Words & Photos: A taste of Smoke + Cedar in Tacoma

By Ron Swarner on March 1, 2014

There are a couple things to know right off the bat about Gordon Naccarato's new Smoke + Cedar restaurant, which opens tonight. First, for the next week, it's dinner only by reservation. Chef/owner Naccarato, Executive Chef John Louderback, Sous Chef Kristen Lyon and the staff take deep pride in their new playful Northwest restaurant at Allenmore Golf Course and strive for perfection. They'd like to control the environment for its inaugural week. Second, it's fun. The Northwest "lodge" interior design comes from McVey Oakley Design Studio, the same firm that designed the interior of Pacific Grill, and includes whimsical antlers, smoking elk stag artwork by Tacoma artist Chuck Knigge, modern lighting and colorful carpets. Third, the 165-seat restaurant also sports an 80-seat patio to the south side, which undoubtedly will jump during the warmer months. I can envision as many people standing as seated in a party atmosphere. Last, and what a wonderful surprise, Dino Shivers, he of a longtime stint with Tacoma's Crown Bar, is running Smoke + Cedar's bar operation, which includes a long bar to snuggle up to his creations.

Last night my better half and I, and a few family members, were fortunate enough to dine during Smoke + Cedar's test run. It's not fair to review a test run, so I won't. That said, the grilled 100 percent Angus chuck half-pound burger ($15.95) with marvelous smoked tomato ketsup, Tillamook vintage white cheddar and Nueske's bacon stole my heart. The surrounding medical community will adore this burger, especially once lunch operations are a go. The beer-battered Alaskan cod with panko ($14.95) arrived crisp, not greasy and bursting with favor. The blow torch prime rib ($26.95) was what I expected from Naccarato, who also owns Pacific Grill in downtown Tacoma - a lovely piece of meat cooked to medium rare order with a twice-baked poutine-style potato log dotted with Beecher's cheese curds(!) and smoked bacon. And an amazing Smoke + Cedar Salad ($6.95) arrived decorated with golden raisins, spice pecans and peppered, and I mean peppered, herb yogurt dressing. Not offered at our table were Pasta Mama linguine with scrambled egg ($12.95), miso grilled mushroom with fridge-fried rice (414.95), cedar-planked steelhead ($19.95), chicken fried steak with dirty fries ($14.95) and prosciutto-wrapped shrimp ($16.95), among others.

On the cocktails side, Shivers has house-smoked a whiskey for his Old Smokey drink with brown sugar and housemade cedar bitters and cherry foam ($8). His April Showers gin cocktail pops with rhubarb shrub, strawberry cordial and champagne ($9). His Paper Plane flies in with rye, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and lemon ($10). In the past Shivers championed farmers market bought fruit in his cocktails, so fresh flavors are expected.

Oh, I forgot the most important highlight - besides mentioning the on-site smoker and breakfast will be on the docket - Smoke + Cedar sits on my path to and from work. Smoking good news!

SMOKE + CEDAR, 2013 S. Cedar St., Tacoma; 253.343.6090, ext. 100, smokeandcedar.com