Food & Drink

Everybody's Doing It

Testing Three More of Seattle's Fancy Brunches

Everybody's Doing It

Lucas Draper

BENEDICT AT SPRING HILL Straight-up awesome.

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Last spring, upscale Seattle restaurants began climbing on the brunch bandwagon, seeing the financial wisdom of occupied tables instead of emptiness until happy hour. Also last spring, five places' fresh, hopeful brunches were reviewed here. Three of them were pretty great: Tilth (now with a James Beard award for chef Maria Hines), Sitka & Spruce (soon to expand/move to Capitol Hill), and Monsoon (now with a new incarnation, Monsoon East). Two of them were pretty abysmal: Veil (now closed) and Moxie (ditto).

This spring, the foibles of the new brunch service at the venerable Rover's (2808 E Madison St, 325-7442) were rampant. On a sunshiny Sunday recently, the Madison Valley institution was literally stuffy, with still air and staid decor that made you want a blanket on a lawn. As required by law, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue played. I opened the impressive leather-bound portfolio to find the previous Thursday's dinner menu. It was downhill from there. The service seemed harried, with stretches of neglect interrupted by brief spates of semicompetence. Drained glasses from Bloody Marys ($12 apiece) sat on the table the entire time, while coffee went unfilled until the silver carafe was left unintentionally on the table, à la IHOP.

Rover's is one of the Frenchest, fine- dining-est places in town, so this was a shock, but not as shocking as the omelet. Forgive me, but I must describe it as herniated: It had a big broken-open spot along its side, with its innards (prawns, fennel) spilling out. It had not the slightest bit of eggy creaminess about it. It was rubbery. It cost $18. They offered to make another one: also rubbery. There was also very ordinary $9 coffee cake (that's nine dollars); some room-temperature crepes with jelly—pardon—preserved stone fruit ($10); and a tender, almost sweet braised pork-belly Benedict with sautéed spinach and an excellent, subtle harissa hollandaise ($15). That's a 25 percent success rate. The Stranger does not have funding for a return visit at this time.

At the new brunch at Olivar (806 E Roy St, 322-0409) on Capitol Hill, on the other hand, you feel you're getting more than you're paying for. The room was a little hushed on a recent Sunday afternoon, but once fans of the Spanish-ish (and also well-priced) dinner menu here catch on, it'll be a perfect daytime cafe. The low-ceilinged room in the Loveless building with its famous fairy-tale murals has the magical quality of changing from cozy warmth in cold weather to a haven of cool whenever it might be warm. It also feels nicer than your average breakfast joint, what with the people at the next table speaking French, but not too nice to bring the newspaper.

Service recedes in memory like decent service should, though the $15 prix fixe was lightly pushed. It includes an entrée, coffee, juice, and an ensaimada, which proved to be an unspectacular roll dusted with powdered sugar. If you go the à la carte route, you can end up with a properly made, quite delicious tortilla francesa—that's a French omelet with superlative Comté Swiss cheese, mushrooms, bacon, and chives—for $9. Another highly satisfying dish was medium-rare rounds of hanger steak with sautéed mushrooms and blue cheese on toasted country bread, with a salad, for $11. It's a cut above your neighborhood brunch joint, priced pretty much exactly the same.

In West Seattle at much-praised Spring Hill (4437 California Ave SW, 935-1075), brunch can also be had for around $10 a plate, and it's straight-up awesome. The contemporary interior has a tranquilizing effect—all the clean lines reorganize whatever scramble your brain might be in—as does the fact that the open kitchen is virtually noise-free. Any hair of the dog you might require does not involve a vicious bite on the bill: A rich, restorative made-from-scratch Bloody Mary with a couple pickled green beans is $8, a squeezed-to-order grapefruit cooler with Lillet and bubbles is $7. Every indication was that service is every bit as consummately professional as at dinner.

The menu doesn't stray much from brunchtime favorites, but the quality of the ingredients and the meticulousness of the kitchen is everywhere evident. The only overtly extraordinary thing about a fried-chicken-and-waffle plate ($12) was the quinoa waffle, the grain adding a slightly nutty taste without any extra weight. The boneless, finely breaded chicken pieces looked like extra-large chicken nuggets and tasted all the better for not being deconstructed or reconceived; the accompanying dish of sausage gravy didn't try too hard to be interesting, just lightly spicy and entirely good. Likewise, a Hangtown fry ($9) didn't do anything surprising but attain unalloyed deliciousness, with (for once) the use of small, delicate oysters that didn't seem like unwanted aliens among the eggs. The food is less fancied-up than you'd expect, given the nighttime Pacific Northwest New Americana found here, but at midday on a weekend, that's something of a relief. If you live nearby, you should brunch here as much as your budget allows; if not, an excursion's in order. recommended

