Hill Street Blues
15th Avenue Is a Magnet for Mediocrity
405 15th Ave E, 324-6406
5 pm–2 am, food until midnight
Kozak's Bar and Grill 332 15th Ave E, 709-4600
Mon–Sat 11 am–11 pm; Sun 11 am–10 pm
I've always had big hopes for food on Capitol Hill's 15th Avenue. In particular, for five-odd years I've walked by the empty shell formerly known as Jack's Bistro and wondered when—when!—someone would finally open a new restaurant there. Hell, I even went there when it was blechy old Jack's because I liked the courtyard so much. Then someone finally did it: Where once there were graffitied windows, there is now San Francisco-in-the-70s-era brass and stained glass. Welcome to 22 Doors!
The new room is a hectic mishmash of dangly '60s-era chandeliers, salvaged mahogany woodwork, and a '90s-style sponged-on paint job. The courtyard is still there (canopied, even) and it's still hard not to like—give me a heat lamp and a roof of canvas and I'll gladly buy a cocktail.
The cocktails, by the way, are as nutty as the decorations. There is much muddling going on—of blueberries, cherries, and golden tomatoes. There are drinks made with rose-petal liqueur, chai, even beet juice. It's all very intriguing, but in the face of so many combinations, I retreated to a glass of champagne ($9), served flat. Not everyone in my party was so sheepish. A stronger take on a Pimms cup ($9) bears no resemblance to its inspiration other than a cucumber garnish; a "greyhound" made with tequila, cinnamon, and red grapefruit juice is quite nice ($9); and a basil grapefruit combo ($10) that sounded sketchy on the menu will in the future be ordered in bulk—it's just what a fruity drink should be.
The food menu has a similar, impishly eclectic feel to it. Truffly shoestring French fries ($5) are served underdone and under-truffly, and an artichoke crab dip ($8) tastes like neither main ingredient, but a bowl full of mussels and clams ($7) is perfectly nice in a Thai-ish bath of coconut curry.
Our entreés were similarly uneven. The cheeseburger is made with naturally raised beef and cooked to order, but it was shrimpy, overwhelmed by its bun and condiments. In my book, an $11 burger should cut a more impressive figure. Catfish tacos ($15) were the catch of the day, and the fish was fine, but it was served on leathery tortillas and alongside what my friend calls the "world's most boring Spanish rice." Short ribs ($12) were also so-so, not braised long enough for true succulence, but served on a nicely cooked bed of beans.
As we ate our entreés, the dinner crowd gave way to the drinkers (even our waitress seemed to have sassed it up a notch midway through the meal); the lounge seemed to be coming into its element. If it weren't for my fennel-crusted poussin ($15), I might have taken a cue and copped a drinks-only policy for 22 Doors, but I was charmed by the tasty birdlet, spatchcocked and seared flat as it was. So I suppose I have now adopted a liquor/poussin policy. (Please mispronounce for humor.)
Across the street, the space next to Starbucks is perennially occupied by a pub so forgettable I hardly notice its near-annual turnovers. Years ago it was a Scotch bar; more recently, it was a decent Irish-ish place. Now it's Kozak's Bar and Grill, and there's a quiet Polish undercurrent running through the menu, including house-smoked meats, bottles of the very tasty Black Boss beer, and a spry, hoppier beer called Zywiec ($3.66). Stick to beer or vodka, because the food is just sad. The husband and I moped our way through one particularly dismal dinner: tired chicken wings ($7.99); bland pierogis, served with charred bratwurst and oppressively salted caesar salad ($12.99); and old-tasting sliced meats in barbecue sauce ($13.99). A second visit was better with a sweet Midwestern waitress and a smoked-halibut sandwich on a big kaiser roll ($8.99), but even then the fish's smoke flavor was more caustic than inviting.
I'm still looking for my food revelation on 15th Avenue. Maybe it will come when that sushi/cocktail/pizza place finally opens near the waxing parlor. But I won't hold my breath.