Sometimes, restaurant menus that list farms and purveyors present like an earnest postcard from an era when “farm-to-table” was a shiny new buzzword. But at Seabird, it feels essential to know the lingcod in the ceviche was line-caught aboard the F/V Pamela Jean out of La Push. And that Blue Dot Farm in Hood Head grew the sugar kelp for the savory butter that accompanies an order of bread.
When Brendan McGill opened Hitchcock in 2010, he intended the restaurant as a paean to Bainbridge Island and its largesse of ingredients. He raised his own kale, his own Mangalitsa pigs. After a pandemic alter ego as a burger chalet, he and executive chef and partner Grant Rico gave McGill’s flagship an entirely new identity.
After so much takeout, “This is us going hard again,” McGill said shortly before Seabird opened in June. “I could decide to play the greatest hits forever, or try to do something new and exciting.”
Visually the dining room doesn’t look wildly different than in the Hitchcock days, just a little more sleek. But McGill’s tribute to the fields and waterways around him now runs even deeper. It also hits some impressive heights.
Seabird is the sort of pristine, seafood-centered restaurant that Seattle visitors expect to find proliferating on our avenues like coffee shops (or at the very least, awaiting you after a ferry ride). But sourcing from so many small local purveyors requires a dizzying amount of relationships and care. The ambition only continues after the kitchen takes delivery on all those weathervane scallops, oysters, and line-caught salmon.
A pat of sablefish might float in almond broth, flawlessly cooked beneath a surface of salsa macha and Rainier cherry slices. “I wouldn’t call it fine dining,” says McGill. But dishes like this, ringed by a pointillism of sauce, would certainly play nice with white tablecloths and crumbers. Ditto the bite-size fingers of smoked scallop french toast.
These days the kitchen’s pivots consist mostly of shifting between these delicate art plates and dishes that pair lighter fish with hearty treatments. Deep, black garlic mole augments a hunk of halibut—perfectly cooked despite the unforgiving environs of Seabird’s wood-fired oven. The raw bar menu needs hardly any garnish at all.
Rico’s interest in seaweed—its promise for sustainability, its flavor—shows up in unexpected places, like the bread plate and the dessert menu. When dishes occasionally misfire, it feels like the product of a kitchen hell bent on triple axels rather than safer moves like fish and chips. This is a place chasing greatness; the service is already there.
McGill may have nixed his greatest hits (Cafe Hitchcock down the street now carries the mantle of rustic comfort plates) but one item on the menu is rooted in his days cooking Basque fare at Harvest Vine. The “Seacuterie” platter is essentially a charcuterie of things that swim. Shiny boquerones made of local smelt, mussels escabeche, and mojama—a king salmon take on Spain’s salt-cured tuna. The sourcing listed on the menu is unexpected: a Canadian company that farms salmon, a process generally considered the feedlots of the sea. But this operation’s sustainability rigor meets the high standards of fishing vessel cognoscenti like McGill. “Sustainability is a moving target,” he says. Great restaurants are, too.