I was gifted a “dinner for two” certificate to the Dahlia Lounge back in May of 2013, and of course I waited until the day before it expired to use it. I was perplexed by whether “dinner for two” was an all-inclusive appetizer/entree/dessert experience (it was) and then, more importantly, I couldn’t decide who to take with me.
The Dahlia Lounge is a bit of an “occasion” restaurant. It’s the restaurant upon which Tom Douglas has built his empire – an empire that now includes some of my other favorite places – Lola, Serious Pie, Tanakasan, Assembly Hall, Brave Horse Tavern. Dahlia Lounge is the most expensive of the eateries, and it’s a perfect place to go if you’re looking to give someone a quintessential Seattle dining experience.
The Dahlia Lounge does what it does very well. They’ve been serving their world-famous crab cakes for decades now, and the coconut cream pie really IS one of the best desserts in the city – but it’s not particularly modern or adventurous. It stays true to showcasing local, Northwest ingredients, and rather than experimenting with the menu, the Tom Douglas empire explores new concepts by opening entirely new restaurants.
So as the clock ticked down to the gift certificate’s expiration date, I was desperate to put it to good use. I went through the list of guys I’m crushing on only to find that none of them were deserving of an expensive-but-free dinner date with me. I tried to think of a friend that I would want to have a really nice meal with. I scoured the calendar for special occasions. I debated selling it for $50. I considered just giving it away to some lucky, happy couple. But then my friend Candace sprung it on me that it was her birthday, and thus the perfect occasion presented itself just in the nick of time.
So last Tuesday night, we hopped into an Uber and drove to the heart of downtown for dinner at the iconic Dahlia Lounge. We were greeted by a friendly hostess who showed us to our table – a cute two-person booth in the center of the restaurant. The crowd around us looked like mostly business travelers, looking to spend the company’s dollars on a nice dinner, and middle-aged Dahlia Lounge loyalists who have likely been going there for years.
I’d had a miserable day, so I immediately ordered a Manhattan, downed it, and ordered another one. For our appetizers, we went with the sea scallops that were served on a bed of spicy avocado goodness (from the menu: a green curried avocado, rhubarb sweet chili sauce, thai basil, peanuts) and a carrot agnolotti (pasta). Both were delightful – I haven’t had a perfectly-cooked scallop in a long time.
For our entrees, our server recommended the crab cakes and the halibut. The crab cakes are the restaurant’s signature dish – and they did NOT disappoint. Sometimes I find crab cakes to be offensively crabby but these were perfect. We also ordered the halibut (pictured below) and if we are being completely honest here – it was a total disappointment. It was utterly tasteless in comparison to the crab cakes – although it looked quite lovely. As far as halibut goes, I’m sure it was well-cooked and seasoned and executed perfectly – but the fact of the matter is that we mis-ordered in a major way.
And of course, for dessert, we had an extremely generous slice of triple-coconut cream pie – the most decadent dessert – and the doughnuts, which are brought to the table in a white paper bag full of powdered sugar, shaken up by your server, poured out onto your plate and served alongside homemade jam and a vanilla marscapone. Divine.
So all in all, though it remains one of those places that I will visit infrequently – and probably only to introduce an out-of-town guest to one of Seattle’s signature dishes, it really is one of this city’s most iconic restaurants. The Dahlia Lounge remains true to it’s original vision – one that’s worth checking in on every so often just to be reminded where Tom Douglas started and then to marvel at far his empire has grown.