Well-crafted stories and expert culinary insights

Feb 2013

Rover’s: An Appreciation

My husband and I still remember that first meal we had at Rover’s. It was August, 1988. We were both having grumpy weeks, didn’t like our jobs, whatever the grievance. So we played hooky that lovely sunny day and walked onto the Bainbridge ferry to escape a bit, wander Winslow, explore the beach. Then a huge treat that evening to cheer us up even more: dinner at Rover’s.

The chef, before the hat, at one of those Halloween extravaganzas.

The chef, before the hat, at one of those Halloween extravaganzas.

They had a larger outdoor patio then, it was years before the renovation that moved the front door from the west side of  the building to where it now faces the courtyard. As amazing as the food was, what I remember most about that meal was drinking wine that—at the time—was the oldest I’d ever been served. And it was a white wine, a late-harvest chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, 1959 Moulin Touchais. Poured to accompany seared foie gras, is was a moment that opened my eyes to what a distinctive dining experience Rover’s brought to Seattle.

We could never have dreamed that evening that it would be the first of dozens of visits to the restaurant. Formal celebrations, family in from out of town, an occasional splurge just because. In the 1990s, Thierry put on outrageously wonderful Halloween feasts, 13 courses of leisurely indulgence, complete with costumes, lots of wine, lots of frivolity. We went to at least three of those most memorable meals.

Then there was the dinner I had about a decade ago with the late, great Phil Wood, founder and then still owner of Ten Speed Press, a Berkeley-based publisher. He had some interest in publishing the cookbook for which Thierry and I had drafted a proposal, he flew in to check out the restaurant and size me up as a possible collaborator. I was uncharacteristically nervous, made more comfortable by Phil’s friendliness (plus the fact that he showed up at Rover’s in a Hawaiian shirt). After a couple of glasses of bubbly, we were all at ease and before long Thierry and I were hard at work on Rover’s: Recipes from Seattle’s Chef in the Hat.

I could almost write a book about writing that book, it was a long and phenomenal process. Few, if any, Rover’s recipes were ever written down at the time, so I had my work cut out for me. I learned quickly to cover my laptop keyboard in plastic wrap for our full-day kitchen sessions, when Thierry would cook his way through a handful of recipes, and I’d madly take notes about ingredients and timing, eyeballing measurements, chronicling the process in words and pictures. Then back to my desk to sift through it all and write recipes, testing them in my own kitchen to assure they’d work for the average home cook. We were proud of what the book produced and I like to think of that time as a sort of free-style grad school in the culinary arts, retesting and expanding what I’d learned at culinary school in France.

One of the least flattering pictures of me but Thierry is in form, dashing and sly, having just made another of his (often terrible) jokes....

One of the least flattering pictures of me but Thierry is in form, dashing and sly, having just made another of his (often terrible) jokes….

It took my breath away when I read recently that Thierry had decided to close Rover’s in April, the place will certainly be missed. All those fun evenings, luxurious dishes, enticing sauces, sometimes offbeat ingredients (cockscomb comes to mind…), and the laughs – the latter of which was one of the greatest things about Rover’s. While serving some of the most elegant, finely-crafted French cuisine in the country, it was never a stuffy, intimidating place. Thierry’s ebullient personality and style rightly guided not only his menu, but the experience guests could expect. He wanted his patrons to be moved by the food and focused on their companions, not worried about which fork to use or if they were dressed right. Haute cuisine made approachable, without the slighted compromise.

That personality, and the chef’s mad skills in the kitchen, certainly aren’t fading off into the sunset any time soon. His more casual Luc is going gangbusters, drawing folks into its bustling, warm room on the street corner near Rover’s. There’s Kitchen Circus, his personal take on the kitchen-competition theme. He hits the radio waves with Tom Douglas on Seattle Kitchen and with Jamie Peha on Table Talk.  And for the guy who can’t stand still for the 5 to 10 minutes it takes a sauce to reduce (out comes the latent musician in him, drumming on the side of the pot with a wooden spoon to kill time), I have no doubt some other fun adventure (or two or three) are around the corner to keep him busy. And surely us well fed and entertained.

I’ve already been back for one dinner since the news came out. Thierry says a number of folks are booking tables who had yet to dine at Rover’s—better late than never I suppose. I’m sure many longtime customers are likewise filling out the reservation book, welcoming a chance to recollect meals past and thank the chef for making them possible.

And I have one more reservation on the books for late April. I’ll sit down, not look at the menu, have the chef just cook for me. Just like that first meal nearly 25 years ago.

Cheers to you Chef! And—dare I say—hats off for 26 years of extraordinary service of the culinary kind at Rover’s. I’m already hungry for what comes next.