Best Restaurants 2016

Best New Restaurants of 2016: Upper Bar Ferdinand

Matt Dillon demonstrates clever restraint in this gorgeous ode to Northwest abundance.

By Kathryn Robinson October 17, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Image: Sarah Flotard

No chef in this city, ever, has captured the untamed essence of Northwest abundance the way Matt Dillon (Sitka and Spruce, London Plane, Corson Building) has done. And nowhere is this truer this minute than at Upper Bar Ferdinand, thanks to Dillon’s self-imposed restrictions (most produce, meat, and eggs from his Vashon farm, only five electrical appliances), and the nightly invention those limits necessitate. 

Hence plates in this house eat like epiphanies: here a tangle of mache, watercress, and sorrel with dried pear and blackberry vinegar, there a hunk of line-caught cured halibut served on a ribbon of kelp and dotted with the juices of wild plum and shiso. Anyone wanting to visit the current state of Northwest cuisine—that indefinable alchemy where Japanese technique meets Northwest ingredients—cannot miss this house, where Dillon can be found cooking many nights.

He and his crew pickle, they preserve, they cure, they even make their own butter—someone get this chef a live-off-the-land reality show—avoiding waste by using everything down to the pickling brine and the turnip greens. Which, in fact, appear with artful verticality in a dish of fire-gilded chicken on yogurt, their crackle disappearing on the tongue to a caramelly finish of brown butter. 

Best, wine is accorded food status here, favoring (thanks to Dillon partner Marc Papineau) small production bottles from family operations around the world. Serene and careful servers match that evening’s improvisations with the right glass—all to be enjoyed in a lofty, wood-hewn space, anchored by a wood-blazing hearth, that’s at once Dillon’s most sophisticated and most down to earth. Yes, it opens off Chophouse Row, that most urban of urban spaces—but in spirit, Upper Bar Ferdinand is the wild heart of the Northwest forest. 

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