During my Freshman orientation at the University of Rochester, I received a poster titled "U Know UR a Real UR Student When..." (casual University communications were annoyingly frought with "UR" puns, and this was back in the days before text-speak!) It listed a hundred or so items that someone felt each student should experience in their four years at the school: "Go traying down the hill behind Susan B" (ride a cafeteria tray like a sled down the campus's steepest hill, most likely to crack your head open when colliding with the fine art studio building at the bottom), "Eat the garbage plate at Nick Tahou's" (consume a late-night plate full of disgustingly greasy food, which was in all probability destined to come back up with all the liquor you had to drink in order to convince yourself that it would be a good idea to order something called a "Garbage Plate"), "Fall asleep in the Welles Brown Room" (a popular library study spot)...I dutifully checked off items as my college career progressed, proud of my accomplishments and ability to follow the crowd. I look back now and groan at many of the things I did in my youth; let's just say it's a good thing I'm not planning to run for Senate, or the media would have a heyday with me.
When I moved to Seattle some years later (read a little about my interim years here), I began to compile a list of things that I felt I should do as a Seattleite: climb Mount Rainier, visit Alaska, eat at Rover's. The Clean Plate Club formed because a group of foodie friends and I realized that we had a "Bucket List" of Seattle restaurants that we had never tried. Rover's was definitely on this list, but the pricing was out of our comfort zone.
It's Restaurant Week, which is actually a 2-week period during which 126 restaurants around the city are offering 3-course prix fixe menus for $25. I love food and consider myself a foodie, but I usually eat relatively lowbrow. I'm not afraid to eat at hole-in-the wall ethnic places or from the food trucks that are dotting the streets with increasing frequency. I am most comfortable with casual service and simple, well-prepared food. I am also self-employed and don't use credit cards, so my budget prefers casual eateries as well. So when an event like Restaurant Week rolls around, I take advantage by visiting places that are out of my usual reach. Noticing Rover's on the roster of participants this go-round, I secured our reservations before the menu was even announced. It is not often that an opportunity to be fed by the legendary "Chef in the Hat" for only $25 rolls around, after all.
Rover's is established in the relatively tony Madison Park neighborhood of Seattle. I had noticed the awning on a few occasions before, so I thought I knew where it was located. Arriving last night, we were surprised to find that the awning led to an open courtyard surrounded by unimposing looking shops. Yoga studio, shoe store... where's Rover's? We followed the walkway to the back and happened by chance to notice a small bronze plaque reading "Rover's" mounted next to an inconspicous doorway. I felt like we were visiting Club 33, the hidden restaurant in Disneyland. Upon entering, we found ourselves in a small lobby separated from the dining room by a heavy burgundy velvet curtain. The hostess greeted us graciously, took our coats, and indicated that my husband and I were the first of our party to arrive, and that our table was being prepared for us. We sat on the leather banquette and nervously looked around. I felt a little out of place, even though we were dressed appropriately (I'm really getting some mileage out of the new dress I bought last spring!). This was clearly not our usual outing.
Our friends arrived and I began to relax as we found our seats and were welcomed by our server. The dining area is divided into four (?) rooms, implying the space had been a home at one time. Our party of five was seated at a large round table in the center room, which was flanked by a beautiful sideboard. Sorry I don't have any photos for you; I am of the belief that it is gauche to whip out one's camera in a fine dining establishment, especially to take pictures of the scenery.
We made our selections from the limited menu. For my first course, I chose the Butternut Squash soup with hazelnut oil and fried sage. It was rich and velvety, and tasted like fall. My nerves melted away with each spoonful. For the main course, I opted for Pacific Cod with locally foraged boletes and Swiss chard. The only other time I have had a delicate fish cooked so perfectly was at Canlis during last spring's Restaurant Week. I wish there had been a little more of the herb preparation on the plate; it was a lively accompaniment. The chardonnay paired beautifully, cutting through the oiliness of the fish and complementing the savory mushrooms well. For dessert, our table chose to share an assortment of the three offerings: two orders each of Espresso Creme Brulee and Chocolate Gateau, and one Apple Tartlet. We joked about needing a conveyor belt or lazy Susan as we passed the plates around the table. By this time, our guardedness had dissolved, and we were totally comfortable in our environs. It was a testament to the warm hospitality that we felt so welcome.
Was it a perfect experience? Of course not. We ran into a few of the common complaints about Restaurant Week: limited menu that may not necessarily reflect the best of a restaurant's offerings, a busy dining room with waitstaff stretched to their limits, and smaller-than-usual portions. Am I complaining? Absolutely not! In fact, we are looking forward to our visit to Crush next week. Likewise, we did our best to be good RW patrons: we ordered drinks, didn't ask for substitutions, tipped well, and didn't linger over our table.
Hats off to the Chef in the Hat! Now, to visit Alaska...