August 23

Dinner Destination

SLU newcomer 2120 is fast becoming a lunchtime staple in the neighborhood, but aims to make its mark as one of the city’s premier supper spots.

South Lake Union has been abuzz with all sorts of food news this summer. Impending openings of local chainlets like Henry’s Tavern and national well-knowns like Shake Shack are highlights, but one of the more refreshing additions to South Lake Union’s seemingly endless run of new restaurants came with 2120 in late June. Owner Milan Uzelac and chef Derek Bugge opened the airy, modern space at The Regrade on the southwestern corner of Amazon’s Day 1 building, right in the shadow of The Spheres. The duo brought farm-to-table flavors to a neighborhood with plenty of choices, few of which have offerings that extend beyond lunch menu fare.

The restaurant’s cuisine focuses on food that Bugge describes as “modern American with Latin subtleties.” Examples of those subtleties include pairings of mole negro with pan-fried Draper Valley chicken, mole verde with gnocchi, and cilantro chimichurri and Painted Hills New York steak. Perhaps the most popular dish so far is one that Bugge says he built the foundation of his career—grilled octopus. It’s served at 2120 with honey-carrot puree, corona bean ragout, sofrito, and sherry gastrique. “It’s by far my favorite dish. It’s probably our best seller,” Bugge says. Sadly, most people’s experience with octopus leads to expectations of chewiness, toughness, and blandness. Not so at 2120—the well-balanced dish is full of interesting flavors and it practically melts in the mouth.

The cocktail program at 2120 is as exciting as its cuisine. The bar program is run by Dakota Stockert, who has put together drinks that ultimately complement Bugge’s menu but are also able to stand on their own. Many of 2120’s craft cocktails contain a hint of culinary execution. For example, the Gin Wabbit is made with gin, carrot, cream, lemon, vanilla gomme, and egg white, while the refreshing Summer Smoke is made up of a shot of Bozal Ensamble mescal and a house sangrita sorbet. “When Dakota isn’t behind the bar, he’s often in the prep kitchen with me, picking my brain. He’ll say ‘Hey, I want to put a gastrique in a drink.’ You want to what? He has as much pride in his cocktails as I do my food.” The bar also offers a rotating punch menu, which can be purchased individually or by the bowl for multiple drinkers.

99 Park, 2120’s sibling restaurant in Bellevue, offers similar menu highlights (2120 uses the same brunch menu—don’t miss the chicken and waffle.) According to Bugge, the Bellevue spot emphasizes a dinner experience, and reckoning the bustling South Lake Union lunch crowd has been an exciting test. “As everyone in my circle knows, I never become complacent. I’m constantly looking for new ways to challenge myself. In this case, the biggest challenge has been to really do what I do—and that’s to give the best product I can to every guest that comes in the door on a very large and busy scale at lunch.”

Uzelac wrestles with the same challenge on the ownership side. “We want to get ourselves to the point where people think about us for a great dinner option. The Monday to Friday lunch crowd is built in, so the next step for us is to grow our audience for dinner,” he says. Bugge hints that the contrast in lunch and dinner crowds can actually be a boon for his culinary team. 2120’s lunch menu naturally caters to the busy professional crowd, offering high-quality dishes, but quick turnover. Bugge gets excited for the prospect of using innovation to craft a different experience at dinner. “Take our lamb tartare, for example. I will never serve beef tartare, because that’s something you can find everywhere. Ours is served with housemade chicharron, poblanos, avocado, and smoked aioli, and it’s a very modern take on a classic dish.” This dish is a fine example of Bugge’s labor of love—creating the housemade chicharrons is a two-day progress to make just one batch.

Uzelac thinks the prospects for 2120 as a dinner destination in South Lake Union, and as culinary fixture in the neighborhood, are high. “This area is up and coming. It’s so vibrant. It’s a terrific place to be–we’re just four blocks away from the Space Needle, which is one of the most iconic sights in Seattle. So far, it’s been a fun ride, and we’re excited to grow with the neighborhood.”

Story by Ethan Chung and Photographs Courtesy of 2120.

20 million gallons

of water from Lake Union used to level Denny Hill