New South Lake Union restaurant showcases talents of up-and-coming chef Derek Bugge.
Chef Derek Bugge will proudly tell you he is Ballard-born and bred, descended from generations of Norwegians on his father’s side. But his mother, who comes from a small town in Mexico, has influenced his cooking most, which is why you won’t find lutefisk on his menu at 2120, but you will find bacalao cakes, chile rellenos and migas.
Having grown up around fishermen, Bugge says bacalao cakes were among the first things he learned to make. I can’t vouch for those early efforts, but the golden panko-breaded patties of potato and salt cod at 2120 are outstanding. Three of them, festooned with lime crème fraîche, mâche and fire-charred corn kernels as tiny as baby teeth, made quite a substantial “small plate” at dinner.
A perky salad of bitter greens, pickled onion and jalapeño escorted the chile relleno, quite rightly considered a large plate, at dinner. Its fragile tempuralike batter, a blend of bread flour and Olympia beer, clung tenaciously to the hefty poblano plumped with manchego, corn and finely diced zucchini.
2120 Sixth Ave., Seattle
Hours: dinner 4-10 p.m. Saturday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday; lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; happy hour 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 4-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Prices: $$$$ (dinner $12-$35; lunch/brunch $7-$18)
Drinks: full bar; seasonal cocktails, punches and mocktails; Northwest wine list; rotating taps
Parking: on-site garage; no validation
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Mom definitely inspired the migas, but instead of making it with leftovers, as she would, Bugge brines and braises pork belly with peppers, chili paste and chicken stock until it becomes a saucy, satisfying stew that’s mixed with crisp tortilla triangles and topped with fresh avocado and queso.
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That pork belly migas is on the weekend brunch menu. For something less exotic, try the egg scramble, whipped into a soft yellow cloud flecked with onion, poblano and epazote. Crispy smashed fingerlings ruddy with tangy, chili-stoked Tajin seasoning are part of the package. Add a side of bacon; it’s great. If you feel compelled to start with something healthy-ish, the brûléed grapefruit sections interspersed with Luxardo cherries is your ticket.
Indulge your sweet tooth at brunch with doughnuts or French toast. Doughnuts are the size and shape of pingpong balls, but really they are churros in disguise, rolled in vanilla sugar and cinnamon and served with agave-sweetened whipped cream and dulce de leche. The golden slabs of Grand Central Bakery brioche are drizzled with cajeta (goat-milk caramel sauce) instead of maple syrup. Banana, hazelnuts and lime-kissed whipped cream give this French toast a tropical élan.
The restaurant lies in The Republic of Amazonia, which means it’s a pretty mellow place on weekends and evenings and gets slammed at weekday lunch, when sandwiches and tacos replace some of the large dinner plates. It’s adjacent to the Amazon spheres, so close that those crenelated orbs look conjoined with 2120’s lovely, shrubbery-hemmed patio — which is heated but only partially covered, so enjoy it while you can.
The restaurant’s interior feels like a man cave for tech bros. The ceiling is low, as are the lights. The color scheme is black, relieved by brown. Equal space is devoted to the bar, which has a corral full of high-top tables, and the dining room, where there are several big round tables. A pair of flat-screens mounted over the bar can be seen from just about everywhere — even the cooks can watch from the open kitchen.
One night, a waiter channeled that macho vibe to an extreme, pestering two diners he had mistaken for mother and daughter with a lot of personal questions. When he dropped to his knees to take their order and said, “My manager is giving me a look,” one of the women replied, “Maybe because you appear about to propose marriage?” He ignored the hint. Other (female) waiters showed more decorum.
Milan Uzelac owns 2120, as well as Bellevue’s 99 Park. Bugge, 33, oversees both. He cooked previously at Frank’s Oyster House and Pair before succeeding opening chef Quinton Stewart at 99 Park. He shifted that restaurant’s Asian-leaning fare to reflect his Mexican roots. I’d like to see him unleash even more of his Latin side at 2120.
Tomatillo salsa verde was a mere footnote to a lovely plate of pea vines, abalone mushrooms, fregola sarde and king salmon. Cumin vinaigrette made kale salad exciting, but the pickled jicama, pepitas and orange segments could have played a larger role. People convinced they don’t like beets should try the beet salad. Braising in hibiscus juice gave the beets an appealing sweetness, but the dish needed more tart tension than the lime vinaigrette and dots of pineapple gel provided. Pairing chicharrón with lamb tartare and smoked aioli sounds great in theory, but without enough sharpness to counter the fat, the overall effect was flat.
Rack of lamb was flamboyantly delicious in every respect. It’s prepared mixiote-style, which means long marination with chilies, herbs and spices. Traditionally, the meat would have been wrapped in the skin of the maguey plant. Here, Bugge seals it with a Cryovac, cooks the rack sous-vide, and then finishes it on the grill. It’s plated with crunchy puffed Spanish rice and an elegant butter-rich black-bean sauce — a riff on rice and beans. Tart, chili-laced quinoa salad adds a bold flavor punch.
In contrast, the dry, overcooked chicken with muddy-tasting almond mole I had on another night could have come from a whole different kitchen. Most likely it was an aberration. Mole is tricky to teach, Bugge says: “True mole is always evolving.” Good restaurants are, too. Bugge has talent, lots of great ideas and no lack of passion. He’s a chef to watch.