Anxious for Thanksgiving
Getting All Wound Up About a Place That's Not Even Open Yet
Matthew Dillon had a busy summer. He's been killing pigs, cooking for heroes, keeping bees, and secretly planning his new restaurant. He was also named one of Food & Wine's 10 best new chefs, based on his existing restaurant, tiny Sitka & Spruce (first raved about insanely in these pages). If Sitka & Spruce's location—in a strip mall on Eastlake Avenue, next to a Subway—is improbable, the location of Dillon's new restaurant is, in many respects, absurd. It's very nearly under a freeway off-ramp, very nearly on a set of active train tracks, and directly beneath the flight pattern for a nearby airfield. The name of the building—and the name of the restaurant, in a stroke of good sense that would've eluded many—is right on it, in capital letters: THE CORSON BUILDING. It's in Georgetown, a less absurd place for a destination restaurant than it used to be, but still unlikely. To make what might seem like a rash prediction (but isn't), it will be absurdly great.
While trucks and trains intermittently rumble past and small planes occasionally scream overhead, the Corson Building, c. 1910, sits behind its wisteria-and-rose-covered wrought-iron fence, an island of loveliness marooned in grit. The building and its grounds appear to have been airlifted from an unspecified, bucolic European location, complete with trees loaded with plums, a derelict fountain with a mossy Venus holding aloft a shell, and box homes for those bees that Dillon's been keeping. The building is like a child's drawing—square, four windows, door, triangle of red scalloped tile roof set on top—but with a few precocious details added, like twisty faux pillars by the door, arched windows with iron grillwork, a garland in bas-relief around the address. It's a sweetly plain effort at a Mediterranean revival style known as Spanish Eclectic (cf., locally, the Two Bells Tavern, Utrecht art supply, the Fairview Club). Around 1925, the property was owned by Bernardo and Rose Germani, and home to the Italian Architectural Art Company, which made ornamental cast stonework, accounting for those details stuck to the building's facade. Inside, there's more: The visage of a lion guards a fireplace, and smaller lion heads are placed obscurely high on the walls.
Earlier this summer, the Corson Building hosted its first dinner party. Orchestrator: One Pot impresario Michael Hebberoy. Attendees: a who's who of local restaurants. Guest of honor: British superchef/lech/charmer Marco Pierre White. White was subdued after a debauched affair at downtown's Union the night before (too many flaming Sambucas, maybe), but Seattle's best young chefs were in awe nonetheless. Much wine was drunk, and delicious food made by Dillon and friends eaten, including a roasted whole lamb, its head on the platter alongside the ribs.
It was an auspicious beginning, but now it's back to square one. Dillon is in the permitting process—the interior of the Corson Building will remain much the same, but a kitchen and a meat-curing room are to be added on the back, with a balcony overlooking the train tracks, and a greenhouse and raised beds for growing vegetables, and a hutch for some chickens to join the bees. The foliage, beaten back for the premiere event, has reasserted itself; it smells a little primordial, with tiny creatures swimming in a disused outdoor sink, and here's a hubcap, and by the fence is a rusty bedstead. Much remains to be done.
The restaurant will be open only a couple nights a week, by reservation only, with a set menu along the same simple, beautiful, scrupulously sourced lines as that at Sitka & Spruce. On off nights, the Corson Building will host parties and music and whatever kind of fun anyone wants. Eventually, a cafe will occupy the upstairs. Dillon and his partner, Wylie Bush (proprietor of Capitol Hill's beloved Joe Bar, who'll handle the front of the house), hope to be open before Thanksgiving.
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In other news: Matthew Dillon's hero/mentor/former boss, Jerry Traunfeld of the famed Herbfarm, confirms the following rumors about his own new restaurant: It'll be in South Lake Union (though no lease is signed yet), Indian-inspired (Traunfeld traveled there recently), affordable ("It's not gonna be like Dick's, but I'm trying to keep the price down"), under 100 seats, and called Poppy (his mother's nickname).