It’s big news that Alex Barkley is leaving Manolin, the sea-inspired restaurant where he’s been chef since 2014, steering the kitchen into currents of national acclaim. But Barkley’s announcement that he’s relocating to Arizona gave rise to some other Manolin-related news: Owners Joe Sundberg and Rachel Johnson are planning a bar in Ballard called Rupee, a tribute to the food cultures of Sri Lanka.
While Sundberg rightly acknowledges “this is a pretty big swerve” for a spot known for ceviche and plaintain chips and seasonal vegetable compositions, if you squint you can see a certain spiritual kinship with Manolin’s Yucatan-leaning coastal menu.
“It’s very much like southern Indian food,” says Sundberg. “Spicy, coconut heavy, and lots of seafood.”
Johnson traveled extensively in Sri Lanka and southern India years ago, and she, Sundberg, and their business partner Patrick Thalasinos visited again recently, with chef Liz Kenyon in tow.
When Barkley broke the news that he wanted to relocate to Flagstaff (no new job yet, he says, just an interest in southwest ingredients and wide open spaces and “letting my dreams breathe a bit before my next big undertaking”), Manolin’s owners planned accordingly. Kenyon, who's been in the kitchen for three years, will be executive chef at both Rupee and Manolin. The restaurant’s longtime sous chef, Alvin Tsao, steps up as Manolin’s chef de cuisine.
Rupee will be pretty emphatically a bar, says Sundberg, embracing Sri Lanka’s culture of snacks known as “short eats.”
“This is more of an interpretation of that food, definitely not a literal take on it,” he says. Nobody’s trying to replicate grandma’s cooking.
The partners looked, quietly, at many a potential home for Rupee before landing on 6307 24th Ave NW, a neighborly stretch of Ballard removed from the main commercial area. They hesitate to forecast when their bar might open—probably a wise move given all the moving parts to a buildout project in 2019 Seattle—but hopefully later this year.
Meanwhile, says Johnson, the team is just enjoying their last month with Barkley in the kitchen before he decamps to new adventures. Like them, I can’t wait to see where he lands.
Track all things Rupee on the bar's Instagram account.
(Updated later in the day to amend my brain freeze on Liz Kenyon's preferred surname.)