When Lisa Nakamura closed the doors at her Orcas Island destination restaurant Allium in September of 2013, anyone familiar with the ambitious Thomas Keller-trained chef knew that wasn’t the last we’d see of her. Now, just months later, she’s in the early stages of launching an empire built on her most popular dish: a simple bowl of gnocchi.
The idea for Gnocchi Bar stemmed from the many (many) dishes of perfectly pillowy gnocchi Nakamura churned out during her time running Allium. Though the recipe is a twist on Keller’s and she was long terrified of making them—“I still live in fear that one day Mr. Keller’s going to walk in and tell me they aren’t good,” she says—Nakamura’s gnocchi garner her the most compliments. On closing night, she says, many tables asked for one order of gnocchi as an appetizer and another as an entrée. “I finally thought, ‘I may be on to something,’” she says.
At this point, she’s put together a business plan and is fine-tuning her recipes in the form of regular pop-up dinners at Miyabi 45th while she hunts for the ideal location—approximately 2,000 square feet in a ‘hood with plenty of foot traffic, like South Lake Union, Ballard, or Fremont—and investors. Long a proponent of small businesses, Nakamura plans to use local company Community Sourced Capital, the same organization Pizzeria Gabbiano just used for funding, once she’s signed a lease.
As for the menu, Nakamura is hoping to start with lunch and dinner, and eventually expand to breakfast as well. Her first pop-up on December 15 (which sold out quickly) featured gnocchi with chicken and massaman curry, meatballs and red wine tomato sauce, and roasted mushroom and garlic cream—all recipes we’d wager will show up at her permanent location. She wants to keep the price point low but the product quality high. “One of the things I’d eventually like to be is the sort of spot people could come in three times a week and it wouldn’t break the bank,” she says. “As much as I love fine dining, I don’t want that right now.”
After three-plus years commuting to Orcas, right now Nakamura is just enjoying being able to go home at the end of a shift to her husband and dog in the Sand Point area. She’s hoping Gnocchi Bar will be the kind of place where if she gets sick, the restaurant won’t have to close—where she can have her hands on the steering wheel, of course, but also have the freedom to take a day off from time to time. Seems like a reasonable request, right?
Nakamura’s hoping all of this comes together by the end of the summer, though she readily admits that may be a tad ambitious. Follow along on Gnocchi Bar’s Facebook page for updates, and stay tuned here for opening dates. In the meantime, you can sample the menu at one of the upcoming pop-ups—January 19 (which only has a few seats left), February 9, and February 16—by calling Miyabi 45th at 206-632-4545 for reservations.