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. 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. 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
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.