Chef Jason Stoneburner's new restaurant in Kenmore has a lot more to offer than just pizza — though, the pizza is quite divine. The aeronautical-themed restaurant has a varied menu that's inspired by what’s in season and available from the dozens of small farms, foragers, fisheries and artisans they work with.
Everyone looks so happy, I thought, taking in the Saturday-night crowd at Seaplane Kitchen & Bar in Kenmore. And why wouldn’t they? Locals once had to slog miles through highway traffic to find the sort of sophisticated food and drink Seaplane provides.
No need to fasten your seat belts. Seaplane isn’t a bumpy ride. Expect solid cooking, superior ingredients, plus a well-stocked, expertly tended bar. That’s no surprise given the talented crew on the flight deck. The ownership team includes executive chef Jason Stoneburner, bar director Erik Carlson and front-of-house manager Jonathan Hardy. They are veterans of Ballard’s Stoneburner and Bastille. Both of those restaurants, like Seaplane, are part of the James Weimann and Deming Maclise fleet (see also Poquitos, Rhein Haus, Beer Star, Macleod’s).
Pizza dominates Seaplane’s menu but don’t pigeonhole the restaurant as strictly Italian. This kitchen is not strictly anything other than inspired by what’s in season and available from the dozens of small farms, foragers, fisheries and artisans they work with.
Fifty-pound bags of Shepherd’s Grain flour are stacked 5 feet tall next to the host stand, attesting to the quantity of pizza baked in the large stone oven here. The quality is just as high. The thin crust comes out blistered and brittle but still foldable, like a New York slice. They aren’t as spartanly topped as their Neapolitan cousins, but neither are they overloaded. Two should plan on sharing one 14-inch pie. Each has a flight-related moniker. The hint of honey on the “Seaplane” offers subtle counterbalance to the heat of pepperoni and pickled serrano peppers. I liked the “Drift” for its sweet underpinning of sofrito (carrot, celery and onion cooked down to a sauce), its generous overlay of crumbled fennel sausage, and the Mama Lil’s peppers embedded in the molten mozzarella. The “Cross Wire” has a base of oregano-laced tomato sauce but does without mozzarella altogether. Instead, the server pours velvety provolone cheese sauce at the table over caramelized onion, bell peppers and morsels of unbelievably tender pork meatballs.
The menu lists almost as many salads and roasted vegetables as pizza possibilities. Try rings of delicata squash planted in tangy black garlic yogurt or sweet rainbow carrots sprinkled with coconut dukkah — toasted flakes imbued with coriander, cumin and fenugreek. A wedge-like salad, retooled with crisp hearts of gem lettuce and creamy tahini ranch dressing, gets added crunch from pumpkin and sunflower seeds among the bacon bits.
From the sea, local albacore is house-smoked and blended with aioli, lemon and fresh herbs. The resulting tuna “dip” is more of a dense spread, marvelous with the accompanying sweet-potato chips. Charred wild Alaskan cod is tucked into sliders, along with so much saucy slaw and cucumber relish that the warm Macrina Bakery potato rolls can barely contain all the goodness. Speaking of bread, it’s easy to overlook the garlic knots, especially if you have set your sights on pizza, but that would be a mistake. The warm, fist-sized pull-apart rolls glisten with herbed garlic oil that spills over into a side schmear of whipped ricotta.
Among “Big Plates,” the burger, the brick-pressed chicken and rigatoni all landed without a hitch. The burger’s double patty of dry-aged beef registered even under a heavy blanket of cheddar and lots of sweet dill pickles. The chicken’s blackened skin and juicy meat carried a whiff of sage; its buttery pan juices coated marble-sized potatoes and cipollini onions. The rigatoni’s rich Calabrian sausage ragu is both spicy and sweet, kicked up with chilies but calmed with marjoram.
Waiters, who could not be more congenial, routinely recommended the crispy long bone short rib. One described it as “braised until it gets really soft, then deep-fried until it gets really crispy.” If only mine had turned out that way. The meat had profound flavor but was fibrous, neither yielding nor uniformly crisp. That was the only sign of turbulence I encountered, apart from underbaked chocolate chip cookies. Some people prefer cookies that way; I am not one. My can’t-resist dessert is the swirl of vanilla and chocolate soft-serve ice cream.
Seaplane sits across a plaza from The Hangar at Town Square, Kenmore’s community gathering place. The city is best known as the home base of Kenmore Air. The company was founded in 1946 and began offering charter seaplane flights in the 1950s to remote hunting and fishing spots around the Pacific Northwest. Inspired by this history, Weimann and Maclise filled the restaurant with aviation memorabilia and gave it the lived-in, rustic look of a wilderness lodge. Old bowling lanes and high-school bleachers were repurposed as paneling. A stuffed, many-antlered moose head gazes benignly down on a dining room lit by chandeliers that look like clusters of shop lights. Giant model airplanes hover near a kid-corral that has a play area and chalkboard walls to keep little ones occupied while mom and dad finish dinner nearby.
The over-21 contingent can hang at the zinc-topped bar beneath a vintage sign that says, “Learn to Fly Here.” The Washington-focused wine list, compiled by Master Sommelier James Lechner, is arranged by varietal, with chatty notes heading each section. It’s helpful and informative without being at all geeky. Taps dispense an interesting mix of local beer and cider, also available in growlers to go. The house cocktails are food friendly. Absinthe takes the lead in the “Liberator,” backed by gin, vermouth and maraschino liqueur. The “Mirage” is a tall, iced vodka-based drink tinted a pretty pink with tart huckleberry shrub and sweet orgeat (made in-house of almond and orange-flower water). If drinks with five ingredients or more turn you off, look to the list of classic cocktails. Several of those are discounted on the daily happy-hour menu, along with many of the pizzas and several salads and veggie plates.
Happy landings, Kenmore.
Seaplane Kitchen & Bar ★★★
6704 N.E. 181st St., Kenmore
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Hours: dinner 4-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; happy hour 3-5:30 p.m. daily
Prices: $$$ (snacks/salads/veggies $6-$16, pizza $19-$23, entrees $16-$28)
Drinks: full bar; contemporary and classic cocktails; Washington wines; Northwest beer and cider on tap; growlers to go
Service: attentive, anticipatory, welcoming
Sound: moderate to loud
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles