed of the serene, not-yet-open patio. If you ride your bike by Cottonwood this summer, come say "hi." I'll be the one with an array of apps scattered before me, picking cottonwood fluff out of my surprisingly affordable white wine.
--Tara Morgan has hungry eyes for a plate of fresh oysters.Read what our other reviewer had to say about Cottonwood Grille.