September 2, 2008

It Gets Cold in the Arctic, Don't Juno?

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Arctic Building walrus; Juno executive chef Thomas Kollasch

The capital of Alaska is Juneau, thank you. Named for a prospector, Joe Juneau. Not a very nice guy, apparently. But Alaska, you know, Sarah Palin's state.

Juno, on the other hand, is, variously, the code name for the Normandy beachhead assigned to the Canadians, the title of a film about a pregnant teenager (predating Palin's daughter, Bristol), and the name of a new restaurant in downtown Seattle. The restaurant is on the street level of what was once the Arctic Building, housing the Arctic Club, an institution for Seattle businessmen who'd come home rich from the Alaska gold rush, now the Arctic Club Hotel.

As it turns out, JUNO isn't named for any of the above, but for the queen goddess in Roman mythology. So they say, anyway. (I wonder if they've got a speech or hearing impediment. Then again, maybe it's me. Have your cocktails at the Polar Bar where "Some Like It Cold." Seriously.) JUNO all caps, by the way.

I don't envy these folks the task of running a hotel restaurant that aspires to gourmet standards, starting with a traditional English breakfast: Marcona almond crumpet, kippered king salmon, honey-lemon hollandaise and hash browns. French toast? Cappuccino Swirl Decadence with raspberry preserves, white chocolate ganache, cognac chocolate and caramel drizzles. Amaretto biscuits with Isernio's chorizo gravy. Gets no easier at lunch: watercress & dandelion salad, duck breast croissant. Comes time for dinner, and things settle down. Scallop tartare, crab ravioli, Niman ranch steak.

Executive chef is Thomas Kollasch, late of Alderbrook Resort and Barking Frog; his chef de cuisine is Alex Nemeth, late of Purple. They're talented and ambitious, if anything a bit too talented and ambitious. Launching everything at once ain't easy. (The ricotta gnocchi one night were disapointingly gummy, but were followed by a sublime dish of Royal Red prawns.) Aaron Angelo, a veteran of Brennan's and Commander's Palace in his native New Orleans, and who dazzled us at Steelhead Diner, is on hand as wine director, pouring brunello in the dining room and absinthe in the bar. Yes, absinthe. More on this and other Polar Bar innovations in a future post.

For now, don't confuse the Arctic Building with the Alaska Building just down the street. City of Seattle ended up owning both, used both for office space, sold both to private developers in recent years. Arctic (3rd & Columbia) is ringed by 27 magnificent terra cotta walrus friezes, originally fitted with real tusks; upstairs, the spectacular "Northern Lights" Dome Room with seating for over 300. Alaska (2nd & Cherry) was supposed to be converted to downtown housing, but the investors changed gears and will turn it into a mid-market Courtyard by Marriott instead.

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Ricotta gnocchi with leek soubise, summer savory & truffle oil; Royal Red prawns with cherry tomatoes, basil & horseradish.

JUNO, 700 Third Avenue, 206-631-8080 Juno on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at September 2, 2008 10:02 AM | TrackBack

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