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Cracked Frame

Photo by Jonathan Zwickel

 

The moment I entered Restaurant Marron I was assaulted by the shrill glare of a roomful of halogen-bulb track lighting; I may have physically cringed. At 8:30 p.m., the November chill outside was at maximum deep-dark and I needed cozy comfort. Expected it, too—Marron is nestled stone-bound and hearth-like inside North Capitol Hill’s historic, Tudor-style Loveless Building. Instead I felt like I was being seated in an Ikea food court.

Two hours later I was sipping a glass of rare Madeira after a lavish, imaginative meal. Maybe it was the six-glass wine pairing that accompanied my six-course tasting-menu dinner, but my mind reeled with cognitive dissonance.

Marron, an aspirational destination cloaked in neighborhood modesty, could be one of the new breed of youthful but classically oriented Seattle restaurants. It could stand beside nearby Poppy and Altura as stars in the city’s top-tier dining constellation. Its price point suggests such ambition: The six-course menu cost $80 per person, the wine pairing $60. (An eight- to 10-course version is also available, as are several a la carte plates.) Marron is designed for luxury, albeit of the inconspicuous Northwest variety—flannel on the diners, tattoos on the servers, Motown on the stereo.

The food was superlative. In style and influence, each dish balanced old world with new, plated and presented with an artist’s eye for contrast and texture.

Our server introduced the meal with an amuse-bouche of warm mulled cider seasoned chai-like with ginger and Szechuan peppercorns. The first official dish of the menu was an heirloom-squash soup, spooned silky and delicate beside crunchy roasted wheat berries and sheened with duck fat. The second dish matched earthy, cold-smoked beets with bitter sunchokes and bracingly fresh greens. This was followed by a finger of poached swordfish nestled atop heirloom carrots and salsify and drizzled with smoked olive oil for a skilled, restrained first-half trifecta.

My favorite dish distilled chef-owner Eric Sakai’s East-West intentions: a fork-tender pork collar medallion ringed by a meniscus of fish sauce and maple syrup, contrasting savory and sweet, unadorned and inspired. For added friction, the pork was served on white china that looked straight out of a British country home. The final meat dish—Piedmontese-style ribeye served with kale-infused steel-cut oats—was rich and mild and may have been too much. Dual desserts of deconstructed chocolate crunch bar and cumulous-light lemon cake were certainly too much.

Between each course, co-owner Zarina Sakai presented wines from France, Italy, Germany, Portugal and California, detailing her rationale and sourcing methods. The Madeira—two different varieties, dark and light to match the desserts—was especially enlightening. Her enthusiasm in pairing was infectious, enhancing every pour.

Unfortunately every time I turned my eyes upwards to hers, they were stabbed by beams of cold-hot metallic light. Why hasn’t the lighting been addressed since Marron’s early-June opening? Where are the true priorities of a restaurant as otherwise impeccable as this? Could I—should I—overlook the crack in the frame to appreciate the masterpiece it holds?

In the meticulously controlled environment of the upscale restaurant, we pay a premium for a professionally wrought illusion. We believe that with enough skill, creativity and attention, perfection is possible—if only just for dinner. When we glimpse the machinery behind the curtain, the illusion dissolves. We remember that it’s all just humans trying their best—and in the process receive a sobering lesson instead of a transcendent sleight of hand. Which, in the end, is more valuable? Which would you rather have?

Restaurant Marron
806 E Roy St.

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