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Lunch at Rover’s

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


We had lunch at Rover’s yesterday. Rover’s, as many of you know, is one of Seattle’s most famous restaurants. Here is how the restaurant describes itself at its website:

During a visit to see friends in Seattle, Thierry Rautureau, known as the Chef in the Hat due to his ever-present fedora, dined at Rover’s and discovered the restaurant was for sale. Charmed by the converted house tucked away in a private courtyard, and inspired by the ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest, Rautureau moved to Seattle and opened Rover’s in August 1987. Chef Rautureau’s vision is a warm, comfortable dining environment, similar to dining at a friend’s house. Rover’s is dedicated to professional service, exquisite wine and food, and an intimate environment.

One might think we eat at Rover’s regularly. After all, it is one of Seattle’s finest restaurants, and it is by far the closest to us of any of Seattle’s great restaurants (1.3 miles away). But in fact we had never eaten there before yesterday. They serve dinner five nights a week, offering an eight-course menu, a five-course menu, and a five-course vegetarian menu. (Current prices, according to the sample on-line menu, are $130, $95, and $80.) The main reason I haven’t been eager to eat there is that, with this fixed menu, I wasn’t too keen to have three or four courses consisting of foods I’m not fond of eating. Sweetbreads, caviar, oysters. I know this is my loss. I’m not proud of it. But why would I want to pay a lot of money to be served food I don’t wish to eat?

Lunch is a recent development. They serve lunch Fridays only, offering a three-course menu. One can also order à la carte (as one can do now for dinner as well), which mostly means ordering items from the regular menu and paying more. But at least with three courses, there will be at most three items I don’t like to eat. Not five. Or eight.

In October, Gail attended the annual auction for Operation Frontline, which “coordinates and trains volunteer chefs and nutritionists to teach six-week classes on nutrition, healthy cooking and food budgeting for individuals at risk
of hunger and malnutrition.” In fact, Gail is one of Operation Frontline’s volunteer chefs and was asked to speak at the auction, sharing with the audience what Operation Frontline does. I was away that weekend, so I didn’t get to attend. In my absence, Gail was the winning bidder for — can you guess? — a three-course lunch for two at Rover’s.

We have a long history of buying items at auctions and not using them. We were determined not to let that happen with this one. We decided that yesterday would be a good day. And since yesterday also happened to be our friend Andy’s birthday, we suggested that he and Cynthia join us. Good thing, too, since their presence allowed us sample some of the à la carte choices rather than sticking to the three-course menu.

Unlike dinner, with the single seating time, lunch is more flexible. We arrived at 12:30. The restaurant is a house, with 17 tables spread across two intimate rooms. An interior room, which feels more like a passageway, is right past the entry, and beyond is the main dining room, where we were seated. The three-course menu for the day had a choice for course two, but not for the others. The first course was cuttlefish with carrot and assorted other items. Second was either moulard duck or fluke. Third was a chocolate dessert. On the adjacent page of the menu were the à la carte choices, including several alternatives to the cuttlefish, but just one additional entree choice and one additional dessert choice.

All four of us, as it turned out, were happy to have the duck. But cuttlefish is one of those items Gail and I weren’t too excited about eating, whereas our two companions were quite happy to have it. So they ordered the three-course menu, while we chose different appetizers, forcing us into à la carte territory at slightly hire prices. Gail chose a scallop dish with a chestnut puree. I had the, um, what did I have? It was soup. I know that. Some vegetable puree sort of thing. But I can’t remember what the heck the vegetable was. It wasn’t squash. But maybe something not too dissimilar. And there were some chunky things.

Next we had to decide about wine. We weren’t looking to drink much. The menu listed a couple of red options and a couple of white options by the glass. Plus, the wine menu was extensive. Scot Smith, whose title according to the website is Wine Director/Dining Room Director, came over and asked if he could help. We explained that we wanted red, but not much. Glasses for two of us, just a taste for me. He said he had an Italian red that they kept open that would be perfect with the duck. I forget what it was, but it was a good choice, and I had just the taste I asked for, about half the regular pour (for which we weren’t charged, as we would learn later).

Soon the appetizers arrived. My soup was served in two parts. The soup bowl was placed in front of me by one waiter with the chunky things in it. The vegetable puree was in a teapot. Our main waiter brought it and poured it into the bowl over the chunky things. I was happy with the soup, but it may have been the least interesting of the three appetizers at our table (as I knew it was likely to be when I ordered it). Gail’s choice looked pretty good. I tasted the chestnut puree. Excellent. Andy and Cynthia were very pleased with their cuttlefish dish, which by the way was beautifully presented, with several items piled up along with the cuttlefish. Gail tasted it and decided she could have happily had it. I didn’t get to taste it. (Well, I chose not to.)

The duck we all had was excellent too. There was some spinach, a few other good things. Gosh, I should have taken notes.

In addition to the chocolate dessert, one could choose from the à la carte menu a white dessert with pears. A woman at the neighboring table had it early in our meal and it looked inviting, but we all went with the chocolate dessert. Yet again, memory and words fail me. It was great. And there were little surprises, like a few drops of clear liquid we couldn’t identify, lying on the plate along with the other swirly stuff spread across for taste and design. We asked the waiter, who had to go to the kitchen to find out. The liquid had ginger in it, and something else.

At some point late in our duck eating, Thierry Rautureau came by. He had been making the rounds of some other tables earlier. Now it was our turn. We had a lively conversation. At some point he explained part of his philosophy, as he must have done thousands of times over the years: he’s the chef, shouldn’t he decide what we eat? We don’t order from a doctor, telling the doctor what we want done. Rather, the doctor decides what we need. Likewise, he should decide what we need. Okay, he understands that there are some foods an individual might not like. Just tell him what to avoid, and he’ll do the rest. And as for wishing to avoid foods, his experience is that if diners aren’t told what they’re eating they’ll love all sorts of foods. He gave the example of a table that loved a dish and asked what was in the sauce. They were less happy on hearing the answer — pig’s feet. But why should they mind if they like the taste? Well, I may have mis-represented his philosophy a bit, but that was the gist of it. I felt appropriately chastened for not ordering cuttlefish.

I’m glad we went. And mystified that we put off going for so long. In addition to the excellent food, the atmosphere and service were a delight. The room was so quiet and peaceful, the service attentive but restrained. I hope we make it there for dinner in the near future. And I’m so glad we have a son who is more adventurous than I am. He’ll eat anything. And take pleasure in shaming me as he does.

Categories: Food, Restaurants
  1. thechefinthehat
    January 29, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    So glad to hear about your lunch at Rover’s. Thank you for been so kind.
    To clarify the dinner topic: We offer “a la carte” for dinner along with 3 types of set menus. a 5 course menu, a 5 course vegetarian menu and a 8 course grand menu. But the key is that you can actually come to Rover’s on any evening Tues-thu Saturday and dine a la carte, have 2 or 3 plates , a glass of wine and be out in a short time. Or dine for hours, you choose. Hope this was helpful and again thank you for your patronage. Bon Appetit

    The Chef In The Hat!!!

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