Until June 2013, Tom Douglas has been willing to change the world one restaurant — or bakery, or pizzeria — at a time. But in June, when Douglas opened a new space on the first floor of Via6, the new Pine Street Group apartment complex on Sixth Avenue, between Lenora and Blanchard, he created an instant neighborhood. For residents of the complex, most of the necessities (as well as a lot of the indulgences) of life are just an elevator ride away. We non-residents are just the lucky beneficiaries of services designed for others.
No couture boutique, true, but a hair salon. No butcher shop, but a fully-loaded deli, a juice and coffee bar, a real bar, a convenience store from heaven and, though not yet open, a pizzeria. Did I mention the reading room? Or the flower stall? Oh, and a restaurant designed to the edge for the way we eat, drink and schmooze now: Sort of like Melrose Market gone cancerous.
TanakaSan, it’s called. The name is a richly deserved tribute to Eric Tanaka, a long time co-creator of the Douglas vision and the chef extraordinary in charge of his plethora of Belltown kitchens. The menu at TanakaSan is a little like dim sum, but more like tapas: little steam buns with delectable duck sausages and house-made plum sauce; seared octopus with ham and pineapple; savory crab foo yung (the menu changes constantly). You can choose from a menu of first and second courses, but even there the emphasis is on grazing, not downright dining, and I suspect most visitors won’t be able to treat the selections as anything but more substantial components of a leisurely culinary menu amble toward satiety.
But enough of TanakaSan, because though it’s the crown jewel of the complex, the complex itself is the main attraction. Its varied components are arranged as a continuous galleria, each opening casually off the other. The spacious high-ceilinged Assembly Hall off Lenora serves as the breakfast bar for residents of the apartments upstairs, but will gladly perform the same function for you if you happen to be passing by.
The juice bar and restaurant bar unfold as if inadvertently from the room’s north end, as do each of the successive elements of the whole. In high summer, the whole shebang is open to the street, with sidewalk seating where appropriate. In winter, I suspect, with the segments closed in, the feeling will be like riding a 21st century Siberian railway, all cozy amenity inside while the elements sulk outside.
On my first visit a week ago, my date, who lives just three short blocks away, exclaimed, “I’ve just found my new clubhouse!” Her description nails it.
A visit to the Via6 complex is like dropping by your club, without all the fuss of membership dues and having to be polite to bores and blimps. It’s a club open to all, one so attractive that a single visit is almost sure to lead to frequentation. Drop by and see for yourself; with this glorious parody of a strip-mall, Tom Douglas and Eric Tanaka have reinvented the restaurant experience for our time.