Recently a car stopped for the red light on North 85th Street, right outside Eric Donnelly’s forthcoming Bar Sur Mer. Donnelly was inside when a passenger barreled out of the vehicle and raced to the bar’s front door to ask, “Are you open yet?,” eager for an update before the light changed.
It’s easy to understand that level of excitement around the seafood-focused bar Donnelly first sketched on a piece of paper four years ago, not long after he opened the massive FlintCreek Cattle Co. next door. (The game-focused spot was Seattle Met's meaty Restaurant of the Year back in 2017.)
Bar Sur Mer's neon sign’s been glowing for a while now, but—at last—it should be ready for customers the first week of July.
Next door, FlintCreek’s dining room spans two floors and 160 seats. Over in Fremont, the chef’s original restaurant also holds about 160 diners if you include the sturdy patio he augmented during the pandemic. In contrast, Bar Sur Mer seats 35. “Every other opening has always been a war machine,” says Donnelly. “It was like, if I’m not losing countless years off my life, I’m not doing it right.” But in the stress-addled climate of 2022, it’s rare to hear a chef sound as relaxed and joyful as he does as he describes the dozen-item menu he’s finalizing in his little, tapas-esque spot.
“Spanish in spirit” is how Donnelly terms the food at his French-named boite. A visit to San Sebastian a few years ago enamored him of places where you could stop for a drink and a couple bites at one bar, before moving on to the next. His version of this is providing a spot where FlintCreek diners can stop in before dinner—or carry on after their meal has concluded.
Though the menu looks like a destination in its own right. Bar Sur Mer will serve a mix of cold plates—a yuzu-sparked salad of tomato and manchego, a beef tartare with uni—and dishes from the wood oven that holds court at the end of the bar. Every item’s a small plate with big flavor impact. Donnelly’s especially excited about the cold salad of marinated squid and a clam dish served in an emulsion of compound butter made with chorizo spices—delivering the sausage’s spice and heft, minus any actual sausage.
The compositions channel the same creative energy you'll find on the small plates section of the menu at RockCreek. Donnelly opened his first restaurant nearly a decade ago, and instantly upped the seafood game in a town that already takes it pretty seriously.
Drinkers can expect Spanish wine, bubbles, and “lots of brinier flavors behind the bar,” says Donnelly. A handful of Catalan porró wine pitchers sit on a shelf, and soon a leg of jamon iberico will preside nearby.
Bar Sur Mer shares the same soaring ceilings as FlintCreek, but in a more constrained space—half of it is an older building appended to the back of the stately 1926 brick structure. White walls and great light fixtures backdrop banquettes of wood inlaid with brass. Plants, textural tile, and white breeze blocks abound, as does the sense that this stylish space only gets better as the lights go down. Unlike Donnelly’s restaurants, this spot is for folks 21 and over.
The bar’s biggest nod to San Sebastian culture might be the late hours. Bar Sur Mer will be open seven days a week, from 4pm to midnight—that’s nothing by Spanish standards, but impressive ‘round these parts. Bar Sur Mer's Instagram should provide updates about a formal opening day.