Cacti and Cukes

Beth and I went to Yakima a month or so ago, where we had a spectacular lunch at The Barrel House. Along with the fine dining, we found out about a grand Cactus Bloom Tour. Now, great food and blooming cacti in the same day seemed like a match made in heaven to our desert rat mentality, so we made plans to return for the tour. After speaking with our friend the Winged One, who also decided this was too good an opportunity to pass up, a trip to the other side was set up for Saturday.

As this is not the Travel Channel, I will refrain from too many travel details. I do, however, want to tell you a bit about the Cactus Bloom Tour. As we neared our destination, it became apparent we were moving towards a housing development, and away from any open areas. After a couple of turnarounds, we found our location. A house. A small house. Undeterred we parked and approached. Once around the side of the house, all became apparent. Yakima Catus Bloom Tour '08Here was the grand Cactus Bloom Tour. A backyard. A truly wondrous backyard, lovingly cared for by Ron for over 25 years. In this backyard oasis Ron has managed to collect what seems to be every species of cacti known to mankind. As we walked, he spoke of long hours working on the garden, of folks coming from all over the world to see it, and of the International Cacti Association bussing folks over from Seattle for a tour. Beth and I purchased a couple of particularly interesting cacti, and we bid our farewells to Ron, and to his mind-blowing world cactus tour.

After our tour, with stomachs growling, we headed back into town and towards The Barrel House. Parking was a breeze and we hopped out, running to the door and that burger. SLAM! Closed on Sat the 10th until 5pm. Glance at watch, 3:05pm. Stomach growls. AUGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After a moment of panic, we decided to do some walking. Finding one of the oldest buildings in Yakima and home to Bob’s Keg and Cork we commenced with the beer drinking, followed by more walking, and then a little driving. We find Susie’s Bourbon Street Bistro & Bar, and finish off the time kill by watching the WingedBoyWonder almost get in a fight for ordering water instead of beer. Classy place that Susie’s. We managed to kill a couple of hours and thus headed back to culinary nirvana. SUCCESS!!

Back story time: What sold me on The Barrel House was it’s Rio Burger. When Beth and I were there last, I talked to the chef/owner about his food. He makes his own chipotles, smoking large red jalapenos until they become chipotle goodness. During this time he also smokes bacon in the same smoker, effectively making chipotle smoked bacon. With that, I give you the Rio Burger. It is a beef patty, hand rubbed with chili powder from his chipotle, and grilled on high flame until the outside is crispy black, but the inside is still medium rare and juicy. It’s placed on an onion bun, then covered with chipotle smoked bacon, a thick slab of pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a guacamole mayo sauce that is out of this world. The burger ranks as one of my top 3 of all time. End Back Story

So, 5pm comes and we run to the door, grab the closest table and settle in for what surely will be a feast. We ordered smoked salmon and sautéed pears and Portobello for starters. The salmon was wonderful. A light dry smoke didn’t hide the salmon’y goodness, and the caper cream cheese was lovely even on its own. The pear and Portobello sauté was out of this world to be honest. Texture was perfect, and flavor combo from the sweet to the earthy was…damn sexy to be honest. A glass of a very nice house Merlot, and the meal was off to a good start. A very good start.

SCREEEEEEEEEECH!!! Then dinner came. Beth ordered flat iron steak with mushrooms. While the meat was done as ordered and it was certainly not tasteless, it lacked the robust flavor character I associate with a good flat iron steak. WingedOne got a seafood pasta dish with a pesto cream sauce. Kudos to the waiter for not batting an eye when asked if the dish could be prepared without bacon. The dish itself, however, was rather bland. Pesto sauce was good, but not great, and the seafood while palatable, seemed to have lost all of it’s sea essence. We do tend to get spoiled here in Seattle with our seafood, and I admit that could have a bearing here, so I’m not calling 100% foul.

For my dish however, there are no excuses. I ordered the Shrimp Sauté with Sweet Chili and Cucumber. What I got however was a plate of sliced cuckes that were as limp as overcooked asparagus. On top of those were overcooked (or reheated) shrimp covered in what could only be described as a Safeway brand chili salad dressing from hell. It tasted of chemicals and heavy metals. Horrid. I can only hope that with the shortened day, shortcuts were taken in the sauce dept.

Not a bad end to the day, but it could have been better. On this trip to The Barrel House, I give them a 2 out of 5. Changes to schedules happen, mess-ups in stocking happen, personnel issues arise, but you simply cannot put out food that is sub-par to what you are capable of. I’m sure we will be back, as I firmly believe this was not the norm for them.


Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens
3405 Hillside Place
Yakima, WA 98903
The Barrel House
22 N First Street
Yakima,  Washington 98901
Phone Number: 509-453-3769


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