GORDON BIERSCH
600 Pine St, 4th Floor, 425-4205
Sun-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri & Sat 11am- 12 mid, bar open until 1:30 am

Nostalgic for the lost weekends
I'd spent in the beer halls of Frankfurt, I invited my friend Kevin, a sex columnist's assistant, to join me for an evening at Gordon Biersch. Beyond the hearty boks and dunkels, crisp apple wine and schnitzel, I was lonely for that warm Teutonic embrace, the great communal tables, a hostess hoisting clusters of steins (her powerful biceps big as cod), and the spontaneity of drunk businessmen.Perched on the upper deck of Seattle's attractive new commons, Pacific Place, GB's front room started things off right--a bustling bar and beergarden, chock-a-block full of the desired businessmen, already raising their voices and loosening their ties. The overtaxed waitstaff (numerous enough to have developed factions and rivalries) gave Kevin a beeper, and we waited at the bar over beer ($3.75) and GB's famous Garlic Fries ($3.95).

Gordon Biersch is enormous. The dining room seats 300, the bar another 100. The skills of an air-traffic controller (which GB does not have) would barely be adequate to streamline the rigorous travels of the 17 waiters (too few on a busy night). Tables are private, many tucked into booths along a grand central axis (festooned along its ridge with foot-thick sheaves of wheat), and the décor is lush but inoffensive. "Take away the booths," Kevin told me, "and it would look like the shoe department at Nordstrom." Kevin should know.

Piped-in hits--"My Sharona," "Bennie and the Jets," "Freeze-Frame"--offered a pleasant distraction from our disappointing pilsner and over-fruity dunkel. The pilsner was plain and clean, but with a tenacious aftertaste of old socks and corn chips. The dunkel was cloying, like wine cooler, but then I've never really liked dunkels. I was shocked that they had no apple wine! After an unusually light winter bok, I switched to red zinfandel. The ample garlic fries were merely fries with garlic on them (rather like the "chicken salad" I was once served in London--a bed of lettuce with a roast chicken on it); Kevin scraped the miserly garlic off his half and had them plain. Soon our beeper rumbled and we took an enviable window table in the crowded dining room.

If it wasn't already obvious, the menu made it clear: Gordon Biersch is not a German beer hall at all. It is, instead, one of those triumphs of the new world order, a kind of global hodgepodge of meats and gooey sauces, balanced by a nibblers' paradise of salads, fish, and deep-fried hors d'oeuvres. While I harbor a deep, even irrational resistance to such placeless mongrels as "Ahi Tuna with Cajun Remoulade" (market price) and "Pan-Fried Crab Cakes with Marzen and Limon Tartar" ($8.95), hunger buried all my petty ideological quibbles beneath an irresistible craving. I hadn't eaten all day and neither had Kevin. Who could miss schnitzel in the face of so many cheesy pizzas, steaks, and gravy-laden potatoes?

Our unnervingly chipper waitress--she assured me no one does cocaine in restaurants anymore ("it's mostly potheads")--recommended the Twin Medallions of Filet Mignon ($19.95) and the Garlic-Rubbed Hangar Steak ($15.95). We split those, along with a hideous Caesar Salad (sweetened mayonnaise with garlic and lemon drowning a few helpless spears of romaine and greasy croutons, $7.95) and an intriguing plate of Grilled Prawns laid on a bed of wilted spinach ($11.95). The prawns were sizable, thick as my thumb, but musty and dry as an old slipper. Warm bacon dressing perked up the nicely cleaned spinach.

A strange odor arrived at our table with the steaks, a sourceless smoky, chemical smell reminiscent of the barbecue but without the gritty, bitter ash of real combustion. Kevin poked at the medallions, then spread his small forest of thin, wrinkly asparagus out, searching for its source. I pried beneath the pasty mound of garlic mashed potatoes (thick and dry enough for a high school science project on volcanoes) with no luck. A glance toward the fiery open kitchen solved the puzzle. Our chef, sweating in his shirt sleeves and apron, could be seen slathering liquid smoke over a grill full of chops. He'd earlier painted this perfumy distillation all over our meat and asparagus so that, beyond the applewood-fed flames of the Gordon Biersch grill, this emblem of smoke might be stamped onto our food.

The hangar steak was unconscionably bad: stringy and so long in the tooth it smelled gamy ("like manure," Kevin said). The smaller of our filet mignon medallions was tender and fresh--perfectly seared so that it melted, soft as butter, on the tongue--while its larger evil twin seemed to have come from an entirely different animal, some tired old slab of steer left languishing on the counter. Matched by the science-fair potatoes, the odorous hangar steak, and the liquid-smoky asparagus, these pricey main courses could not have been more disappointing.

An excellent strawberry sorbet (Dreyer's) ($4.50) brightened our mood, giving us enough energy to take on the Florentine cookie sandwich ($5.95). Its two scoops of ice cream, mocha and car-air-freshener cinnamon, pinioned between thin sheets of almond butter brickle, were boastful and seductive, but ultimately too cloying. Our snifter of Hennessey ($8.50) was matched by nothing, no intriguing spices or aftertastes in the desserts, so that it sat there lonely and forlorn in its great glass, like a silk-gowned debutante at a Tupperware party.