Josh Henderson’s Scout Pleases the Eye a Bit More Than the Palate

The new Thompson Hotel restaurant gives tourists a nice taste of the Pacific Northwest, but plays it too safe for locals.

The trend for restaurateurs to establish a presence in the Seattle hotel scene seems firmly ensconced with Ethan Stowell at the Four Seasons, Thierry Rautureau at the Sheraton, and Tom Douglas at Hotel Ändra. Now, finally, Josh Henderson is joining the club at the Thompson Hotel, where he not only has a restaurant, Scout, but a nosebleed bar, The Nest, with breathtaking views of the Sound and the city that might give the cosmopolitan set vertigo.

Scout is perhaps one of the handsomest of Josh Henderson and The Huxley Wallace Collective’s establishments to date, perfecting the whimsical-but-sophisticated style already on display at Westward, Quality Athletics, and St. Helen’s Cafe. I left Scout wishing I could redecorate my whole house.

It starts with the life-size plaid stuffed bear at the entrance, its pattern matching the fabric on the wooden banquettes at a series of large communal tables in the center of the room. The plaids are different colors, like wool camping blankets, which somehow works. Hanging from a solid branch are a riot of plants outfitted in ornate macramé containers. Oriental rugs lie next to ottomans covered in pink and orange plaid in the tiny sitting room adjacent to the dining room, where those partaking of the chef’s tasting menu begin their evening with a rolling bar making cocktails before their eyes. At the bar, which runs the length of the restaurant, elegant, gold-legged, tufted bar stools catch the eye. A deconstructed “cabin” at the back for private parties replaces logs with lovely blonde wood, framed in a cut-out geometric pattern. Depending on your seat, water views can be glimpsed.

There’s a reason I’m gushing about the interior first. While it’s hard to really criticize the food at Scout, there is a lack of unpredictability, of the usual quirk we find from Henderson. That may very well be purposeful, a hotel being a place one expects well-executed classics without too many surprises. Here, it seems to say, is a whisper of the Pacific Northwest for tourists expecting halibut and salmon and local mushrooms, but without pushing the palate too far. An acorn-squash starter with duck prosciutto and fried sage leaves came, unfortunately, cold. I wished the menu or the server would have told us to expect that, as I prefer squash warm. Cold squash, particularly varieties like acorn or butternut, lose their depth of flavor and get mushy. The duck prosciutto doesn’t do anything to liven it up. Wild foraged mushrooms are simple, though served over a foie spread aimed to neutralize the dish. It adds a welcome creaminess to the meaty mushrooms, but isn’t one of the most original mushroom preparations I’ve had in town.

Mains are also skillfully prepared but lacking that extra something, though the corn succotash with corn crème and corn croutons that encircle a piece of halibut is sweet and decadent. The fish itself, though cooked just right, has a metallic aftertaste that put me off. Pappardelle with a rabbit ragù is lush, a hard feat to pull off with stringy rabbit. Probably the most exceptional dish, and by far the most interesting, is the short rib, which comes with small buttons of white sweet potato and a sauce lightly emboldened with mustard. It sounds odd but plays out beautifully, the mustard undercutting the sauce’s sweetness. If every dish had that extra oomph, I’d easily place Scout on my list of favorites.

Prices are steep, with mains in the mid-$20s to $30s—again, typical for a swank hotel. If you happen to be staying there from out of town, I imagine you’d be perfectly pleased with the food. But for us who live here, who have so many options, it’s unlikely to become a go-to. I’d rather head all the way up to the cozy but chic and dark Nest, sip barrel-aged cocktails, nosh on small plates like steak tartare and pimiento cheese, and pretend, for a night, that I’m a New Yorker taking in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and waterfront skyline—perhaps even trading my winter boots for a pair of dangerously high heels.

nsprinkle@seattleweekly.com

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