The chef de cuisine from one of the city’s best restaurants is taking over one of Ballard’s most underappreciated dining rooms. He plans to serve food that sounds like the perfect sweet spot between inventive and familiar.
Mitch Mayers arrived at Lark as a line cook four years ago, then worked his way up to chef de cuisine at John Sundstrom’s paean to Northwest seasons. This summer, Mayers will open his own place in the former home of Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen at 5309 22nd Ave, just a few steps off Ballard Ave.
A name is just about finalized, but Mayers already has a menu of dishes like oxtail nachos, savory parmesan churros, and a Reuben tartine. As a diner, Mayers isn’t fond of menus where half the words are a mystery; as a chef, he aims for dishes that “aren’t 100 percent familiar, but at the end of the day, are totally recognizable.”
The menu’s big (after all, “I did work for Johnathan Sundstrom,” says Mayers) and ranges from snacks—jojos with sour cream and housemade nacho cheese—to ahi sashimi, and a share-size entree that’s basically two pounds of porchetta cooked on a wood-fired rotisserie, then delivered to your table with various flatbreads, sauces, and pickles. Prices will say mostly in the $15 to $20 range. Mayers, a Bellevue native, is the third generation of his family to operate concessions at the Washington State (aka Puyallup) Fair, intel that lends extra intrigue to the planned dessert lineup of fancy choco tacos, fried hand pies, and replica dilly bars of cookie dough semifreddo in a Theo chocolate magic shell.
Sometimes a large menu portends half-baked execution. Mayers, however, went to one of the best-known culinary schools in the country, got a degree from Cornell’s school of hotel management, and renders Lark’s high-end menu to the satisfaction of his very accomplished boss. He also spent two years working for this company, where he honed his ability to crank out a huge range of dishes with precision and absorbed its mantras about gracious service. So when he tells me he’ll serve bone marrow matzo ball soup, pork katsu steam buns, and a smoked salmon mousseline piped into a savory sesame cannoli, I’m interested.
Mayers got crazy lucky with his restaurant space, a 1927 building that began life as a sawmill and later housed a winery. An overhaul a few years back added a spacious patio, and he’ll relocate the bar to take advantage of the huge bank of west-facing windows. His restaurant will have a hefty 115 seats, many of them booths and banquettes; the rest "wood chairs with good support." Over coffee at Herkimer earlier this week, Mayers told me that, when reviewing renderings with his architect at Graham Baba, he would ask which table on the drawing was the worst one in the house, then request that it disappear.
Obviously any concept can be a smash hit or a trainwreck, depending on how it’s executed. But after years spent learning the basics (both in cuisine and the subtleties of hospitality), Mayers seems like a guy who can deliver something really great. I'm eager to track this yet-to-be-named restaurant's progress as it aims for a July open.