Spring is in the air, and thus, inevitably, James Beard awards season begins — but the Oscars of the U.S. restaurant industry feel a little fresher this time around. The list of Seattle-area semifinalists looks less old guard, with industry captains Renee Erickson and Ethan Stowell — listed for the last two years running, and plenty more before that — notably absent, and with the chefs up for awards coming from some less expected places.
West Seattle’s lovely Il Nido, housed in the historical Alki Homestead, is a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the country — quite the laurel for chef Mike Easton, who started out making pasta inside a Pike Place Market gelato shop. (His first restaurant, Il Corvo, carries on in a Pioneer Square location, lunchtime only, for those who want a taste of his work at lower-than-Il-Nido prices.) Meanwhile, Bremerton is probably surprised to find itself aboard the restaurant industry’s highest honors, but no one deserves a place in the Outstanding Baker category more than gluten genius Matt Tinder of that little city’s fantastic Saboteur Bakery.
Seattle’s storied Canlis can’t seem to go without at least a nod from the Beards — with chef Brady Williams winning Best Chef Northwest last year — and it’s once again a semifinalist for its Outstanding Hospitality (the workings of which I investigated from the inside out last year, terrified the entire time). Very high-end, huge-cellared Canlis is the type of restaurant generally found in the Beards’ Outstanding Wine Program category (which it in fact won in 2017) — now wine geeks will be either thrilled or horrified to see Seattle’s L’Oursin, with its very au courant all-natural wine program (under the direction of Kathryn Olson, a poetess with a wine list), listed as a possibility for that award.
And while the Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific semifinalist roster includes the perennial appearance of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Seattle’s Joule, new names spring up there, too. One such semifinalist of note: Chera Amlag of Hood Famous Cafe + Bar, the tiny Chinatown International District spot that describes itself as “a small Filipino bakery, cafe, and bar with a big heart.” Another first-timer for Beard limelight: Aaron Verzosa of Beacon Hill’s Archipelago, also Filipino. And here we also happily find chef Sun Hong, who runs the lunch-only, eight-seat, sushi-and-more Capitol Hill wonder known as By Tae.
This year’s James Beard finalists will be announced March 25, and the 2020 awards happen May 4. The full list of local semifinalists is below; find the complete list of semifinalists across the nation, at the jamesbeard.org blog.
Best New Restaurant
Holly Smith, Cafe Juanita, Kirkland
Matt Tinder, Saboteur Bakery, Bremerton
Outstanding Wine Program
Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Producer
Steve Luke, Cloudburst Brewing
Rising Star Chef
Liz Kenyon, Rupee Bar
Shota Nakajima, Adana
Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific (AK, HI, OR, WA)
Chera Amlag, Hood Famous Cafe + Bar
Jay Blackinton, Hogstone’s Wood Oven, Orcas Island
Logan Cox, Homer
Sun Hong, By Tae
Mitch Mayers, Sawyer
Mutsuko Soma, Kamonegi
Aaron Verzosa, Archipelago
Chad White, Zona Blanca, Spokane
Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, Joule