Just a few hours before the soft open at its Pioneer Square address on Friday, Kraken Congee was buzzing with last-minute prep...a typical state for a popup outfit about to open the doors on its first brick-and-mortar location.
Not so typical: The presence of Tim Love, a Texas-based celebrity chef who had his cowboy boots on and glass of rosé in hand as he surveyed the transformation of the former Little Uncle space.
Last year, Kraken Congee chefs Garrett Doherty and Shane Tyler Robinson (and then partner Irbille Donia) appeared on a CNBC show called Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank–esque show hosted by Love and restaurateur Joe Bastianich. The guys impressed Love enough that he ultimately became an investor and partner in the restaurant, giving Kraken Congee a sort of dual citizenship between its semiscrappy Seattle origins and Love's influx of polish and experience (he brought his PR team and corporate chef to Seattle to help with the opening).
When Little Uncle owners PK and Wiley Frank decided to close up shop at 88 Yesler Way, they offered the space to Robinson before telling anyone else. It seemed fitting that another popup-turned-restaurant take over the subterranean dining room. Kraken Congee also inherited Little Uncle's giant wok, hence its newly printed menus has a section of wok items, like fried rice with octopus and kimchi.
Otherwise Kraken Congee's menu should look familiar to anyone who managed to lock down a table at the popular Monday-night popups: big bowls of flavor-packed congee topped with everything from hanger steak marinated in nuoc cham to five-spice duck confit, plus starters that touch on Asian flavors from Japan to the Philippines.
"We've done this a lot of times," Doherty acknowledged as he and Robinson readied their staff for the first night of soft service. Except now they don't have to pack up and vacate the premises at the end of the night.
Even better, says Robinson: "Now I don't have to get up at 5am tomorrow to work a different job." Doherty was most recently chef at the Ruins; Robinson was chef de cuisine of a concept on the Amazon campus, but his resume includes Stopsky's, the Ruins, and even a stint at Little Uncle.
Anyone who ate here in the Little Uncle days will notice...the room looks way more put together. According to Love, "My biggest contribution is the design of the place." Douglas fir lines the walls along with a type of charred wood from Japan bearing an arresting black finish. Chairs and bar stools are a snappy red, and two TVs can disappear behind wood panels when there's no game of major importance on. Oh, and the bar now does the full beer, wine, and cocktail situation.
Love said he had written off Kraken Congee before the guys even had a chance to make their pitch on Restaurant Startup. He was concerned people would hear the word congee and think bland and boring..."until I tasted the food."
Kraken Congee will be open seven days a week for lunch,which you order at the counter. The restaurant switches to table service for happy hour (weekdays, from 4 to 6pm), and will serve dinner Tuesday through Saturday. It will be nice to have another happy hour option in the neighborhood.