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iPad bars and Bocce Ball courts: Seattle's new restaurant scene

Two very different new Seattle restaurants push the envelope.

By Ronald Holden

February 15, 2013.

Two ambitious new restaurants opened this week, developed by industry veterans with an old-fashioned focus on ambiance and guest-centered hospitality. Not just the fussy preparation of exquisite food. Different as they are, they share a first name: Von.

The first, Von's 1000 Spirits, is the latest in a direct line from Victor Rosellini, the pioneer of Seattle's serious restaurant world. At his iconic 1950s supper club, the 410, across from the Olympic Hotel, Rosellini hired a couple of youngsters named Mick McHugh and Tim Firnstahl, taught them what he knew, and sent them into the world to spawn their own restaurants: F.X. McRory's, Jake O'Shaughnessy's and half a dozen more. Where Rosellini was discreet and formal, with servers in tuxedos, McHugh and Firnstahl were flamboyant and publicity-driven. But they were also savvy Harvard Business School operators who ran their stores by the book. (They've since gone separate ways, but remain good friends.)

Among the McHugh-Firnstahl innovations: a fanatical devotion to the specific, detailed origin of ingredients (now considered de rigueur, but a real innovation 30 years ago), and to what might be called a restaurant's "razzle-dazzle" factor. At Firnstahl's new spot, Von's 1000 Spirits, at the top of Harbor Steps, it's not just a pizza. It's a French country sourdough "fric," baked in an 800-degree, almond wood-fired oven. Vodka is "sanctified" in an activated charcoal filter mounted on the front corner of the bar. There's a row of iPads built into the bar, and the sound system plays only vintage vinyl. At the far end of the room is the grand, mirrored back-bar from Jake O'Shaughnessy, in storage for the past 20 years. The new menu has 9 "hamburgs", 8 frics, 19 footnotes and, of course, 1,000 spirits.

Today, the lineage continues with Firnstahl's daughter, 1000 Spirits' "proprietress," Merissa Firnstahl-Claridge. (The old Von's Roasthouse, on Pine Street for 25 years, closed at the end of last month.) Missy, as she's known, has been in the restaurant biz since the age of 15, got a degree in business administration, followed her dad's path to Harvard and spent several years as VP of Operations for the family company.

Firnstahl's son-in-law, Jason Amador, is 1000 Spirits' executive chef. Jason, married to Missy's sister, Terra, comes from the family behind Sugee's in Bellevue, purveyors of box lunches as well as bakers of the giant strawberry shortcake at Bumbershoot and Folklife. Jason's history includes sleeping on the flour bags at Sugee's as a teenager. In addition to culinary skills, he brings his family's 50-year-old sourdough starter.

The buildout of Von's took six months, transforming the former Ipanema space into a 4,300-square-foot restaurant with seating for 150 in the main restaurant plus two private rooms for 20 and 50.

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There's nothing in Seattle even remotely like Von Trapp's, a vast, 10,000-square-foot barn of a place on Capitol Hill. A former candy factory and furniture warehouse, Von Trapp's has now been converted — at a cost of $1.5 million — into a 420-seat Bavarian Biergarten. It's the latest venture of the long-haired Deming Maclise and his business partner, the bespectacled James Weimann, the duo behind Bastille and Poquitos.

Their genius is to assemble a giant garage sale worth of genuine vintage items and salvaged pieces, whether from Paris flea markets (Bastille) or Mexican market towns (Poquitos). The inspiration for Von Trapp's was the Hofbräuhaus in central Munich: nondescript outside, lavishly decorated inside, with long wooden tables and painted ceilings. The designers added Viennese chandeliers, railings salvaged from the McCaw mansion in Medina, stuffed elk heads, leather club chairs, Belgian doors and a colossal Austrian fireplace. Three bars, two mezzanines and five indoor bocce ball courts, each 8 by 50 feet (complete with a bocce ball concierge, Angela Mora).

The chef, Peter Fjosne, will make all his own sausages from scratch, ten or so varieties, both fresh and smoked, along with sandwiches and German-style flatbread. Once Von Trapp's starts serving lunch, he'll add another German favorite, Weisswurst, a traditional mid-morning treat.

Maclise and Weimann don't intend to do it all themselves. To run day-to-day operations at Poquitos, they brought in two “managing partners,” Rich Fox and Dustin Watson, who will also run the show at Von Trapp's. On its first weekend, there wasn't a seat available.

If you go:

Von's 1000 Spirits, 1225 1st Avenue, Seattle, 206-621-8667

Von Trapp's, 912 12th Avenue, Seattle, 206-325-5409

Seattle writer Ronald Holden blogs at Cornichon.org. He can be reached at editor@crosscut.com.

View this story online at: http://crosscut.com/2013/02/15/food/112964/new-seattle-restaurants-its-all-coming-von/

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Printed on September 02, 2014