After only seven and a half months, chef Travis Kukull is, dishearteningly, leaving Mollusk in South Lake Union. While the restaurant will remain open and he’ll remain a part-owner for the time being, Kukull says, “The neighborhood has proved difficult for my style of cuisine.” Kukull’s wide-ranging, expectation-defying menu at Mollusk includes unconventional nachos made with Indonesian garlic titi chips, a Seattle dog with house-made Malawi curry lamb sausage, and an okonomiyaki waffle with octopus. Seattle Times restaurant critic Providence Cicero encouraged eaters to enjoy his experimentations in a February review.
Kukull says that while he had loyal regulars, residents of the surrounding brand-new buildings just weren’t coming in. In an effort to woo them, he says Mollusk will become “more conventional and more approachable” — given Mollusk’s big, brewpubby space, it’s likely that a big, conventionally brewpubby menu is on the way.
The restaurant-and-brewery is the successor to Kukull’s initial collaboration with Epic Ales: Gastropod in SoDo, where the creative cuisine he pulled off in extremely tight quarters earned high praise. Foot traffic was an issue there, but the somewhat off-the-beaten track, construction-beset Mollusk location — on Dexter near the south end of Lake Union — has also proven challenging. Kukull opened Mollusk last October on a no-tipping model, then backtracked, citing slow business due to construction disruption.
Nearby, the refined Indian cuisine of Shanik failed to find a receptive audience, despite its lineage from Vancouver’s hit Vij’s; chef/owner Meeru Dhalwala closed down last year, saying she had customers asking for the (nonexistent) buffet every day. As South Lake Union undergoes extreme growing pains, it’s to be hoped that Kukull and Dhalwala were just ahead of their time.
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Kukull’s last day at Mollusk is next Tuesday, June 21. After that, if you happen to be in Haines, Alaska, you can find him cooking at the historical (and lovely-looking) Hotel Hälsingland this summer. He hopes to be back in the kitchen somewhere here in Seattle come October — maybe somewhere smaller, maybe not in South Lake Union.
“Thanks to all who supported my weird food,” Kukull says. “I love you all.”