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Comments (23) RSS

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Awesome article! Boy you nailed it on the Moxie deal. Their Chillaquilles were awful, people just came in every week and ordered them hoping they would get better. The smoked salmon benedict on Crumpet from Pike Place...el-sucko even with the perfect Hollandaise. Shrimp and grits selling out every weekend? why? because they were terrible. You said it "abysmal!" You are a truly talented writer and reviewer. Your words flow from the page and shine a light on your unending knowledge of bars and restaurants. Even when you might not know what you are talking about you mask it so well with thoughtful and inticing prose. Keep up the great work, The Stranger should feel lucky to have someone as good as you.
Posted by blackdog1 on May 20, 2009 at 4:07 PM · Report this
I really liked the waffle and gravy at Spring Hill, but they got the fried chicken part all wrong. The faux-McNuggets have almost the same texture as the waffle, which defeats the purpose of combining the two.
Posted by Sean P on May 22, 2009 at 11:06 AM · Report this
if you're going to rip a place to shreds, you should have the decency to visit them more than once to see if the problems were a fluke. if you CAN'T AFFORD TO, maybe you shouldn't be reviewing it. i know bethany's quite fond of spending the stranger's money to eat at the most expensive places in town, just to trash them, but it's such a disservice to the restaurant owners, chefs and readers.

these reviews are pretty abysmal, at best.
Posted by darlingash on May 22, 2009 at 12:15 PM · Report this
If I went to Rover's for brunch, I would demand perfection. Breakfast just isn't that hard. And Bethany did get the omelet a second chance, and they botched that one, too. An omelet! I wouldn't go back, for brunch at least. There are just too many good places that are much cheaper.
Posted by SouthSeattle on May 22, 2009 at 4:11 PM · Report this
Darlingash - utter nonsense. If I eat in a restaurant and it's pants, I'm not going to return. (For the record, I'm a food journalist in the UK - I review restaurants for a couple of large-circulation magazines over here, and I only ever visit once, anonymously.) First impressions count - and they count for everyday diners just as much as they do for reviewers. My experience with restaurants, which goes back many years, says that upsets are seldom flukes: bad management, bad kitchen practice and bad service tend to be things that repeat themselves.
Posted by LizU on May 22, 2009 at 4:24 PM · Report this
someone vomited on your biscuit...
Posted by dougie on May 22, 2009 at 5:23 PM · Report this
@6, i'd do more than that if i knew it was going to a stranger staffer.
Posted by lots o' stranger haters in kitchens across the city on May 22, 2009 at 11:30 PM · Report this
@LizU, you're right. i guess the fact that the chef of rover's has won a billion awards, has one of the highest ratings in the city and is a james beard award winner probably means he consistently makes crap. you should work for the stranger! your journalism skills sound right up their ally!
Posted by emerald city foodie on May 22, 2009 at 11:33 PM · Report this
I like that there's a backlash to snarcky, know-it-all food writing going on here. It's the best thing I've seen come out of all this commenting nonsense. I imagine walking into a food writer's home, and criticizing his/her drapes, furniture, hospitality and appearance, then publishing it in self-aggrandizing fashion. Of couerse, on the other hand, it does make me feel better about being someone who creates something instead of just talking shit about other people's best efforts.
Posted by loves reading about himself and friends on May 23, 2009 at 12:38 AM · Report this
PedestrianMe 10
Brunch is dead. It's the Great Recession.
Posted by PedestrianMe on May 23, 2009 at 2:04 AM · Report this
I just have to vent. I can’t fucking stand meat eaters and the way you push your immoral and unhealthy practices on others. I’m vegan, and all I want is for people to respect our choice to not eat meat, but no. Every time we go a restaurant and everyone else is eating meat, we get ostrichized. FUCK YOU lard bags, all of you are candidates for strokes and heart-attacks, sitting on your computers jerking off and getting fatter and fatter. Look at my face, make you hard nerds? Will as long as you eat meat you’ve never got a shot at touching a girl like me. And guess what? When I eat, I don’t have to commit murder to fill my belly. What is your rational? It’s okay to mutilate and eat animals cuz they are less intelligent? Would you mutilate and eat a mentally challenged person? Think of the starving people in Africa that could have been fed with the produce that was used to fatten your fat, pot-bellied cows. I hope you all rot in hell. I want you to watch this video:…. If you have a shred of decency, you will see my point, but if not, when you’re touching yourself tonight thinking about a girl like me, why don’t you just do the rest of the world a favor and rip your dicks off. Jerks.
Posted by duh on May 23, 2009 at 4:59 PM · Report this
Duh: I'm very sorry you have been "ostrichized." That must be especially tough for a vegan to go through.
Posted by missmuss on May 23, 2009 at 5:57 PM · Report this
@emerald city foodie
if a chef has " won a billion awards, has one of the highest ratings in the city, is a james beard award winner," & can charge 18 bones for a breakfast plate, they should be able to make eggs. thanks for proving her point.
Posted by ruby doe on May 25, 2009 at 12:42 PM · Report this
@duh : bitches like you are the number one reason i can't stand fucking hippies. so what, the animals that do that are wrong too? should they be taught better? carnivorous behavior is engrained in our dna, so cut your holier-than-thou bullshit, get the stick out of your twat, and go have a fuckin' cheeseburger.
Posted by franky on May 25, 2009 at 1:09 PM · Report this
kills more people than strokes and heart attacks.
I'm just sayin'
Posted by pianoarthur on May 25, 2009 at 3:13 PM · Report this
duh - murder is a human on human activity. What you are describing is delicious delicious killing.
Posted by flounder on May 25, 2009 at 5:12 PM · Report this
I don't know how you went from the plight of the vegan to nerds masturbating on their computers, but I think I may be able to shed some light on the "ostracized" welcome you receive at restaurants. (I used quotes because I don't believe you have ever been ostracized at a restaurant and to illustrate the correct spelling. Unless you meant that as some kind of pun, like ostrich. Whatever, I don't get vegan humor.)
When you go to a restaurant that is not a vegan restaurant you should expect that you may have to do a little work to find something you can eat. The restaurant, on the other hand, will have to do a good amount more. So while you're subbing this for chicken stock and that for cheese, and feeling a little ostracized that you have to make such a big deal just to order a pasta dish that you can eat without harming any animals, just remember that you're the one with the special needs right now. If you want to live an exclusive lifestyle (meaning no meat eaters allowed) then go spend your nights at your favorite vegan restaurant and leave our places of delicious killing (thanks flounder) alone.
You sound like a very unpleasant person and I hope you in no way represent any mass group of vegans.
Carnivore out.
Posted by Carnivore on May 26, 2009 at 12:17 PM · Report this
Isn't it a given that any restaurant review is a snapshot in time? And shouldn't it also be a given that any reasonable person will understand that?

