A Violet man: After years in Amazon-town, Seattle chef William Belickis arrives on Capitol Hill

(Image: Karel Tomanek)

The blue street sign, propped up against an exposed-concrete pillar in the middle of the new Capitol Hill restaurant Violet, is easy to miss at first. Somewhat hiding behind a large table lamp, it reads “Place du Mistral.”

A dedicated fan of William Belickis’ Belltown and Denny Triangle restaurants Mistral and Mistral Kitchen once stole it from a village in the Provence and brought it back as a tribute.

It is the sole memento the veteran Seattle chef brought from his previous restaurants to his new endeavor Violet. Belickis’ new American-Mediterranean restaurant took over from the Durango-flavored restaurant Chavez, which closed after four years on 12th Ave.

For about 16 years, Belickis ran two restaurants with Mistral — which is the name of a strong Mediterranean wind— in the name. His intimate, 40-seat Belltown restaurant Mistral closed after eight and a half years, as did the highly-regarded and high-end 5,000-square-foot Mistral Kitchen early last year.

Now, after a year-long hiatus running a wine importing business and culinary pop-ups, Belickis is ready for something new. This time, no spin on “Mistral.” Violet is a tribute to Belickis’ Italian grandmother Yolanda. “Yolanda, also the name of my daughter, means Violet in Latin. We thought Violet would be a perfect way to pay tribute. It’s pretty, easy to remember, I love purple, and I love flowers. What could go wrong?”

The choice for a new name also reflects a new ownership team, which includes Wade Moller, one of the owners of Chavez, Belickis and entrepreneur Michael Hy, CEO of “lifestyle company” WDRM Group.

The ownership is not the only Chavez holdover. Apart from some small changes, the restaurant’s decor has stayed the same: exposed concrete, white-washed wood, and a beachy, blue-and-white color scheme. “I wanted to get a feel of the space first,” says Belickis, who took over as manager early this year and has gradually transformed the wine list, menus, and cocktail listings.

“I like the air of the space. Things like that are much more important than what a chair looks like. The little things, the color of the table, I can change that later. The art is what’s on the plate.”

This “art” is what earned Belickis a reputation of one of Seattle’s best producers of haute cuisine. At Mistral, he focused on hyper-personalized tasting menus for small groups, something Belickis called “American omakase” or “chef’s choice.”

At Violet, he says, cooking from an open kitchen visible from the dining area, he can “kind of do that again,” though the menus are fixed, and there are about 52 seats.

But at least it’s smaller than Mistral Kitchen, which had a hundred and fifty seats. Belickis did not want to run a restaurant of that scale again, he says. “A huge amount of Amazon workers came in every day. It basically became an Amazon restaurant. Amazon people would even joke that I was their personal caterer.”

Though Belickis said it was enough to sustain the restaurant and that he didn’t have to close Mistral Kitchen for financial reasons (nor had he “heard about” an eviction notice on the door). “It’s not a matter of ‘sustaining,’ I didn’t want to cook for Amazon people anymore. I wanted to create art. One hundred people coming for after work drinks and snack; they don’t want art.”

Now, he says, he can finally be the culinary artist he is, thanks to the business partners who help him run Violet. “Violet can be situated somewhere in between Mistral and Mistral Kitchen. Personal attention to details, but not at an extreme price-point.”

Still, the introduction of Violet represents a relatively rare new $$$-scale opening on Capitol Hill amid a wave of new options more typically aimed at the $$ to $$ and a 1/2 end of the spectrum. When we inquire about the menu, the first two things Belickis mentions are foie gras and Israeli caviar (besides handpicked scallops from Maine, Spanish octopus, and other Mediterranean-inspired seafood). Can an upscale concept like that find enough of an audience on the Hill to survive?

“A plate costs anywhere from 8 to 28 dollars. The average person would spend 50 dollars on a menu, including desserts,” Belickis says. “Seattle has almost 4 million people living in its metro area, one of the biggest airports in the US. So seven billion people can come here whenever they want to.”

For diners looking for a more relaxed dining experience, Belickis will introduce Sunday night, European-style family dinners, with tables, pushed together, and everyone served from dishes on the table. The roll-out is planned for springtime, after the installation of new banquet seating. By then, Belickis is also hoping to install a new sign and plant some strawberries, herbs, and flowers in new flowerbeds outside. Gradual change. “I want to respect the neighborhood. I don’t want the change to be so abrupt that it’s jarring. This is a very personal endeavor for me. I’d rather evolve it as people get to know me.”

Violet is located at 1734 12th Ave, You can learn more at facebook.com/VioletSeattle.

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