After over two years and $25 million in renovations, Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel downtown unveiled its new full-service restaurant on April 8. Chef Thomas Cullen, who most recently worked as an executive chef with Ethan Stowell Restaurants, says he intends to make the George the top restaurant in Seattle.
From a restaurant design standpoint, there are few restaurants in the city that can compete with the vaulted ceilings, the zigzagging green, black, pink, and white marble tile floors, and the large brass pendant lamp chandeliers in the dining room. And there isn’t a single other restaurant in the city that’s had the design budget of the Fairmont Olympic in recent years. Much of the funds for the $25 million renovation of the hotel’s lobby and dining and drinking areas went to the George’s new design, created by Spanish architecture firm Lázaro Rosa-Violán (the rest went to renovating a bar that serves liquor, espresso, and snacks in the main lobby area, a speakeasy behind a bookcase focused on high-end spirits, the hotel’s ballroom, and the Shucker’s Oyster Bar and 4th Avenue Espresso Bar downstairs).
Though Cullen admits his Pacific Northwest-French menu, which employs the best ingredients from local farms, ranches, and fisheries, doesn’t bring anything revolutionary to Seattle’s dining scene, he says you don’t necessarily need to do something new to be the “top” restaurant in the city; instead, he’s trying to achieve unparalleled breadth in his menu, with pasta dishes, sashimi, and other raw dishes, huge seafood boils and towers, dry-aged steaks, and more.
Cullen is particularly excited about geoduck — a quintessentially Seattle food that he says nevertheless doesn’t make it onto a lot of menus outside of the Chinatown-International District, probably because of its large, potentially off-putting shape. On his menu, the massive, sweet clam will be served as sashimi with white shoyu, yuzu, charred jalapeño oil and puffed rice. It will also be part of his seafood tower, accompanied by Dungeness and king crab, oysters, prawns, mussels, clams, and salmon belly, which he claims is Seattle’s most luxurious. Beyond his entrees of salmon, halibut, and diver scallops, a rotating selection of about a dozen local oysters, and a super-crispy grilled octopus with tangy mustard sauce, the other scene-stealing dish is a bouillabaisse made with mussels, clams, scallops, prawns, and seasonal fish. Cullen says this French rouille-based seafood boil is hard to find in Seattle.
“I’m a seafood-forward kind of guy. Seattle...everything you like about seafood comes from here,” he says, talking about the region’s oyster, muscle, and clam farms and the wild fish in the nearby ocean.
But Cullen is equally proud of his beef. He’s sourcing steaks from Carman Ranch, which focuses on sustainable, grass-fed-and-finished beef (the same ranch Renee Erickson works with at Bateau and The Whale Wins). Like Bateau, he dry-ages them to mellow out the herbaceous notes present in grass-fed beef, which many diners, used to eating mass-produced beef fed with grain, aren’t familiar with. The bone-in sirloin is served with French fries and a simple bone-marrow aioli to let the meat shine without embellishment. He’s also serving a -ounce ribeye, a huge chunk of meat to share, with a bold black truffle sauce to match the richer flavor of the ribeye.
On the drinks side of things, there are over 20 wines served by the glass, an impressive number for any restaurant, along with cocktails, a few beers on tap, and mocktails.
For now, the restaurant is serving dinner every day besides Monday, though weekday breakfasts are starting April 14, and weekend brunches are starting April 16. Cullen says the goal is to eventually serve some of Seattle’s best food at all times of the day.
The George is located in Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel at 411 University Street. It’s open 5 to 9:30 p.m, Tuesday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.