The husband and wife taking over one of the city’s most charming restaurant spaces will reimagine a staple of fine dining—the hourslong multicourse tasting menu—in a setting where you can dine in shorts and flip flops.
Eric and Zarina Sakai’s Restaurant Marron will serve two tasting menus each night. The first will be a manageable four courses. Then there’s the “carte blanche” menu, a parade of 16 or 18 tiny bites that apply French techniques to a modern confluence of flavors.
Yes, Sakai acknowledges, sitting down to consume his menu requires some commitment. But he’s adamant that this type of dining can work in Seattle, where diners don’t generally embrace the highfalutin. The plates themselves—all 16-plus—will be high level, and diners do cede to the chef the decision of what’s on their plates. But Sakai doesn’t want Restaurant Marron to feel like one of those temples of cuisine where dinner is about the chef’s ego rather than the customer’s enjoyment.
His fine dining background (San Francisco's Acquerello and Rubicon, the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole and Hawaii's Diamond Head Grill) will carry over in the food, he says, but it ends there. “I know a lot of people say it, but we really want to take away any kind of pretension," he says. “What we’re trying to do is strip away all the extra fluff of fine dining,” much of which adds extra costs to the tab. Sakai thinks this mega menu will cost about $189. Instead of a printed menu diners will get a sheet at the end of the meal with a handwritten accounting of what they just ate.
Sakai is even bold enough to imagine that Restaurant Marron could have some regulars in the neighborhood; the four-course meal will ring in at $59. “That was our way of hopefully meeting people halfway,” he says. Here’s something I found mildly shocking: The entire table doesn’t have to order the same menu; you can go the four-course route and have your dinner companion do the carte blanche…as long as you don’t mind a little down time.
Sakai’s currently playing with dry-aged squabs and testing a dish he calls Black Bread, a roti-style bread, made with squid ink and laminated with fat like a croissant. He likes the idea of serving it with smoked fish roe and buttermilk that’s been cooked down and caramelized until it’s close to pudding status.
Zarina Sakai is putting together an equally non-egotarian wine program comprising 3- and 6-ounce pours, carafes, bottles, and pairings of any sort if you ask for them. Her husband promises the list will be tailored specifically to the flavors in the food, rather than a collection of “trophy bottles.”
Before focusing on Marron, Sakai cooked at Some Random Bar in Belltown—an unexpected role for someone planning a restaurant like this. But he and Zarina arrived in Seattle with the specific dream of opening this restaurant, and scouted locations for more than a year before finding the Olivar space; chef Philippe Thomelin will be closing the restaurant at the end of April and the Sakais are hoping they might open in June. CHS has some details on the interior facelift and the fate of the room's murals.
Marron means chestnut in French (noyer means walnut in French). Sakai says he and Zarina landed on this name because the chestnut seemed a worthy representation of both their food and the general journey to opening this restaurant. ”It takes so long to prepare from the time it comes off the tree,” he says. “You’re shelling and you’re roasting and you’re peeling, but if you persevere and put in that time and care, you end up with something that was very well worth it. That’s how this has been for us.”