Chef Jeremy Hansen and developer Jerry Dicker are both figure-it-out-as-you-go people.
The two have recently teamed up on SAPPHIRE LOUNGE, the bar and small-bites joint that just broke ground in the front of Dicker’s Hotel Ruby, on West First Avenue.
“I’m just having fun playing,” Hansen says of the several revisions his menu has already undergone.
Dicker is that way, too. His GVD Commercial Properties opened the Ruby quickly, nearly a year ago, leaving many elements of the boutique hotel still in the planning stages. “We could have kept it closed,” Dicker says, “but we said, ‘Let’s learn, ourselves.’”
The result is like hospitality beta-testing, he says. “You see the evolution.”
As Sapphire’s May opening date approaches, Hansen — who owns Santé — has begun his own beta-testing.
Hansen gave me a provisional menu two weeks ago. By last weekend, it had become obsolete. “A few things have changed,” he said, “and things will change even more.”
One item he’s sure about, a foie gras brûlée — which came with a pomegranate sphere and fleur de sel air (a foam that holds its shape and texture) — is earthy and potent, the fat of the liver cutting against the sugared top and the foam’s saltiness.
Menu items range from $4 to $50, though prices haven’t been locked.
Hansen says the drinks will be as important as the food.
“We’re going pre-Prohibition with a modern flair,” Hansen says. That means old-fashioned drinks made from scratch-made syrups and mixers. Things like Sazeracs, juleps, “Pimm’s cups, maybe.”
Like the food, some drinks will have elements of molecular gastronomy.
“It’s not going to be a martini bar,” Hansen says. “If we do a martini, it’ll just be a classic one. But then we’ll maybe do it with green olives turned into gelées.”
The menu at Sapphire will evolve as Hansen experiments with food art techniques. Hansen and Dicker’s working relationship will evolve, too.
Dicker says another GVD project, a hotel in the Burgan’s furniture building adjacent to Gonzaga, will open in “24 months” with “two or three restaurants.”
This will stretch the chef’s reach outside downtown. Hansen has signed on to develop those restaurants as well.
For now, though, the focus is on the Sapphire and its art food. “I’ve been studying these things for a long time, man,” Hansen says, “I’m ready to get into it.” (Luke Baumgarten)
No More Than Four
One dollar can’t even get you a bottle of water anymore, but it can get you a beer, sparkling wine or three different appetizers on AGAVE’s new happy-hour menu.
Inside the packed bar area, the tables are illuminated by the soft blue of the adjacent aquarium. Since the recent revamp of the menu, a bigger happy-hour crowd at the bar has been commonplace, says Agave server Caitlin Robirds.
“We’ve been packed,” she says. “You can’t beat a dollar.”
In addition to the dollar items, which include sweet potato fries, chicken tortilla lime soup and jalapeño-tequila edamame, the food and drink menus both top out with items reaching the $4 mark.
Robirds recommends the ancho chicken nachos ($3), which are served with black beans, cheese, tomato, onion, chipotle crema and cilantro. For those looking for something a bit lighter, the prickly pear salad ($3) is a good choice, with fresh arugula, pepita seeds, Point Reyes blue cheese, pears and a light prickly-pear vinaigrette.
The drink menu is as diverse as the food and also features a rotating margarita special. Robirds says Agave uses premium liquor for its well drinks – Azul tequila, Beefeater gin and Finlandia vodka – making their $4 mixed drinks especially reasonable. They also use house-made sweet and sour in addition to organic agave nectar in their margaritas, which Robirds says gives them sweetness without the overpowering sugar flavor of syrups normally used in margaritas.
If you steer away from sweet drinks altogether, try the Cerveza Bloody Mary ($2). The bartenders mix lager beer, fresh jalapeño, cilantro, Arbol Pepper Bloody Mary mix, tomato juice and lime in a pint glass to create the ultimate red beer with just enough spice.
Overall, the new menu is a perfect hybrid
of affordable items with gourmet flavor. Finally — a reason to start
picking up change on the sidewalk again. (Tiffany Harms)
Agave Latin Bistro & Tequila Bar • 830 W. Sprague Ave. • Open Tues-Sat, 4 pm-12 am;
Happy Hours 4 pm-6 pm, 10 pm-12 am • 473-9180