Chef Matt Dillon’s latest project, Bar Sajor, is a few weeks away from opening in Pioneer Square, at the foot of Occidental Avenue's pedestrian mall. And it won’t have a stove. Every cooked dish on the menu, says Dillon, will be the work of either a wood-fired oven, or a fireplace outfitted with a rotisserie custom built for him by Universo, a company he first encountered while traveling in Italy. Chef Michael Tusk has a Universo rotisserie at his San Francisco restaurant Cotogna and the thing practically needs its own press agent.
Bar Sajor will serve Dillon's version of “bar snacks”—cured fish, rotisserie chicken, and vegetables that might be pickled, salt-cured, lightly roasted or generally unadorned. A walkup window facing the alley will also serve bags of rotisserie chicken with homemade yogurt, chili paste, and flatbreads (and a vegetarian version, too).
“It’s definitely a bar,” says Dillon. “But foodwise we can have a lot of fun with something as simple as fire and fermentation.” Joining him in this fun will be Sitka and Spruce sous chef Edouardo Jordan, a Per Se, French Laundry, and Herbfarm vet who is coming over to be Bar Sajor’s chef de cuisine. In summary: A chef with eperience in some of the nation's fanciest restaurants will run a stoveless kitchen. Somehow that's very Matt Dillon.
The fermentation refers to the apple cider vinegar Bar Sajor’s kitchen will make in house, and use exclusively for salads and anything else that needs vinegar-ing.
That fancy rotisserie can fit 30 birds, but custom-sized baskets means chefs can tumble anything from whole fish to small peppers over the flames. Dillon says Bar Sajor will be “more adult” than Sitka and Spruce, and most likely his first restaurant where the servers might actually have a dress code (probably ties). He's planning a new focus on really attentive service and meeting the customer’s needs. Dillon says his first restaurant reflects the “chef-focused and kitchen-driven” trends of the last six or seven years. “Restaurants have used kitchen-driven as an excuse to not be focused on service, and I’ve been guilty of that as well.”
This time around, Dillon decided to go into business with friends, namely builder Edward Pierce, furniture maker and craftsman Steve Withycomb, who has worked on Dillon's other restaurants, and Eric Fisher, who does all the graphics for Dillon’s (and Renee Erickson’s) websites. The guys took on the whole design and buildout process themselves—part of the reason Dillon felt comfortable signing a lease in the untested environs of Pioneer Square. Of course, this was before all of us in the food media anointed him the neighborhood’s new savior.
Oh, about that. Dillon is quick to point to all the great spots that have been hanging on through the recession years, long before he showed up. In his opinion “the smartest person in restaurants in the city is Jim Drohman,” the Le Pichet owner who opened Cafe Presse on 12th Avenue in 2007. “It wasn’t about being a gastronomic destination,” says Dillon. “His point was to give the neighborhood a really great place to eat…giving Capitol Hill a thing that it needed.”
Bar Sajor will be open for lunch, happy hour, and early dinner. Sajor is Dillon’s mother’s maiden name, a Polish name pronounced “Sigh-yore,” though he says customers “can call it McDonald’s as long as they come in.”
Side note: Dillon and Marigold and Mint owner Katherine Anderson have just begun demolition on London Plane, an equally handsome space just up the block at 300 Occidental Ave S. It will house catering and pastry and bread production, with an adjacent bakery (fellow Melrose Marketeer Rain Shadow Meats has a butcher shop in the works nearby). London Plane is still perhaps five months away, but a little annex space will open before the main bakery to “preview” the fresh-baked breads, pastries, whole-grain salads and such.