Checking in at The Theodore’s film-inspired hostess stand, you imagine checking in at a hotel. You half expect to be given a key to access the lodge-like dining room, which features a vaulted ceiling modeled after Theodore Roosevelt’s summer vacation home. With a fire roaring in the psychedelic fireplace and a feast before you, time spent here does feel like vacation. Whatever you're escaping — whether it be the frenzy of the holiday season, the disappointment of mall food or simply the harried pace of everyday life — The Theodore offers sanctuary.
Many seek sanctuary in burger form, and a burger is often a telling barometer of a restaurant's overall quality. This measurement holds true here. The Theodore's juicy burger with its layers of smoky flavor on a dense, yielding yeast-roll bun reflects the standard of the entire menu created by chef/owner Tim Byres, who won a James Beard award for his book Smoke: New Firewood Cooking.
A weekend brunchtime visit held a delightful surprise: a breakfast burger. This version, composed of sweet veal sausage, sunny side-up egg, aioli and American cheese, satisfied as well as the lunchtime standard. Often an afterthought, the side of chips begged for the spotlight. They were thinly sliced, perfectly crisp and delicately spiced, and they vanished immediately. A dilly single-egg Benedict with ham also struck a perfect balance between salty and sweet. A lovely trio of jelly rolls with a crunchy cinnamon-sugar coating and tart, fresh raspberry filling made the perfect accompaniment to an eye-opening espresso shot.
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Relaxed and comfortable though it may be, an evening here feels refined and elegant. Beautiful linens are placed before you while servers tend to details as if you are a guest of Mr. Roosevelt himself. Before dinner, a cocktail such as the Redwood — with the sweetness of house-made jam to play against the bitterness of Campari — awakens the palate. Only a starter of sourdough toasts with cured ham and horseradish egg salad was too subtle — my companion and I were left wanting more of the characteristic zing of horseradish. The broiled lobster — tender, sweet, bathed in an herby curry — left us wanting something different: many, many return visits. For dessert, the grapefruit and honey baked Alaska also achieves perfection. Buried like treasure under a mountain of incredibly airy meringue, the tart grapefruit ice cream is just the right finishing note to a celebratory dinner.
Every visit seems to reveal new surprises. One afternoon, as my guest and I were leaving, we noticed a tiny cowboy figurine perched high on a pillar. On a bookshelf, a miniature Native American arched his bow. It became something of a game to see how many hidden rivals we could find. This is one of the gifts The Theodore, a restaurant with a secret dining room and a disco ball-adorned enclave, gives you: a sense of curiosity and diversion — a vacation from yourself.