Restaurant Marron hopes to bring casual intensity to north Broadway pocket of fine dining

(Image: CHS)

This Loveless restaurant mural will soon be safely hidden away (Image: CHS)

Olivar in Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA

A relaxed but quality-obsessed player is set to join the trio of north Broadway restaurants that has managed to chisel out a small $$$$ upscale dining scene on Capitol Hill. Restaurant Marron is slated to replace outgoing Olivar in the Loveless Building by the end of spring.

“I grew up in Hawaii. I love my shorts. I love my slippers. And I love my t-shirts,” chef and new owner Eric Sakai tells CHS about his approach to modern American cuisine. He also loves the finest possible ingredients and total concentration on perfect preparation.

“I want to take away the frills and pare it down. While we may not be technically the most affordable dining experience for an every day thing,” Sakai said, “given the format, we’re going to be able to offer people their money’s worth.”

Sakai will operate the restaurant with wife and front of house manager Zarina Sakai. The couple met at The Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park before careers and opportunities took them to Hawaii, a little restaurant you might have heard about in Yountville, and, yes, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After searching America for the right city to build their dream restaurant in, Sakai said Seattle won them over about year and a half ago. They’ve been searching for a home for the restaurant since.

Marron replaces Olivar which along with Altura and Poppy formed north Broadway’s “fine dining” triumvirate. In January, CHS reported that chef and owner Philippe Thomelin was putting his restaurant up for sale after nearly six years in the neighborhood. Thomelin recently confirmed the change. “The decision to close the business is simple: we have different plans ahead of us, and selling the restaurant was the first logical phase in order to move into new ventures,” he wrote in a message sent to customers.

The restaurant space is also getting an overhaul. Sakai’s plan is to transform the venue into a new, more modern look and feel.

“What we really want is a clean space that is void of distractions – off white and charcoal, working with reclaimed table tops, mirrors, trophy wines on display, black chairs,” he said.

Those familiar with the room know such a dramatic facelift can only mean one thing — those murals are goners.

CHS paid a visit to the Loveless in 2009 and detailed the history of the space’s artful decoration:

The building was originally known as the Studio Building, as it was a place for Seattle artists to live and work. Notable artists who rented the building include the photographers Ella E. McBride and Myra Albert Wiggins, as well as Arthur Loveless himself.[2] In subsequent years the artist’s studios were turned into apartments, and you can currently get a hold of a 1-bedroom (with working fireplace) for about $1500 a month[3]. Another of the buildings original tenants was the Russian Samovar, which commissioned the brilliant muralist Vladimir Shkurkin (who had previously painted the inside of the Seattle Civic Auditorium) to decorate the walls.  Shkurkin’s murals depict a story of a swan-turned-princess, by Alexander Pushkin, and can still be viewed at Philippe Thomelin’s Olivar.  In 1961 the Loveless building received recognition from the American Institute of Architects as an outstanding structure.

With wear, accidental chair scrapes and bangs and sun damage over the years, the works have seen better days. Sakai said that his contractor is working with the building’s owner to cover the murals and protect them from any further damage. Those faces will still be there — but behind a safe layer of wood and insulation.

Like Altura, Marron will feature a set menu format. Sakai plans twin tasting menus priced around $60 and a 16 to 18-course, small-bite “carte blanche” menu to round out the nightly offerings. Expect deceptively simple fare that emphasizes proper techniques and creative flavors. One possible small bite Sakai described could also be called a “crouton” — but expected the black bread crisped in rendered fat to be pretty damn delicious. The accompanying caramelized buttermilk probably won’t hurt.

“We’ve spent most of our time in fine dining and love the detail but hate the formality of it,” Sakai said. “Ultimately, we wanted to create a space that was casual.”

The laid back approach will present an alternative take on the fixed menu compared to Altura’s intensity. Sakai said that he actually worked previously with Altura’s chef/owner Nathan Lockwood when they both were in the kitchen at Acquerello The Ruins.

Like Altura’s chef-inspired serious nature, Sakai hopes his nearby Marron’s mood flows from the people working there. “We want [customers] to see the personality in everybody that’s in there,” Sakai said.

It’s a mood that plays out in the restaurant’s name — French for the humble chestnut. “Look how much work it takes to get the actual edible part,” Sakai said. “So much work, so much intensity. But once you’re there, it’s one of the greatest things you can possibly eat.”

Olivar has announced its final night of service will be April 30th. Restaurant Marron is slated to open by June.

UPDATE: The Seattle Met is out with their take on the new restaurant — we were both asked to wait on coverage until Olivar’s final plans were set. The magazine has a bit more foodie analysis of the venture:

Here’s something I found mildly shocking: The entire table doesn’t have to order the same menu; you can go the four-course route and have your dinner companion do the carte blanche…as long as you don’t mind a little down time.

