First thing to know about Jason Stratton’s new front- and back-of-the-house role at Mamnoon: He’s really happy. “This is a wonderful, wonderful house,” Stratton raves. After all, he’s working at a restaurant he once admired as a frequent diner, for owners he counts as friends, with a team (including exec sous David Gurewitz and pastry chef Carrie Mashaney) he himself assembled back at Spinasse.
Last summer restaurant gossips were stunned when the former chef of the Italian Cascina Spinasse and Artusi, and then of the Spanish Aragona (turned Italian Vespolina…long story), was hired as general manager of the Syrian stunner, Mamnoon. That role soon expanded into executive chef, a role he’s now held three months.
So how’s he changing Mamnoon?
First: the lunch menu. He’s changing it to reflect the dinner menu’s greater variety. (No worries: the takeout window with its topped mana’eesh flatbreads isn’t going anywhere.)
Second: The emphasis. “Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about Bruce Naftaly,” he says, referring to the chef of the former Ballard institution, Le Gourmand. With his ahead-of-his-time reverence for hyperlocal, hyperseasonal preparations, Naftaly is himself revered among local chefs as the Godfather of Northwest Cuisine. “He was a master to me in a huge way. His concept of seasonality…that’s the way I think about food and build flavors. So Mamnoon will be more seasonally focused.”
Of course, seasonality has always been central to Mamnoon’s menus. But Middle Eastern cuisines have traditionally emphasized preservation over seasonality…and that’s about to change.
Take the salad Stratton’s boss, Mamnoon co-founder Racha Haroun, wanted to be fresh and bright. “Traditionally when you think an Arabic salad you think cucumbers, onions, sumac, garlic, lemon,” Stratton muses. “But if I put that on the menu in November, it wouldn’t align with what I believe. Fortunately Georgie Smith [of Whidbey Island’s Willowood Farm] is growing the most beautiful watermelon radishes. If I salt them to soften, shaving them raw and serving them with toasted garlic oil, lemon, sumac, mint, and olives…that’s a uniquely Pacific Northwest spin on a Middle Eastern salad.”
In short? “Mamnoon will feel more uniquely Jason Stratton,” he says. Then, laughing: “Whatever that means.”