Before visiting, all I really knew about Mbar was that it was an extremely buzzy collaboration between the Haroun family, owners of the popular Middle Eastern fusion restaurant Mamnoon, and Jason Stratton, the chef who brought Spinasse to glory. I was prepared for a bit of pomp, given that it was billed as "the definitive Seattle rooftop restaurant experience" and serves the city's nouveau riche tech elites.
Mbar is definitely a trip, I'll give it that. The entire restaurant is on a rooftop, so the gated-community vibe is strong from the beginning. Exacerbating that is the waiting room, where patrons are divided into two lines as they approach the host stand: reservations and peasants... er, walk-ins.
Anyway, just as our coveted Friday night patio table became available, our party of two peasants became four. To their credit, the hosting staff was very pleasant about it and shuffled things around to accommodate us immediately. To their discredit, apparently shuffling things around meant putting four people at an already impossibly small two-top. If we were just drinking, which the tech bros and bro-ettes that make up the bulk of Mbar's Friday night patio crowd were doing, it would have been fine. Instead, I was there to sample a few items from their limited patio menu.
About those items: They were all bad.
A nondescript salad of fancy lettuces with walnut, anchovy, and tarragon was completely devoid of any flavors resembling anchovy or tarragon. There were some cracked walnuts. It was $11. For 18 more dollars, we got a sad charcuterie plate, baguette not included. Three dollars got us about five slices. The cauliflower hummus came with an insufficient number of weak, crumbly crostini and a few oblong slices of cucumber. A dish of seared tuna with avocado, sumac, labneh, and fenugreek was just an overdone piece of fish perched atop a random array of spiceless avocado and labneh. It tasted as bland as it looked. We were not asked how done we would like our $33 skirt steak, but apparently medium is house standard. It came with a pile of spicy mixed greens that were less spicy than limp.
To be fair, the frazzled service staff stayed remarkably pleasant while sprint-walking around a patio full of drunk people posing for selfies. They even managed to move us to a real four-top so we could eat, while our tiny metal cocktail table was combined with a twin to fit a group of eight there to slurp $13 cocktails.
On my second visit, I made a reservation for the dining room, in hopes that the full menu would have some hidden gems I hadn't been able to access on the patio. It was a Tuesday and there was no line, so I didn't get to enjoy my status as a reservation holder, but it was nice to miss some of the chaos. That said, the place was still full, and the patio was still packed with patrons in expensive wraparound shades and skintight, pineapple-print dresses. A large party in the corner of the patio posed for group pictures, while a three-top snapped selfies that will almost certainly be hashtagged #blessed.
We sat at an odd little metal table by the window, which was like the vestigial tail of our server's section, and I knew after the first sip of tepid bing-cherry and beet gazpacho that we were in for a less than stellar experience. The gazpacho promised piquillo pepper, which turned out to be a single pepper on a skewer. It was artfully arranged next to four little bing cherry halves, and the gazpacho itself arrived in a carafe on the side, to be poured after a few minutes of basking in the majesty of Stratton's artistic plating. I would rather have basked in the majesty of a gazpacho with some actual texture and bite, or at least a pinch of salt.
After wallowing in that bland, red lake, we were quickly whisked to the opposite end of the salt spectrum by Stratton's collard greens, which were seasoned into oblivion. I could write another thousand words about what was wrong with the offensively salty tagliatelle in huckleberry marinara, vodka, and basil, but I'll just quote my companion, who informed me in a shocked whisper, "This tastes like Chef Boyardee." It was baffling, because the man responsible for this tagliatelle nearly won a James Beard Award for his pasta at Spinasse. The last course was salmon, which was cooked well, but it was served with a bread salad as coherent as a Trump tweet.
Mbar is basically a nightclub with food. This should have been obvious, and not just because of the cordoned-off line at the door. There's also a DJ booth, the entire patio is strung with black-light bulbs, and the hallway from the elevator to the restaurant looks like the set for an overdose scene in a movie about rave culture. The nearly never-ending stream of modern club rap on rotation should also have been a dead giveaway. (For the record, there's nothing more emblematic of late capitalism than a six-top of old, rich, white dudes decanting wine while listening to "Ni**as in Paris.")
Viewed in this context, the so-so food and scattered service make a lot more sense, as do the "Rosé All Day" shirts and hordes of shitfaced-by-8-p.m. tech types. The price of the food, then, does not reflect its quality but that it is a "hot spot." Indeed, it felt foolish to spend $150 on such an overwhelmingly underwhelming dinner for two, but fools and their money are easily parted. I can't exactly fault Mbar for that, especially when said fools seem to be enjoying the experience so much.