TV Dinner

Downtown's newest tourist trap isn't a nightmare.

Wandering past the first wave of the 32 plasma TV screens that greeted us at Seattle's new Fox Sports Grill, it occurred to me yet again how much the culture owes to television. Without it we might never have gotten the spin-off, the marketing tie-in, the cross-pollinating promotional association. Last Friday, to reinforce the NBC/KING-TV brand, KING's Jean Enersen actually interviewed NBC's Katie Couric about Couric interviewing Utah kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart. One could but imagine next week John Curley interviewing Enersen about Couric about Smart, who no doubt knows somebody who knows Kevin Bacon. So why not several degrees of sports-TV-restaurant separation: "Fox: Watch the stations, visit the sports grills"? It's precisely the marketing concept put to work at the original Fox Sports Grill in Scottsdale, Ariz., last November. After opening a second store in Irvine, Calif., owners will hold open the doors for the Seattle hoi polloi this week the day after a private Wednesday gala to be attended by local sports luminaries. Fox Sports Grill makes use of what once was the basement of the up-market (thus, expendable these Old Navy days) I. Magnin clothing store. Guests enter from Sixth Avenue around the corner from Old Navy, but the action is in the expansive subterranean area. This means, yes, FSG has that much in common with Planet Hollywood, that fanzine of a concept restaurant cum wardrobe-and-prop display that flamed out a few years ago in the same neck of the urban nebula. Fortunately, location is about all the new place has in common with Planet Hollywood. Indeed, the distracted visitor might have a hard time making any visible connection between the restaurant and anything Fox-TV-oriented. The menu has Cajun dishes and the obligatory red-meat entrées, but the carte is mercifully devoid of marketing references (no "Terry Bradshaw's Good Ol' Boy Gumbo"; no "Leslie Miller's Lip-Smackin' Ribs"). Then why the Fox tie-in? Owners predicted the association with the television brand would yield useful cross- promotional advantages. And why Seattle? (1) Seattle is a top sports town. (2) The region has a strong Fox-TV presence. (3) A "great piece of real estate" was available. (4) The local dine-out market is strong. MORE TO THE POINT: What's the customer base? Owners predict it will extend beyond the sports-oriented demographic. Saturday's media preview crowd, aside from a dozen writers, included invited guests who dined, drank, and delighted in the surround-TV environment, whooping as Wazzu won, whooping louder when the Yankees lost. About half the square footage is given over to the sports-bar area. A square bar seats about 40. A couple quality pool tables guard the obligatory cigar room. Set away from the sports-immersion room is a more traditional dining area, where 120 guests can gather in that modern rarity: a world without television. A couple private-party dining rooms share the sleek finishes and burnished hues used in the rest of the house. It was in one such clubby setting where, for two hours, staff members brought for our consideration samples of more than half the menu's 50-odd items. (Full disclosure: This was a typical press "freebie," but, despite the gracious protestations of management, I left money to cover my comestibles and the otherwise priceless service.) THE GRUB? BETTERfar betterthan most sports-addicted schlubs have come to expect. Moreover, by today's downtown-dining standards (shop this joint versus nearby chain places Oceanaire or Cheesecake Factory), the Fox fare is cheap. None of the preparations was less than exemplary (chefs Mark Grimes and local product Kerry White have impressive résumés), with several original touches (a grilled-romaine salad or sautéed mussels with several excellent sauce options) to go along with moist Maryland crab cakes, colorful jambalaya, and many other entrées, sandwiches, etc. Ironically, Fox Grill might be best suited not to locals (who presumably already have their fave TV-sports hangouts) but to visiting out-of-towners. I wish I'd been able to find such a place, for example, the night I looked in vain through much of Vancouver, B.C., for somewhere to watch the Huskies lose the Holiday Bowl. As it is, FSG provides an ideal destination for sports voyeurs to find kindred spirits, or at least to meet somebody who knows somebody who knows Katie Couric or Kevin Bacon.

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