Downtown Seattle restaurant dinner and lunch services can be as different as… well, night and day. A slammed dining room at noon an also be a sparsely populated one when the dinner bell rings. This can do with location — not many people are hanging out in the Financial District post-happy hour — as much as it can do with quality and atmosphere. A few restaurants have risen to the occasion, some located in hotel lobbies like Goldfinch Tavern in the Four Seasons and the Francophile Loulay in the Sheraton or independently like the cocktail-focused Heartwood Provisions. And now Rider, in the revamped and renamed Hotel Theodore (formerly Roosevelt Hotel), might be joining this small crowd with high hopes.
The name is a nod to 26th president Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders of 1898’s Spanish-American War, not to be confused with DMX’s Ruff Riders of 1998. The restaurant — which Seattleites might not recognize as the original Von’s 1000 Spirits — finished just before the remodeled hotel in late November. The eatery’s “ocean – forest” tagline defines its concept in a succinctly Northwestern manner, and both the menu and decor abide to the theme.
Natural light fills the dynamic main dining room, where exposed industrial ceilings sprout subway-tiled supporting beams and lead to a variety of table shapes and sizes, each supplied with low-back leather chairs. Booth seating is outfitted in quintessential Northwest plaid and firewood is stashed in more places than one, dropping hints to the restaurant’s centerpiece, the Argentine wood-fired grill. Not that you could miss it — it’s big, beautiful and pumps out (thanks to a smoke pollution control system) just an essence of smoke. The long and lean lounge follows in suit with its furnishings, abutting an original brick wall from Von’s and holding 90 patrons for its already-popular happy hour, running from 3-6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight.
Beyond its looks, Rider tastes pretty good too, both in the daylight and night. The ocean and forest emphasis comes from Chef David Nichols, most recently of Queen Anne Beer Hall and prior to he spent time with celebrity chef Marc Murphy in New York. Nichols, an Eastern Washington native, marries land and sea in his menu that obsesses over locally grown meats, fish and leafy greens.
For the hungry, Rider offers the “Seafood Plateau,” a heaping pile of seafood that includes fresh oysters, clams, prawns, scallop ceviche and steamed crab, scaling up in size and price to feed up to six people. For those whom smell the grill and just can’t handle it, the “From Case to the Fire” menu blazes up seasonal proteins, from Idaho-caught whole trout to a 22-ounce dry-aged ribeye from Oregon.
On a recent lunch visit, our table was hoping to try as many dishes as we could, so we opted for our delightful server’s recommendations on the main menu. A delicately assembled tuna tartare was first to show up — a flavorsome stack layered in pink tuna and mint-green avocado, slightly reminiscent of fancy seven layer dip and served with well-seasoned yet just-too-fragile root vegetable chips. There was plenty on the dish to go around, but we gluttonously wanted more of the baked ricotta, also accompanied by root chips and crisp crackers, served in a thick pool of smoked tomato sauce and topped with crunchy kale. We were also fans of the cauliflower sandwich in concept, loaded in the textural blanket canvas of the vegetable with smoked Gouda and sauce to go around, but it was a difficult eat with crusty bread and at nearly three-inches-thick.
Outside of what’s on the grill, other menu selections of intrigue include a hearty vegetable chowder, char-roasted carrot pasta and the flaky and tender British-style fish n’chips, a whole trout with a tangy, grainy tartar sauce.
The inventive cocktail menu features a variety of tipples from mezcal to a two-year-old house bourbon, made in collaboration with SODO’s 2 Bar Spirits, that is served four different ways. Drinks like “Turn Out the Lights?” (gin, rye, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, black tea, lemon) satisfy with fresh flavors and ideas, and the expansive wine list digs deep into Washington, Oregon and California.
Once the sun went down, we returned for a long-lasting happy hour visit and sampled “Easy Riders” like a classic daiquiri for $8 and the Rough Rider (Averna, sweet vermouth, Pechaud Bitters, absinthe) for $10. The Northwest beer list is available for $4 at this time, which is a steal downtown. A financially applauded downtown effort all-around, especially considering the rest of the menu is downtown-priced (dinner entrees scale from $19-58), the happy hour menu is expansive and generous. “Oysters on the clock” increase by 50 cents from $1.50 at 3 p.m., the creative and toothsome shaved kohlrabi salad (served with delicata squash and mint chimichurri) is available for $7 and the supple smoked trout fritters and horseradish aioli are $9.
But the best deal — which, accordingly to General Manager Jonathan Fleming, was a joke that went rogue — is the King crab leg and can of Rainier for $22. It’s an item that hits Seattle’s current state on the nail: a little bourgeois, a little rugged and a little self-aware.
At the very least, Rider seems to embrace all of this — a little old Seattle with the new, a thronged and rushed lunch crowd next to the loud and loose happy hour guests. With an ambitious menu that is true to Northwest roots and a bartender that can make a mean martini, we are hopeful Rider can live up to the most.