From the people behind Mamnoon comes a South Lake Union bar and restaurant 14 stories high. And this time, the food matches the view.
As new buildings rise all over Seattle, open-air rooftop bars with panoramic views are trending. The most recent is Mbar, an extension of the Mamnoon family of restaurants, which includes the original on Capitol Hill, the juice bar Anar and the casual cafe Mamnoon Street.
Mbar might have been called Mamnoon Sky. It inhabits 2,800 square feet on the 14th floor of 400 Fairview, roughly two-thirds of it outside. To get up there, you check in with a host stationed at “ground control,” a candlelit anteroom off the lobby. It has a small bar serving snacks and spirits and becomes a holding pen for walk-ins on busy nights.
If you’ve made a reservation for the 65-seat dining room, the greeter will lead you to the elevator for an express ride to the top. Pounding rock music accompanies your short stroll along a windowed corridor, bathed in violet light, toward a rainbow column of fluorescent tubes.
400 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle
Hours: dinner 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 4-10 p.m. Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday, 5-11 p.m. Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday; happy hour 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; closed Monday
Prices: $$$ (starters and sides $7-$20, entrees $19-$29)
Drinks: full bar; unique cocktails; local and imported beers; eclectic wine list weighted toward Northwest and European selections
Service: a mix of aces and apprentices
Parking: on site; garage entrance on Republican; evening rate $5
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
From the buildup you expect a wild bar scene — and some nights there is one. But at its core Mbar is an intimate, engaging supper club in the sky. The far-reaching view faces west and north, with a glowing Space Needle in the middle ground, dwarfed by building cranes.
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Restaurants with such a diverting view don’t always come with food as carefully wrought as you’ll find here from chef Jason Stratton. The former “Top Chef” contender transitioned from cooking soulful Northern Italian food at Spinasse and Artusi to elegant Spanish fare at Aragona before manipulating Middle Eastern flavors as Mamnoon’s executive chef. All those influences are evident at Mbar where Stratton straddles the beam, like a culinary gymnast, with one foot in Europe, another in the Levant.
He puts a sophisticated spin on rustic comfort food. Beneath a well-crisped duck confit, tiny black Peregion beans and baby turnips hide in a pool of potent duck broth, brisk with vinegar. Roasted broccoli wears a garlic and anchovy bagna cauda sauce musky with Indonesian long pepper.
Fruit is a frequent ingredient in Middle Eastern cookery. Ricotta melts into cumin-scented rainbow carrots roasted with medjool dates. Sumac and fenugreek season ripe avocado halves paired with grilled rainbow trout fillets.
Wild huckleberries turn up in pasta. The berries’ tart presence seems utterly at home amid chanterelles sautéed with garlic and herbs and tossed with strozzapreti — a ropey, rolled noodle whose name literally means “priest strangler.”
Polenta, a quintessentially Italian dish, gets a drizzle of gingered carrot reduction, adding some sizzle to a luxurious merger of soft, airy cornmeal porridge, creamy mascarpone and Bolognese bianco, a tomato-less meat sauce of rabbit and foie gras. (For the next month or so, you can have this and other dishes topped with white truffles from Alba, two grams for $28.)
Starters include a splendid hummus made of roasted cauliflower and tahini; a kaleidoscopic salad of shaved kohlrabi, watermelon radish and Parmigiano-Reggiano; and a chicory salad packed with soppressata, fontina, chickpeas and more. A $20-per-person sampler included all three, plus a few slices of La Quercia lomo (pork loin cured with pimenton) on the side. But the full glory of those salads is lost in miniature, and you will want more than a dollop of that hummus.
Stratton started his career nearly two decades ago as a teenager working for Bruce Naftaly at Le Gourmand. He pays tribute to his first chef with a simple, perfect green salad: whole, crackling fresh leaves of Little Gem lettuce and soft sprigs of dill in a mustard-sharpened cabernet vinaigrette.
You’ll want bread with these salads. The elaborate $7 bread service provides plenty of accompaniments (salted, cultured butter and bowl of labneh with Calabrian chilies and taggiasca olives), but only a short length of Sea Wolf Bakery baguette. We asked for more bread (an additional $3), then failed to notice when the unfinished portion was whisked away, along with the empty salad plates. What happened to asking “Are you still enjoying that?”
In this and in other small ways I sensed a power struggle, which is at odds with the otherwise punctilious hospitality. On one visit, I questioned the freshness of a glass of wine. Rather than ask if I preferred something else, the sommelier wondered if I was familiar with the unusual Sicilian varietal (I was), then explained why he likes it. I continued drinking the wine, enjoying it less and less. A few minutes later the somm returned with a fresh glass and a new bottle of the same wine, saying he went back and sampled the bottle my glass was poured from and he agreed that it was not tasting the way it should. The second bottle was markedly livelier. Vindication on both sides.
The wines by the glass ($12-$14) are an interesting lot and all are available by the bottle ($44-$52). If you expect to have more than two glasses, a bottle is a better value. Jon Clark’s cocktail lineup includes several winners. Mbar’s Negroni uses Oola’s Aloo gin and Rinomato, a Piedmont aperitivo, in place of Campari, giving it a slightly sweet start and a spicy finish. Amaro Montenegro and Wild Turkey go into the formidable Stratton Manhattan.
If there’s bar action to be found, it’s likely to be outside, where there is a second bar, more tables and almost twice as many seats (weather permitting) as inside. Partially covered, heated and dotted with fire pits, it is surprisingly comfortable, even in December, especially if you are wrapped in one of the 25 blankets custom-made by fabric artist Joey Veltkamp.
Owners Racha and Wassef Haroun like to fill their restaurants with art. Seattle artist Patti Shaw created shimmering curtains from tea lights for the entrance to Mbar’s private dining alcove, which is hung with glamorous Warhol-esque monotypes by Liz Markus. A group of local and Lebanese artists crafted the table tops, variously inlaid with tile or brass.
The Harouns have an eye for talent. They were first-time restaurateurs when they opened Mamnoon four years ago, but they learn quickly and their team has grown in size and confidence. After three months, Mbar is still a fledgling, but it has the potential to soar.