A cocktail with squid ink has to be a gimmick, right? Order the Queen Anne’s Revenge at Bar Sur Mer and it arrives looking like a haunted Coke, garnished with lime and a flower. Inside, mezcal and pineapple flavors acquire a briny shine—I should have known Eric Donnelly was way too astute for gimmicks.
It took the chef a few extra years to fire up the little space tagged onto the back of his FlintCreek Cattle Co. restaurant in Greenwood. Bar Sur Mer is cut from the same handsome brick architecture as its meat-haven restaurant mothership. But back here the vibe is more “1960s Palm Springs by night.” The name is French, the food is “Spanish in spirit,” says Donnelly. Consider it a very labor-intensive souvenir of a vacation he spent roving the tapas bars of San Sebastian.
A wood-fired oven does heavy lifting on a short menu that still swims with possibilities. An earthy salad of marinated squid with white beans. Lamb crepinette. A dainty charred octopus tentacle atop potato salad. It’s a departure from Donnelly’s other restaurants—FlintCreek and the seafood-focused RockCreek—but displays the same easy confidence.
Seattle tends to blur (not in an intoxicated way) the line between bars and restaurants. Taverns tap local farms and put out seasonal plates; restaurants offer long lists of cocktails so pleasant, they distract you from the food. Bar Sur Mer may fire its mushrooms in a wood oven and serve clams in chorizo-spiced butter. But you can also focus your energy on an herb-adorned gin tonica (surely Seattle’s official drink of 2022) and plate of jamon.
Opening a 150-seat restaurant is “a war machine,” says Donnelly, compared with Bar Sur Mer’s 30. For a chef, at least, the difference between a restaurant and a bar might be how much fun they’re having.