Relish Burger Bistro opened on March 1st, inside the Westin Hotel on Fifth Avenue. A huge banner on the patio railing reads: “Your search for the perfect burger ends here.”
Last night, they held a “black jeans” (ugh) opening party for schmancy business people and a few schlubs from the press, and they went all out. A video camera captured people as they entered, and the host had an awards-show style microphone with SEEN on its cube base (presumably from the advertising company Team Photogenic, who run a web show by that name). An ice sculpture bar melted over the course of the evening, with Heinz ketchup and mustard bottles suspended in the base and RELISH carved in bas relief. I was informed the artist is Kevin Roscoe, a Seattle-based, international promotional marketing guy. Colored disco lights shot upward from the windowsills.
Most of the food wasn't great. The grilled steelhead salmon came with a pine nut, mushroom, raisin, and tomato relish, cooked until all of those things had the same texture (which could be blamed on the heat lamp setup) and the salmon itself was noticeably fishy/not fresh (which could not). The beer-battered fried pickle came with a "chipotle remoulade" that was SO GROSS; it had a strong, pungent flavor that doesn't pair well with the already strong, pungent flavor of a freaking pickle. Pineapple-carrot-mascarpone cakes made to look like tiny burgers—the “lettuce” was coconut flakes dyed green—were clearly for novelty rather than taste. The sweet potato fries came pre-drizzled with "garlic aioli" that was very sour, almost bleach-y.
But none of that really matters. Do they have the perfect burger? Surprisingly—judging by the sliders/mini-versions—they might. The beef slider was juicy in the literal sense, meat juices running in your mouth (but the bun wasn’t soggy! Sorcery!) and the right amount of pink in the center. With shredded lettuce, tomato, fried onion, Beecher’s flagship cheese, and just a touch of tangy, housemade steak sauce (instead of being smothered in mayo), the toppings were light, so as not to distract from that juicy, juicy middle. The chicken in the chicken slider (under the dependable combo of mozzarella, tomato, and arugula) was crispy and fatty and reassuringly irregular in shape, rather than pounded senseless into a puck.
The assistant manager of restaurants and bars at the Westin, Kristina Dziedzic, said that they're trying to get away from the "stigma of the hotel restaurant" by being engaged in the community and integrating Seattle-specific food-makers: Macrina brioche buns, Beecher's cheese, Whidbey Island ice cream, Fremont whiskey. They served several different Elysian beers at the party, and 19 of the 21 planned tap beers will be local. The beef is sourced from Niman Ranch, a network of humane farms (husbandry method, free-range, no antibiotics, grain fed—but not necessarily local), and ground in house.
The chef, Ali Majedi, just moved to Seattle; he ran the first Relish Burger Bistro at the Phoenician (another Starwood hotel) in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dziedzic insisted the two Relishes have very little in common, given their focus on local tastes.
So can a corporate hotel restaurant be more than another way to gouge hotel guests? At Relish, I’m willing to entertain the idea. You can’t judge a restaurant by the launch party, but I’ll be back for a burger.