Expectations soar when a beloved cult favorite moves up in the world—and this Mollusk, née Gastropod, unquestionably has. Gastropod’s nondescript adjunct to the Epic Ales Brewery in SoDo is now Mollusk’s stunner of industrial-chic near South Lake Union, with sweeping sight lines and banquette seating and arty spiral pendants, glassily fronting SLU’s less familiar western flank. Music is vividly unpredictable—now Woodie Guthrie, now Kraftwerk—and a window into the brewery shows off the craft beer at its heart, the province of co-owner Cody Morris.
All a fitting showcase for his business partner Travis Kukull’s idiosyncratic and unscripted culinary vision. This is the chef who vaulted the savory Japanese pancake, okonomiyaki, into a city’s grateful consciousness—here presenting it as a waffle, winningly on my visit, with charred octopus and the Japanese rice-vinegar mayonnaise Kewpie, along with bonito flakes waving their jaunty umami hello.
Kukull’s menu here is about three times longer than Gastropod’s—with a strong Southeast Asian streak across its seafood dishes and curries—but alas, not nearly as solid. Nachos Picasso presents a revisionist version starring delicata squash and garlic chips in lieu of tortillas, along with pickled fresno chilies, shishito peppers, blue cheese, and smoked avocado creme fraiche—a heedless combo, seemingly gathered onto the same plate more for surprise than coherence. Fish-and-chips, in which sumptuous hamachi tuna collar arrived over taro chips, felt stinting—perhaps because it frustrated expectations set up by the name of the dish. Indeed, Kukull’s contrarian impulses often wound the enterprise. (Onion-olive chocolate chip cookies, anyone?) Add in the execution bobbles—chicken for the curry was exquisitely sourced, then overcooked—and what you have here is a winner that maybe got too big, and too ambitious (dinner every night plus weekend brunches), too fast.
Or perhaps simply a chef less suited to the shiny commercial kitchen than to the creative vanguard.