Seattle’s overelaborate restaurant formulations are getting out of hand. But one of San Francisco’s latest — with a Pacific Northwest “concept” — takes the proverbial cake.
With 27 new openings coming at a time in Seattle (yes, really), a restaurant can’t just be a restaurant anymore — it’s now a “concept,” with a provenance, a philosophy and a “fresh” angle (or three) to differentiate it from the conceptually crowded field.
Coherence is not at a premium here. How about a “produce-driven concept” operating “at the highest level of detail and imagination,” including “the area’s sense of place and evolution,” with a menu “packed” with small, large and “shareable plates,” “all telling a story of inspiration and purpose”? The décor of this one reflects “vernacular ideas of a house seen through a refined and primitive interpretation” — whatever that means — while its bar is “framed as a cocktail experience steeped in discovery,” with both “lively, communal” and “provocative and sophisticated” spaces, “leaving room for spirited conversation.” Presumably, dispirited conversation can also be accommodated.
Or a concept that “combines both the classic and modern styles” in order “to create something that is both neighborhood-focused and designed to fit Seattle’s growing on-the-go lifestyle”? Different parts of this place’s bar have “been designed to reflect the aspects of our evolving society; revolutionaries, rebels, poets and humanitarians alike.” Get that humanitarian a drink!
Yes, this is real verbiage for real Seattle restaurant concepts. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a chef with a Michelin-starred résumé recently launched a Pacific Northwest concept. Lest any local chefs think they’re already celebrating our region’s cuisine just fine, thank you, the “who we are” section (their lowercase) of Birdsong’s website claims the moral high ground of seeking “to restore some of the ingredients that were essential to the food history of the land … Elements such as elk, abalone, quail, geoduck, succulents and grains that were important sources of food many years ago are rarely ever the centerpiece of new cuisine today.” They say they “want to restore that past and meld it with new ideas and creativity to ultimately celebrate each ingredient.”
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The Birdsong concept’s ultimate celebration doesn’t stop there — as chef Chris Bleidorn told the San Francisco Chronicle, the space highlights the dishwashing sink. “Something that’s an eyesore for any other person running a restaurant, we took and tried to find a way to make it look great,” Bleidorn said. “It gives you that feeling that you’re eating in someone’s home, that you’re having a family meal. It’s simple.” Birdsong opened simply with a $135-per-person eight-course menu, with a 13-14 course menu for $168 set to follow. (Sample menu item: “creek raised trout warmed in cedar, cured and smoked | skin & roe, horseradish mayonnaise | custard made with dried bones and scraped belly meat.”)
Complicating matters, the restaurant’s downstairs space is conceptually distinct — the Chronicle describes it as “pulled straight from a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode,” quoting Bleidorn as saying it’s for the people “just interested in meat and potatoes.” Why have one concept when two will do?
And as Bleidorn told Eater, the upstairs concept is subject to change: “As we evolve, maybe we will get bored of the Pacific Northwest …” Bleidorn elaborated. “Authenticity evolves.”
What would a Seattle restaurant with a San Francisco concept look like? Some might say that with our tech boom’s shiny new buildings, skyrocketing rents and civic struggles over income inequality, Seattle itself is now a San Francisco concept. Maybe this is what the evolution of authenticity looks like.
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