Everybody's Doing It
Testing Three More of Seattle's Fancy Brunches
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.