They come in herds. Six, eight, 10 at a time, bearing lanyarded badges and bulky backpacks emblazoned with that grinning orange arrow. They scrum up in the bar area or the fire-pit-bedecked patio, plotting ecommerce disruptions over frosty pints and frites with spicy “Mexican” ketchup.
To dine at 2120, the new downtown restaurant from the chef-owner team behind 99 Park, is to experience Amazonia’s true watering hole, an unobstructed perch for observing the habits of the mysterious tech monster that has gobbled up 19 percent of city’s office space, sent housing prices soaring like a billionaire-funded suborbital rocket, and left many Seattleites feeling displaced and bewildered.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his family have dined at 99 Park—a beloved Bellevue eatery that serves cheffy, local fare to a chain-weary Eastside. Lore has it that Bezos himself suggested an offshoot for the sprawling space in full view of the “spheres”: the intersecting trio of steel-and-glass biodomes that bubbled up earlier this year to form the sculptural centerpiece of Amazon’s 3.3-million-square-foot Denny Regrade takeover. Bezos famously devises lures to keep employees at toil; the company’s permissive dog policy wasn’t likely born from a love of goldendoodles alone. What better way to extend work into the evening than hibiscus-braised beets and lemongrass-infused spritzes at the handsome venue mere steps from the cubicle?
If this all evokes some corporate nightmare, I’m doing it wrong. From the impossibly pretty plates to the steely, gold-lit open kitchen, executive chef Derek Bugge and owner Milan Uzelac have nailed the challenge of opening a real-deal restaurant that also services a Big Tech campus. Claim a stool at the wood-paneled bar to overhear confessions related to crushing on one’s manager (or was it one’s manager’s manager?) while you feast on tender octopus legs, charred on the grill and curled atop a velvety honey-carrot puree. Pop in at lunchtime for a crisp-crusted Wagyu burger that zings with nutty, acidic manchego cheese, plus a chance to gaze upon well-coiffed canines come to frolic in an adjacent patch of grass. Bugge’s dishes, dressed with flavors inspired by his Mexican heritage, present a rather ingenious something-for-everyone approach. A culinary adventurer can opt for silky lamb tartare spread atop avocado, smoky aioli, and an airy chicharrón or seared albacore tuna paired with avocado crema and juicy bricks of compressed watermelon. More staid colleagues, meanwhile, might pick the simple, crackly skinned fillet of rosy king salmon. And with a few exceptions—a heavy, too-sweet almond mole pooled beneath frisee-capped chicken; a gluey, insipid mac and cheese—the food displays impeccable sourcing, generous approachability, and technical exactitude, plus the sort of tweezer-and-squeeze-bottle artistry you’d expect from a far-fancier venue.
But like all chefs striving for a certain caliber of flourish-forward locavore cuisine, Bugge’s challenge will be consistency. An early-fall visit to the bar began with a sad order of flaccid shishito peppers, their skin the pale green of a child after an emetic roller-coaster ride; a signal that 2120’s kitchen may not be the bulwark against midtown mediocrity it seemed just a few weeks earlier. Meanwhile a battered and stuffed poblano, hefty and beige and gooey with more of that acidic manchego, displayed signs of dexterity at the deep fryer but none of the gorgeous primping of Bugge’s late-summer plates.
The after-work crowd—quaffing from golden goblets of chenin blanc and sweaty mescal cocktails—seemed not to notice. But then, does a great after-work haunt, once established, really need elevated culinary offerings? A pile of fries, a cold drink, a teammate who gleans the Sisyphean responsibility of pleasing all the world’s consumers with a single website—these are the only true requisites for an evening of coworker commiseration. Vacuum-compressed fruit and house-puffed pig skin? Perhaps less so.
Unless Bugge makes a daily argument for better-than-you’d-expect food, 2120 could lose the edge that makes it noteworthy in the first place. That’d be a shame. After all, a corporate village inside a city is far less interesting than a restaurant hub where the world’s largest online company happens to have headquarters. And there’s another challenge that bears mentioning. In a city strapped for hospitality staff, service has its slips at 2120. Interludes between courses stretch on long enough to overhear an entire biz-dev pitch at the adjacent two top, for example. And there was the otherwise charming employee who, having failed to deliver a rack of lamb, insisted, “You didn’t order that from me.” She swiftly recovered with a peace offering of passion fruit sorbet, but it’s never a good idea to gaslight the guests.
On balance, however, 2120 currently represents a triumph of what the techies call user experience. It clearly caters to its core corporate clientele, but the painterly dishes and splashy vibe have a way of winning over the badgeless masses as well. And for those prone to people-watch—we prefer curious to nosy—it provides a window into the megalith that, like it or not, is rapidly reshaping our city.