In 1985, Gerry Kingen bought a tumbledown waterfront building in West Seattle called the Beach Broiler and added it to his portfolio of seafood restaurants in Portland and the South Sound. That restaurant, Salty's on Alki, sits on Harbor Avenue two miles across Elliott Bay from downtown.
“It's a million-dollar view,” says Kingen. It's also a $10-plus million a year restaurant, in the Top 100 top-grossing, non-chain restaurants nationwide.
Of Seattle's Big Three water view eateries, Salty's is probably in the best location to weather the storms of fickle public opinion — not to mention complaints that it's overpriced. (Somebody has to pay for that million-dollar view.)
Salty’s owner is also a restaurant pro. Kingen is the man behind the Blue Moon Tavern, Boondock's, Lion O'Reilly's and the Red Robin’s gourmet burgers. (The next venture for Kingen and his wife/business partner Kathy is barbecue. But that’s another story.)
Salty’s has a well-developed event and catering business. The restaurant boasts as many seats, on its lower level, as the ballrooms in Seattle's downtown hotels. It also hosts a popular weekend brunch. Best of all, Salty's sits on prime real estate, and is planning to develop some of its underused space (like the parking lots) for a small, luxury hotel.
Salty's doesn't buy traditional advertising, relying instead on its well-trained staff “to share their knowledge, sense of adventure and excitement,” explains Kingen. To stay in touch with Salty’s client base, the Kingens have compiled an email list of 100,000 names. Client feedback may prompt a change now and then (a new napkin color, for example). But the Kingens are more interested in promoting that buffet of crab legs to their client list. And it’s not just tourists, either; up to two thirds of Salty’s guests are locals.
Palisade, on a low bluff at the southern tip of Magnolia, overlooks the Elliott Bay Marina and Smith Cove. The twinkling lights of downtown Seattle — sometimes blocked by cruise ships — are three miles to the southwest. Palisade is owned by Restaurants Unlimited, the parent company of Palomino and Cutters, among many others, which has nurtured a goodly share of local talent (Chef John Howie, for example).
Like its competitors, Palisades targets customers who are looking for a “celebration” restaurant. The restaurant is celebrating its 20th birthday this year with a few new menu items and what GM Doug Zellers (brought in from the Washington Athletic Club a couple of years ago) describes as cleaner, fresher tastes. Ryan O'Brien, a star at RUI's Portland City Grill, was tapped to run the revitalized kitchen with an “elegance on every plate” mandate. Says Zellers: “People had kind of forgotten about Palisade.” At one point, the vaunted Sunday brunch even lost its signature seafood buffet; it was quickly reinstated.
But Palisade, for all its uniqueness and prestige, is not a stand-alone store. It’s one restaurant in a $150 million company (and a small part of an even broader private equity portfolio, Florida-based Sun Capital, at that). As a result, it may not be getting the attention it deserves.
There's been a refreshing coat of paint and a new layer of upholstery; the signature Ocean Tower (oysters, lobster, crab legs, prawns, etc.) now arrives table-side on a customized metallic stand shrouded in a cloud of dry ice, as dramatic an entrance as one can imagine. But is that enough to make Seattle pick Palisade when it comes time to celebrate?
On Shilshole Bay in Ballard, Ray's is six miles outside downtown. It began life as Ray Lichtenberger's boathouse 60 years ago, with a glowing neon beacon (RAY'S) to signal sailors approaching the Ship Canal locks and Lake Union. The immutable attraction here is the stunning sunset view across the water to the Olympics, but it's more than location that brings people here today. Upstairs, in the informal café, there's Ray’s reliable fish & chips, plus a bar with craft beer. Next door, a full-on catering venue. Downstairs, in the Boathouse proper, two iconic dishes: Alaska King Salmon and Sake Kasu Sablefish, both created by Ray's first chef, Wayne Ludvigsen, and carried forward by the incumbent, Wayne Johnson.
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