Robert Bush 5 p.m., Jan. 23
West Coast Tavern
On a whim, I popped into the tavern that abuts the Birch North Park Theatre. I had planned only to slake my thirst, but when I opened the menu I was surprised at the breadth of food available. I distinctly remember being in West Coast one night and having naught but a basket of soggy fries to offset my drinking habits. Either things have changed or my experience was simply unrepresentative of the tavern as it operates today.
There's still plenty to drink. I enjoyed an excellent Manhattan made with rye whiskey. Rye seems to be rising in popularity right now and the spiciness of that spirit makes for a lively, albeit potent, Manhattan.
The bar is also mixing up about a dozen variations of the Moscow Mule right now, one of which is rendered extravagantly expensive by the incorporation Johnny Walker Blue in place of the typical vodka.
Far beyond the soggy fries that my mind conjures up, West Coast's menu is populated by an array of small plates, salads, sandwiches, and shareable entrees. A spinach salad, while entirely conventional, had nice fresh spinach and plenty of dried currants for an acceptable price of $7.75.
A grilled romaine lettuce salad would have been more adventurous, in part because of the curious "honey blossom" vinaigrette that was offered as a dressing, but it's not always the right time for a grilled salad.
Starter plates ($5-$10) were all smaller-sized portions of bar staples like hot wings, fries, onion rings, and dips for bread.
The closest things to entrees were listed under "Chef Eli's Specialties." Chicken and waffles competed with a grilled medallion of filet mignon with gorgonzola and demi-glace, but I decided on an order of duck confit ($15.95). The leg had crispy skin and a deep, salty flavor from the cure. The accompanying Japanese sweet potato puree had an exotic look because the tuber in question has bright purple flesh that is perhaps a touch sweeter than the conventional, orange variety that's native to the Americas. A few sprigs of watercress gave a much-needed brightness to the otherwise rich dish.
My server had pointed out that everything on the menu would be served in a small portion, somewhere between tapas and regular dishes, but the duck was filling enough that it satisfied a modest appetite.
Wherever that memory of soggy fries and a short menu came from, West Coast certainly proved that there is more to the tavern than that. The patio seating was also much nicer than the interior as I remembered it, which had been dark, loud, and a bit cavernous. I would say that the menu lent itself ideally to a light meal, with a few drinks involved, rather than a full-scale dinner, so the West Coast would be a great stop heading into a night out.
2895 University Avenue