Hitchcock spent 10 years exalting local ingredients on Bainbridge Island. In 2020, pandemic survival forces turned it into a burger shop. Now owner Brendan McGill is retooling his flagship restaurant for an enduring future: Soon, the dining room on Winslow Way will become a destination seafood restaurant called Seabird.
After years of working within constraints, says McGill, “this is us taking the gloves off.”
McGill and executive chef Grant Rico envision unapologetically precise dishes like dungeness crab chawanmushi and an uni-topped play on french toast. Raw oysters, spot prawns, geoduck, or even green sea urchin might show up on the table, and the chef’s long-running interest in curing seafood will power a sort of oceanic charcuterie board, laid out with mojama, smelt boquerones, and dry-cured halibut cheek.
The menu also includes proper entrees, like a whole roasted rockfish or octopus or wood-fired halibut. Local vegetables get plenty of love too, in preparations that blend techniques from across Europe with Japanese fermentation traditions.
After an era dominated by to-go orders, McGill jokes that this place is the anti-takeout, since crudo and oysters on the half shell and delicately cooked fish don’t exactly travel well. Seabird's menu revives the practice of listing farms and fishers (and often methods and point of origin) beneath each item.
Now that the more casual Cafe Hitchcock hums steadily at the other end of the block, the chef felt ready to excise the roast chicken and pork chop and pasta from the menu, trading comfort for increased creativity. On its face, this approach might lend itself to a longer-format tasting menu, but McGill would rather see diners fill their table with whatever looks good, and have the kitchen bring plates as they’re fired. “I wouldn’t call it fine dining,” he says of Seabird. “We’re conscientiously trying to do the opposite.”
Back in spring 2020, McGill had planned to introduce Rico as the new guard at a newly ambitious Hitchcock. Instead the duo spent that year grilling on the sidewalk, contorting into a series of popups, and turning McGill’s original restaurant into a short-term burger shop. “Some of it was great and some of it was miserable,” says Rico. A Kitsap County native, he left his original stint at Hitchcock to work at Healdsburg’s SingleThread, a dazzling farm and restaurant that earned three Michelin stars and the no. 37 spot on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants (it’s currently closed in the wake of a fire this past February).
Seabird “won’t be Hitchcock at all, but it will have a lot of the same values,” says Rico. His time cooking in different parts of the country, and even beyond, reinforced the remarkable extent of the Northwest‘s ingredients. His ongoing R&D includes using seaweed—“I truly feel it will be a major food source for a growing global population.”
An overhaul of the dining room and kitchen replaced Hitchcock's original lace curtains with a nautical aesthetic that McGill promises is as nuanced as the food—"We're not trying to make it feel like a crab shack in The Simpsons."
Seabird is tentatively due open May 26, an exception to Seattle's head-scratching scarcity of seafood-focused restaurants. An ambitious one seems especially fitting on an island, where traversing water is a requirement for most visitors to dine here.
“You can still pop in for oysters; we don’t want to be excluding anybody,” says McGill. “But this is us going hard again.”