Oh, loaded fries, how I love thee.
Let me count the (many) ways.
1. The bulgogi fries, at Tacoma’s Build-A-Burger, topped with kimchi pickles and spicy sauce.
2. The built-for-three dirty fries finished with a fried egg at The Mill Restaurant & Sports Bar in Milton.
3. The al pastor fries at Gig Harbor’s Table 47 topped with chorizo and pork shoulder, with a kick of pineapple salsa.
4. The riff on poutine on Pacific Grill’s bar menu, made with a cheese sauce and fried cheese curds, plus a gravy boosted with wine.
5. And, of course, the 11 kinds of loaded fries at the new(ish) Straight From Philly in downtown Tacoma. Yes, 11.
There are more, but I’m going to go ahead and stop there so I can say this: In an area laden with excellent loaded fries, there’s one more to add to your list.
Find dirty fries topped with a tasty romesco sauce, Beecher’s cheese and sliced steak at Bar 960 in the lobby at Hotel Murano, which opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The hotel has expanded the size and scope of its lobby bar in the last few months. The hotel renamed it Bar 960 and beefed up — so to speak— its drink and food offerings.
Dirty fries and a hefty half-pound Wagyu burger are the two must-try items on that new menu from Chef Matt Stickle, who also is executive chef of The Bite Restaurant, upstairs at Hotel Murano.
He’s a chef who also created one of my favorite versions of poutine in Tacoma. His famous “fries and gravy,” made with a mushroom-wine gravy fueled by zinfandel and topped with cheese curds or gorgonzola, is available upstairs. Those, too, should be on your must-order fry list ($9).
Downstairs, the dirty fries are another flavor-punched ensemble. They’re also built for sharing ($12).
“We wanted shareable plates, and we didn’t want anything super heavy, but a lot of different flavors,” said Stickle, who designed the nine-item bar menu with sharing and snacking in mind because the hotel gets a lot of business before and after shows from the nearby Rialto and Pantages theaters.
“I like the romesco sauce because it’s not a super-heavy sauce,” said Stickle.
I also like the romesco sauce because it pops with a robust roasted tomato flavor. Kinda like fancy ketchup.
A big pile of crispy garlic fries comes topped with that romesco, plus tender slices of flat iron steak, whole-roasted garlic cloves and a pile of Beecher’s flagship cheese. That’s a rich assembly of ingredients, so Stickle chose a puckery ingredient to cut all that fat — chopped pepperoncinis.
What’s that crunch I tasted? Toasted almonds. That ingredient has surprised diners who try that dish.
“You would never think to put almonds or some sort of nut on fries, but we wanted that toasty crunch in there,” said Stickle.
I recommend washing that down with the perfect way to celebrate spring — the hotel’s Spanish-themed gin and tonic made with Hendricks gin, cucumber and orange peel, with a few peppercorns thrown in for heat, and finished with tonic water ($12).
The house burger, called the 960 Burger, is called “the hangover burger” informally by Stickle and the kitchen crew because they created it after a night of cocktail sampling (all in the name of research, of course).
It’s made with a half-pound Wagyu beef patty and served with a big portion of garlic fries ($18). Loaded onto that burger is a bunch of goo and flavor, much like those dirty fries. Taleggio cheese was a necessary component because the Hotel Murano kitchen chefs wanted “a stinky, creamy cheese,” but the pastrami bacon pushes the flavor a lot.
They make the cure for the bacon in house, and it’s a bit of a riff on the flavors of a pastrami rub.
“We rub it with coriander, mustard seeds, brown sugar, garlic, cloves, black pepper, and that penetrates the bacon,” he said.
The burger, built on a sturdy bun, is finished with arugula and a swipe of housemade sun-dried tomato ketchup flavored with apple cider vinegar, rosemary and honey from the Hotel Murano’s beehive, which is stored on the rooftop just outside The Bite restaurant.
Gig Harbor beekeeper Jon Tuite tends that beehive, which produced about 14 gallons of honey last year from the double-stacked hives, Stickle said.
The honey also shows up on the sauce for Stickle’s honey-bourbon chicken wings on the Bar 960 menu ($10).
Here’s more from the Bar 960 menu:
Must order: Get the plate of six kumamoto oysters, served shucked fresh on the half shell, topped with segmented grapefruit and a side of grapefruit mignonette ($10).
Other menu items: Snacky portions of olives ($4), spiced, warm nuts ($4), truffle fries ($6), Panzanela salad ($10), charcuterie and cheese plate ($14).
Cocktails: Five specialty drinks designed by food-and-beverage manager John Nelson. In addition to the Spanish gin and tonic, there’s a honey-infused champagne-vodka-rosemary cocktail called a King Bee ($13), a chai-spiced vodka and Cointreau drink called a Chai Sidecar ($12), and a rye cocktail flavored with oloroso sherry ($14). A revolving tap cocktail is currently a Tito’s lemon drop. Beer and a dozen wines by-the-glass ($8 to $18) also served.
Lounge area: Sink into two lounge areas with cushy seating that flank the bar, which now has room for about 18 following the bar remodel. The windows beyond that bar are a new addition and give a view of the street outside. High-top tables surround the bar area.
Where: The lobby of Hotel Murano, 1320 Broadway, Tacoma
Info: 253-238-8000 or hotelmuranotacoma.com/food-drink
Hours: Opens at 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday