Small plates like this pan-seared Alaskan halibut with braised leek mashed potatoes signify the first tiny step in a major overhaul at Ray’s. Photo via @SeattleMaven

It’s shocking. It’s unprecedented. It’s…small plates on the menu for the first time ever at Ray’s Café, the casual upstairs sibling to Ray’s Boathouse.

Okay, so it’s a subtle distinction. And the venerable seafood restaurant perched on Shilshole Bay hasn’t done away with its full-plate menu. But as of Wednesday, six small plates —three fish, three veg—are tucked in the corner amid ample listings of soup, salads, sandwiches and entrees. They are the handiwork of chef Wayne Johnson, who joined the restaurant in January after 13 years at Andaluca, and is just the fourth head chef in the restaurant’s 39-year history.

At a preview lunch this week, Johnson, said customers sometimes leave one element uneaten on their plates, and he figured people would appreciate the chance to choose between grilled asparagus or steamed bok choy with thier grilled king salmon. Putting vegetables on their own plate also makes them a focal point; Johnson’s artichoke hearts spend a week marinating, soaking up flavor before they are sautéed in sunflower oil and white wine.

Plenty of restaurants around here have casualed up their menus of late, in a nod to our current unstuffy value-dining ethos. But for a long-standing establishment like Ray’s (the management team is still deciding how they feel about being referred to as an icon), these small steps signify a giant leap into an updated identity. The restaurant has a major refresh planned for its 40th birthday next year—look for more dramatic changes after summer’s busy season cools into fall.

Johnson has also been busy updating the rest of the menu, adding dishes like tacos of blackened rockfish, and a spinach salad topped with fat curls of gruyere and smoked scallops. He says he’s taking the menu in a more global direction, though obviously it will remain seafoodcentric.

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