It’s been nearly six months since Thierry Rautureau turned the lights off—for good—at Rover’s, but to no one’s surprise, the affable Chef in the Hat hasn’t been living a life of leisured retirement. He's been readying and remodeling a 4,000-square-foot former jewelry store into the restaurant of his dreams: Loulay.
Named after the part of France where Rautureau grew up, Loulay isn’t a reimagining of Rover’s—though they have brought the wine library. Think of it, instead, as its sequel. The place is massive—4,000 square feet on the bottom floor of the Sheraton at the corner of Sixth and Union—and yet Rautureau wants it to feel at once as casual and cozy as Luc and as special and intimate as Rover’s. “What do you do when you look back on the things you really love in your life?” says Rautureau. “I decided this was the perfect time in my life to do something really different. And Loulay is it.”
Reservations are now being accepted, starting with dinner Wednesday, December 4, with breakfast and lunch coming soon. Here are five reasons you should get excited about Loulay:
Old Hollywood glamor meets Seattle sensibility. “When I first walked into the space, I was like, ‘Shit. What am I going to do with this?’” Rautureau says. But he loves a challenge—even one that comes with 25-foot-ceilings. The result is a timeless sort of space that looks the part of a big-name, post-conference, pre-theater eatery—velour curtains, Italian marble, glittering chandeliers, white leather banquettes—but aims to maintain the neighborhood charm that keeps people coming back to Luc and made them so sad to lose Rover’s. Rautureau says his first priority has been making Loulay feel warm, not “like the bottom of a building.” After all, “Downtown Seattle is a community,” he says. A community in desperate need of a few (more) good restaurants.
Did I mention the mirror? It’s a showstopper of an art piece: an 11-foot-by-7-foot gilded objet trouvé mirror that Rautureau says cost somewhere in the $25,000 range. The piece, which hangs above the front windows and across from the mezzanine, was commissioned by local artist Tamara Codor of Codor Designs (you may recognize her work from Bar Sajor). Parlor game suggestion: play spot-the-hats among the objects hidden in gold leaf.
There’s not a bad seat in the house. “One of the things I love about this restaurant are all the little niches that are available for people to dine,” Rautureau says. He’s right: There are half a dozen different types of spots to sit in the 110-seat space, ranging from high-backed, remarkably soundproof booths to the intimate lovers’ nook by the bar, from the regal balcony and its people-watching vantage point to the kitchen counter perfectly positioned for gawking at the food. I’m guessing, as time goes on, regulars will be going back to sit in favorite tables as much as eat favorite dishes.
French food (or is it?) without pretention. Rautureau doesn’t like terms like “local” or “seasonal”; he also doesn’t get the general preoccupation with labeling types of cuisine. “I don’t even mention the farm-to-table thing—why would you cook anything else?” he says. (To his point, both farm and table were on the same property when he was a boy in the French countryside.) So what kind of food can we expect at Loulay? “Good food, obviously,” he says, laughing. Though the menu is influenced by his life in France, Rautureau says it's just as strongly flavored with his years in America, which means you’ll likely see some inspiration from the cosmopolitan cultures in Seattle, plus a few of the dishes (hello, Luc’s pommes souffle) that fans love.
A new hot chocolate in town. Though Le Pichet is the current crowd favorite for thick chocolat chaud, that could all change. Rautureau’s favorite dish on the new menu is a nod to a meal he enjoyed as a boy in the French countryside: rich hot chocolate (his was made with cream straight from the cow, so we’ll have to make a few concessions here) and toasted brioche with salted butter.