Caprial Pence back in Seattle, at the Alexis Hotel's Bookstore Bar and Cafe.

She was Seattle’s very first James Beard “Best Chef Northwest” winner. She ran Caprial’s Bistro in Portland for 17 years—while hosting a PBS cooking show (Caprial and John’s Kitchen) and writing nine cookbooks. She cooked for the 80th birthday celebration of  Julia freakin’ Child.

Caprial Pence is, to put it mildly, no ordinary chef. And she’s brought her creative chops back to Seattle, to helm the Bookstore Bar and Café at the Alexis Hotel.

“We were downsizing in Portland because our kids are out of the house, and we saw the ad about the job at the Bookstore,” she says. “We have a built-in network here because we have friends from before. It’s a nice group of friends we can slide right into.”

Last I’d heard, Caprial and her husband and sometime colleague John Pence, also a chef, were crowdfunding for a Portland cooking school; they nixed that project when their preferred space started getting complicated. This restaurant, by contrast, isn’t. If you haven’t been to the Alexis Restaurants for awhile, you may not know that the Bookstore Bar and Café space is neither the original Bookstore Bar nor the original big restaurant space, most notably home to the Painted Table.

No, Pence’s new playground occupies an expansion of the old Bookstore Bar, the old jewelry store space off First Avenue, which is now a casual room that seemed just right to Pence for casual meals. Brunch, rare for downtown, will happen seven days a week until 3pm. Small plates will dominate the dinner menu. Happy hour will start daily at 3pm and wrap up at 6pm.

And though the menus look like pretty standard hotel restaurant fare at present—fines herbes omelets and labneh buttermilk waffles at brunch; chicken and fennel ragus and raddichio chopped salads at dinner—Caprial expects that she and her sous chef Ryan Doran will press boundaries.

“I like to push myself to be creative and try new things,” she says. “It’s very easy to get stuck, and I work very hard to not get stuck.” Don't forget that the restaurant which earned her the Beard award, Fuller's, was the anchor of the Sheraton Hotel---and at the forefront of the movement, which swept the country in the '90s, to make hotel restaurants destinations in their own right.

Look for her to start...why, she's already begun.

 

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