The Hotel Monaco’s new restaurant goes for upscale urban energy with the décor, but the food doesn’t stray far from the “eclectic” expected.
The good times stopped rolling for the New Orleans-themed restaurant Sazerac on New Year’s Day, after nearly 20 years in the Hotel Monaco. In March, after a $2 million makeover, the restaurant reopened as Outlier. The name leads you to expect a restaurant concept that is original or even eccentric, but Outlier appears more intent on fitting in.
It’s a big, noisy, eye-catching place that — when it’s full — feels ready to combust from its own energy. The interior, conceived by Dawson Design Associates, celebrates Seattle with a look that evokes the urban grit of the grunge era, a bit like a glossy production of “Rent.” Artwork includes a truly stunning portrait of Jimi Hendrix rendered in bottle caps, and a masterpiece — no joke — made of beer cans that pays tribute to the Seahawks’ 12s.
I can’t say the food conveys the same excitement. Executive chef Shawn Applin’s menu is eclectic, in that it segues from curried carrots to pierogi, from beet-cured wild salmon to oven-roasted rockfish “bo ssam.” But many items skew mainstream: pasta, pizza, roast chicken, a cheeseburger. That makes sense for a hotel restaurant that must cater to a semi-captive audience of business travelers and tourists. The weary parents I saw one Saturday night were no doubt grateful to find familiar fare for their youngsters, as well as enough to interest them, just an elevator’s ride from their rooms. But I wonder whether the restaurant will draw discerning local eaters in significant numbers beyond lunch and happy hour.
1101 Fourth Ave., Seattle; 206-624-7755; outlierseattle.com
Hours: dinner 4-10 p.m. daily; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; breakfast 7 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; happy hour 2-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; bar open until midnight daily
Prices: $$$$ (starters and small plates $6-$24; mains $15-$38)
Drinks: full bar; Northwest beers on tap; international wine list with Northwest emphasis
Service: veers from smart to clueless, attentive to absent-minded
Parking: two-hour free valet parking by Hotel Monaco with validation
Sound: very loud
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles; elevators to lower-level restrooms
If you happen to work in the vicinity of Fourth and Spring, you probably already know how long that happy hour is: Monday through Friday, from 2 until 6 p.m. Perhaps you’ve already succumbed to the cheeseburger and duck-fat fries. Discounted at happy hour, both are also available at lunch and dinner. The cheeseburger gets high marks for well-seared meat, high-quality cheddar and a Macrina brioche bun that ably absorbed its considerable drippings. The “fries” are actually smashed, skin-on Yukon Gold fingerlings with brittle jackets and soft centers. Rémoulade, dense with capers and chopped dill pickle, is provided for dipping, or in my case, shoveling.
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But do you also know about the patio? Not that railed-off sliver of sidewalk along Fourth Avenue, but the new 45-seat, heated aerie behind the restaurant, nestled under a partial awning amid the surrounding high-rises. As far as I could tell, it’s underused. Officially, it’s open for all meals, but on one of my visits, it was booked until 7 p.m. for a private party (as was half the restaurant). When I asked to sit out there another night, the hostess said they didn’t have staff for it, but we were welcome to order drinks at the bar and take them out to the patio.
No one else was out there, which felt a little lonely, so instead, we ate inside. The kitchen counter that fronts the gas-fired oven and rotisserie was a little warm for a summer night, so we grabbed seats at a ledge embedded with beer bottle caps that slaloms alongside the 40-foot bar. It’s a great perch if you are feeling social. For a cozier experience, several four-table carousels in the middle of the dining room provide booth-like seclusion for two or four.
The dinner menu opens with a few two-buck canapes, the sort of thing some restaurants deliver gratis as an amuse-bouche. Skip the clunky beef-fat gougere. Consider the Dungeness crab salad cupped in an endive spear, or the saffron aioli-draped clam on brioche toast spread with the soft, spicy salami called nduja. These are single-bite snacks, so order two if you’re sharing.
Among more substantial fare, both the vadouvan curried carrots and beet-cured wild salmon are beguiling ensembles. Fresh herbs, yogurt, sweet date jam, pistachios and flakes of smoked sheep’s-milk feta complement the delicate curry flavor of the roasted carrots. The fuchsia-tinted fish reminded me of lox, a notion reinforced by dill cream cheese sauce and seeded crackers that taste like flattened “everything” bagels.
A dazzling vegetable cornucopia escorted exceptionally good roast chicken: fresh peas, asparagus, broccolini, cipollini and fingerling potatoes among them. A hedgerow of lettuce, Thai basil and cilantro bordered the rockfish “bo ssam.” The fish is served whole, scored, seasoned and carefully oven-roasted. The idea is to wrap morsels of fish in the lettuce with some herbs and sauce and eat it like a taco. The Korean-style presentation includes potent kimchi, spicy pickles and a pungent sauce, a blend of pineapple, garlic, chilies, anchovy and fish sauce that is reminiscent of Vietnamese mam nem.
Green picholine olives stud the duck Bolognese sauce. It tastes leaner than traditional beef Bolognese, but still satisfyingly meaty. The strozzapreti noodles (“priest stranglers”), however, were a little overcooked, too limp to strangle anyone. A thin-crusted pizza topped with roasted tomato, prosciutto and fresh asparagus had a pleasant, California-style lightness, but better pizzas abound.
I very much liked the pan-fried potato pierogi, but would have preferred them minus the “braised pork sugo,” a lackluster pork belly and cabbage stew. The “foie-ffle” — a smidgen of seared foie gras on a soggy waffle surrounded by sad, smashed huckleberries — was simply awful.
With the exception of warm chocolate chip cookies — served with a small, cold bottle of whole milk — none of the desserts rose above average.
But it was the check that left a bad taste. It includes a 5 percent surcharge “to help offset costs associated with Seattle’s Minimum Wage Ordinance. No portion of this surcharge is directly distributed as a tip or gratuity to the restaurant’s staff.” It appears from the woefully erratic service that little is going toward staff training, either.
Given prices here, that surcharge strikes me as disingenuous at best. The rockfish is $38. The Dartmoor Leap, an excellent but petite cocktail, is $14. A bottle of Miraval 2015 rosé that wholesales for less than $18 is on the wine list at $67. Surely the Kimpton Hotels chain already has enough built-in profit margin to absorb the cost of paying its staff the locally mandated wage — and if not, why not just add another dollar or two across the board?