And outside of not getting what you ordered, getting massively overcharged, and/or getting food poisoned, it's all a little subjective anyway. Another given

But for those that read them, restaurant reviews are still often interesting and useful. However, you read them (if you read them) with the above understood as givens. Otherwise, I think you'll spend a lot of time needlessly upset . . .
Posted by Petunia on May 27, 2009 at 10:08 AM · Report this
Isn't it already a given that restaurant reviews can ever only be one snapshot in time? Reasonable people understand that anything about the restaurant could get better or worse later. That'd still apply even if the reviewer went back multiple times before publishing the review. (OK, a couple of snapshots for that, but still.) If it's a fair review on the day the reviewer went, then that's what it is and all it ever shall be.

I don't see any realistic way of getting around this inherent limitation, yet, restaurant reviews are still helpful to many.
Posted by Petunia on May 27, 2009 at 10:35 AM · Report this
Eh. Sorry about the duping. Didn't think the first one posted.
Posted by Petunia on May 27, 2009 at 10:40 AM · Report this
Marlow 21
Regarding "starving people in Africa", they would laugh their asses off at the idea of a "vegan". To turn down good food, be it goat or cow or gazelle, would be an outrage to them. If you don't eat meat in Africa, you will starve.
Posted by Marlow on May 29, 2009 at 10:15 AM · Report this
Marlow 22
Regarding "starving people in Africa", they would laugh their asses off at the idea of a "vegan". To turn down good food, be it goat or cow or gazelle, would be an outrage to them. If you don't eat meat in Africa, you will starve.
Posted by Marlow on May 29, 2009 at 10:20 AM · Report this

When I think of the top restaurants in Seattle, without a doubt, I would add Olivar to my personal list (and I think many would agree). Why? Well, there are a number of reasons:
(1) Something new every time – I have been to Olivar over ten times, never have I eaten the exact same dish twice. And note – when you go to Olivar, you typically order multiple dishes so it isn’t like I’m just ordering a different dish on the same menu each time.
(2) Relentless Creativity – not only are the dishes changing, but they are always so inventive. The chef always surprises me with both plate design and fusion of flavors.
(3) Gnocchi – one word, wow! Regardless of how the chef prepares it, the gnocchi is always top notch!
(4) Value – with no dish over $20, and small plates and large plates being very generously portioned, this restaurant is a steal.
(5) Charm – small, tucked away just across from the Harvard Exit Theatre – you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled across a hidden gem. Great for a first date to a romantic dinner or just a casual get together.
(6) Dessert – many patrons I know come to Olivar at the end of their night simply for dessert. The chef is not a pastry chef by any means, but he sure knows how to make some sweet and delicious
(7) Integrity – there was one time that I did not like my dish, the chef took it away without a second question. Want Paella? You’ll have to wait 45 minutes – none of the dishes at Olivar are pre-cooked. Everything is made on the spot!
What would I change?
(1) Add more space (so he could serve a few more people, but then there would need to be more servers and an upgrade to the kitchen – so this is probably unrealistic!)
(2) Speed up the service – Given the chef is, I believe, European – he may be trying to create an experience of slower food. Nonetheless, the service is not painfully slow by any means – so don’t worry.
Overall, Olivar is as good as it gets in Seattle. I have brought a wide range of friends here from foodies to my parents to a group of ten for my birthday (a very mixed crowd). Everyone left saying, “wow!”
Last piece of advice, if you have not been to Olivar since it first opened – you are due a return visit. And, if you’ve never been, you are really missing out!
Posted by on June 5, 2010 at 8:25 AM · Report this

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