24 thoughts on “Restaurant Marron hopes to bring casual intensity to north Broadway pocket of fine dining

  1. It’s really a pity that those beautiful murals will be covered up, but at least they are not being destroyed. It seems like there should be a way to extricate them from this space, so they could by displayed elsewhere, but I don’t know if this is technically possible.

  2. Covering up those murals is incredibly shortsighted. They are wonderfully distinct, historical and close to nothing else on the Hill. They’d make a great backbone around which to build an interior design scheme. The planned interior sounds like one more in a line of indistinguishable “modern minimalist” restaurant interiors that are the “design du jour”.

  3. Why on earth would you cover up those murals? What good are they if nobody can see them? This I do not understand.

    Very, very, sad to see Olivar go. An excellent restaurant and a great addition to the neighborhood. I will miss it. I hope Philippe Thomelin is doing something else on The Hill. He’s amazing.

    The Loveless has very high rents for a location so off the beaten path. The turn over in that spot has been pretty high. Other than the awesome Joe Bar, which has a very devout set of regulars (YAY!), it’s very difficult for a restaurant to survive up here for long. And at a high price point you just won’t get the regulars you need. I hope Sakai understands this.

    I wish Sakai welcome to the neighborhood… and good luck.

  4. I’m not sure I understand why the restaurateurs chose the Loveless building if a minimal aesthetic was the desired outcome. I’m happy the murals won’t be destroyed but I’m bummed out beyond belief that a tenant is moving in so seemingly unappreciative of the building and its history, which includes it’s distinctive characteristics. how typically Neo-Hill that is – people moving in who don’t care about the neighborhood itself, only its monetary potential.

    • I agree with sharonA! Why on earth would someone choose one of the rare special historical buildings in Seattle (there aren’t many!) and modernize the space?! There are a gazillion [bland/blank slate] brand new buildings being constructed all around the hill many of which have restaurant spaces and are perfect for that modern clean look.
      A large part of the fun of eating at Olivar (besides the wonderful food) and the reason to select it over all the other delicious places on the hill was the privilege of sitting in that wonderful room with the warm and embracing murals. If they cover that up, I will be much less likely to dine there – and I would imagine many others feel the same way.
      Look at very elegant restaurants in Italy that are “modern” yet keep the frescos on the walls. This would be a dream for a skilled interior designer.

      • Agreed – those murals – with a little repair – could form the basis for a quite sophisticated dining room, that combines both the modern & the historic – which would be quite Capitol Hill in its way.

        Also agree that landlords for commercial spaces along Broadway really need to wake up and smell the coffee – the center of the Cap Hill retail landscape has shifted to Pike/Pine. They cannot continue to expect premium rents along Broadway and need to adjust if they expect their spaces to remain filled. And it is NOT cheap to have a high level of turnover in retail spaces. Every turnover means loss of rental income, it means paying new broker commissions, it means funding added tenant improvement allowances. All of which can easily overwhelm any gain from waiting around for a tenant who will pay a few extra bucks a square foot.

      • I so agree. I have a feeling that if this restaurant “concept” actually pursues this rather oblivious attitude they will go extinct faster than than the silly dessert shop did that was there for fifteen seconds a few years ago. People in this neighborhood actually care about things like this.

  5. Shameful if those murals are dismissed and discarded. Just shameful! If that’s the case, I certainly will not be going to this sleek hip relaxed restaurant who shows no respect for history or art!

  6. While I’m pleased that the murals will be protected, and I wish the Sakais the best with their restaurant project,the Loveless Building is a strange space to put a “modern, minimalist” restaurant. Modern, with those window panes, and the interior supports? I hope those details aren’t permanently lost in the remodel, and I wish more effort would be taken to both preserve AND showcase the murals.

  7. I think it’s a wonderful idea! Taking a beautiful historic building and putting something totally modern inside is brilliant. Plus, the murals are better preserved this way. Two thumbs up from this girl. Seattle is totally ready for this.

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  10. The beautiful murals covered up? Who would come up with such an idea? Olivars was my favorite restaurant, my go to place, and the scene of countless amazing meals and evenings. So many memories. I was shocked to see it close, I will miss the gnocchi and the ever changing chalkboard menu and great server staff.
    Why anyone would go into that space and not fall in love with those historic murals is beyond belief. Like everyone else here, I am relieved they will be protected, and I look forward to the time that another occupant of the space will unveil them, and revel in them the way the owner of Olivars did. We have such few buildings like this in Seattle, I will miss seeing them.

  11. The Sakai’s arrogance to come to Seattle and show so little value for this historic mural and its setting is telling. It isn’t brilliant to cover this work with white, it is selfish. The murals have provided a truly unique in Seattle setting for each restaurant that has occupied this space. Covering them may keep them from being painted over, but it sounds like the process will add more actual damage. Current, middle brow trends of painting everything white will out of fashion in a few years and this restaurant will likely be gone by then. At least someone could be a hero and undertake a restoration at that time.

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