727 Pine

727 Pine St, 774-6400. Open daily 6:30 am-midnight.

Walking into 727 Pine brings on a vague feeling of nostalgia. Look around--gleaming surfaces, a sleek backlit bar, an expansive split-level dining room with a brightly lit theater kitchen, plush furniture. Suddenly it's the spring of '99.

Except the dining room is unnervingly silent; the lounge is not packed with twentysomething big spenders; and it is not at all difficult to reserve a table for any night of the week. There's a sense of expectancy about 727, and not just because the restaurant is immaculate; it's as if the place is anxiously waiting for times to change.

As the restaurant for the über-luxurious Elliott Grand Hyatt, 727 Pine debuted after much hype and fuss in the summer of 2001, clinging to the coattails of those pre-recession, pre-9/11 boom years when Seattle got a little too drunk with possibility--that surreal mini-era of eager but heartbreaking urban chest-pounding about being a "world-class city." Along with the Elliott--in the fall of 2001, standard hotel rooms were quoted at $370 a night--727 was conceived with the assumption that Seattle's glory days would continue. A topnotch wine cellar was stocked. Banquet facilities, in anticipation of private receptions and perhaps launch parties (remember those?), were readied. Heavy P.R. fanfare and praise were heaped upon opening chef Danielle Custer (former sous-chef at the Seattle Sheraton's Fullers restaurant), who returned after a prestigious stint as the executive chef at the Sheraton Park Central in Dallas, Texas. Custer's celeb-chef status garnered write-ups in Food & Wine, Gourmet, and Travel & Leisure, and loving reviews from local food press.

And then the shit hit the economic fan. High-end dining in Seattle suffered; lines at the Cheesecake Factory kept growing. Custer quietly left 727 last June. Media buzz has since faded, and standard rooms at the Elliott (recently renamed the Grand Hyatt Seattle) are currently $169-$210 a night. Kyle Nelson, Custer's former sous-chef, stepped up to the plate without any trumpeting press releases.

And the food? I'm certainly hoping happy days will be here again, because Nelson's food is impressive, with thoughtful details and playful opulence (there is a four-star hotel upstairs, after all). Here's where you'll find king crab eggs Benedict ($15), or brioche French toast with sugared pears and maple Devonshire cream ($12) for breakfast; or a crab cake club sandwich ($16) and clam chowder embellished with purple-potato hash and white truffle oil ($9) for lunch. The daily lunchtime risotto special ($11)--I had mine with roasted tomatoes, spinach, and shaved Parmesan--is flawlessly creamy, but still with distinct kernels of softly bloated rice. Midday steak frites ($16) with red wine au jus and sautéed greens is my kind of power lunch: a thick, simple bone-in rib eye, rosy and tender, with fatty charred edges.

Dinner is undeniably formal, but not intimidating. These are things you've tasted before--just elevated versions of them. Fresh, plump Maine day-boat scallops are seared with a light hand (but salted with a too-heavy hand) and placed on caramelized cabbage and what claims to be red-wine-braised oxtail, although the night I tried this dish, I couldn't find much oxtail. Steak in the dining room means Kobe-style beef from Idaho's famed Snake River Farms ($38): a thick slab of Wagyu/Angus meat nicely crusted with salt and pepper, juicy and quite lean (I prefer the marbled rib eye served on the bar menu), with wild mushrooms and aligot potatoes. (My chanterelles were lovely and earthy, but gritty; and "aligot" is a schmancy term for delicious, buttery mashed potatoes LACED WITH CHEESE, served on the side in a warmed copper pot.)

I prefer eating in the lounge, where the bar menu offers haute comfort foods (mac 'n' cheese with lobster and tarragon, $15; a gorgeous antipasto plate with prosciutto, artisan cheese, and pickled garlic and vegetables, $12) and happy-hour specials. I can't stop thinking about the excellent 10 oz. cheeseburger ($10, white cheddar or Maytag blue) with vinegar-soaked onions, or the orange cream puff dessert ($8)--a French macaroon filled with pastry cream and orange segments, served with caramel ice cream. Nothing, not even my sullen waitress, could deter my excitement about that cream puff, which I ate at broadband speed.

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