Hotel restaurants are an under-appreciated asset in Seattle. Dining rooms in the Alexis, the Fairmont, and the Sorrento have been playing a major role in the downtown restaurant scene for decades now. More recently, the W's Earth & Ocean has launched two Beard Award–winning chefs and garnered a nomination for a third. I regularly send visitors staying downtown to Tulio in Hotel Vintage Park and Lola in the Hotel Andra. And yet every hotel restaurant that opens, no matter how swank, still has to fight a reputation established by hundreds of lesser entities. Too many of us have eaten overcooked chicken with congealed butter sauce in too many overchilled banquet halls, or paid far too much for a late-night burger and fries that tasted as though they'd been warmed up in the hotel sauna. That's why Seattle's new crop of hotel restaurants take care to separate themselves from the enterprise to which they are attached. Take Juno, in the newly remodeled and reopened Arctic Hotel: It's not a hotel restaurant, we're told by the publicists, but a restaurant that happens to be in a hotel. Despite their discomfort with the association, being part of a luxury hotel offers distinct advantages to a restaurant. There's guaranteed steady business providing room service (sorry, "in-room dining") and banquets. And there's often a bigger budget for decor—after all, any luxury hotel needs a restaurant befitting its stature. Hence the metal trees and Puget Sound waterscape at the Edgewater's Six Seven; the glass bamboo and mutating rainbow-colored LCD wall of Hotel 1000's BOKA; the telephone booth–sized glass lamps at Sazerac, connected to the Hotel Monaco. Juno, which has to live up to the famed walrus heads that ring its exterior, is no exception. A fedora would not seem out of place here, and neither would a Bluetooth headset: The room glows cream and orange, which seep into the rich browns of leather and oxidized bronze. As you look deep into the narrow restaurant, an offset grid of white and metallic-glazed tiles on the floor skews the perspective. The restaurant is divided in half—casual on one side, formal booths along the other—by a long bar with backlit shelves that look like shards of amber catching the late-afternoon sun. The designers have done a masterful job of combining classic and up-to-date elements. Thomas Kollasch's menu does the same: This is Seattle, so when I write that the kitchen's focus is seasonal and sustainable, like me you'll probably respond, "Of course, and...?," though I'm sure those claims must be a pain for the chef of a high-volume restaurant to back up. Likewise, you'll nod when I mention that the appetizers and desserts are dim-sum-sized "tastes" ($3–$7 a pop), and that there are pork belly, boar bacon, and sliders on the menu. These are classics of their time and place. My dinner at Juno contained high points surrounded by middling ones. There was a stuffed, roasted rabbit leg scented with coriander that couldn't have been juicier, quite a feat to accomplish with an easily dried-out meat; the eggy spaetzle underneath were coated in a rabbit reduction sauce that had me reaching for a bread mop once the squiggly noodles were gone. A pan-roasted fillet of Alaskan ling cod had a thin gold crust on the meat that crackled when I sliced through it and encountered the steamy, moist fish sealed inside. Upping its unctuous character, the fish was sauced in brown butter, capers, and boar lardons, aka upscale bacon bits. But there was a clear distinction between the kitchen's aptitude for meat and its skill with vegetables. Exhibit A: a two-inch square of pork belly, braised tender and fried until the fat gilded and crisped, with a perfect bourbon-cider glaze and a few rocket leaves to cut the fat. Exhibit B, served alongside it: a "wilted spinach" salad that wasn't just wilted but melted down, overdressed and overpowered with molasses-sweet dates, so off-balance that a fried goat-cheese round couldn't restore it. The disparity even occurred on the same plate: A venison fillet (exhibit C), rubbed with a just-right amount of cardamom and anise and cooked to the point just before rare turns into medium-rare, leaving the pink meat perfectly tender, was surrounded by marble-sized Brussels sprouts (exhibit D) that were so raw and hard a couple of mis-angled stabs of the fork sent them rolling across the table. During the day, the microbites and entrées on the menu are replaced by $12 sandwiches and entrée salads, but the results are just as uneven. The slices of smoked duck breast tiled on a croissant with havarti, crisped prosciutto bits, and an avocado mousse were gorgeous cuts of meat, redeeming a sandwich messy enough that my companion ate it with his hands splayed out like antlers, daintily pinching the round between index fingers and thumbs to avoid getting glooped. But on my side of the table, I picked at the most amateurish pasta dish I've eaten in years: overcooked orecchiette—"little ear" pasta shapes that resemble Barbie bra cups—in a thick cream sauce that had absolutely no flavor to it, just a bunch of fat that was threatening to separate if I didn't regularly stir the bowl. Scattered over the top were barely cooked pink beets that had the snap of a raw carrot as well as briefly sautéed chanterelles covered in grit. The staff showed us eager, almost overanxious attention, like the great aunt you enjoy visiting even though she presses your knee every five minutes and worries you'd rather be with people your age. Our dinner, for example, began with 10 minutes of menu introductions and helpful hints. Neither our waitress nor the manager were hugely familiar with the wine list, so they smartly compensated by bringing out tastes of a couple of glasses I asked about. After we had settled on our wines, she delivered them...then stood at the table until we realized that we were supposed to retaste our glasses and smile our approval yet again. That preamble over, Aunty Em turned into just the right server for the evening: She led a flock of food runners to the table with each course, and directed them as they deposited the plates in front of the proper people. She switched out silverware between courses, offered much more concise recommendations when dessert time came around, and steered us well (a delicate white chocolate and avocado mousse and a chocolate feuilletine with layers of dense, dark ganache, gooey caramel, and brittle pralin). Despite some of its charms—a gorgeous room, a gorgeous rabbit—Juno is opening in a year flush with the arrival of restaurants I'd consider destination dining, and I don't think it merits the same recommendation. An after-work cocktail in the attached Polar Bar with a few of the small plates, certainly, provided you're a carnivore. Even a post-theater entrée or two in the main restaurant. And I bet, though it'd cost me more than $200 a night to prove myself right, that the guests on the eighth floor will be able to order up a top-notch burger.Price Check
JUNO The Arctic Club Hotel, 700 Third Ave., 631-8080, www.junorestaurant.com. DOWNTOWN. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Wilted spinach $9
Roasted rabbit $26
Orecchiette (lunch) $14
Croissant sandwich $13
Feuilletine $4 firstname.lastname@example.org