Category: Eat + Drink Articles
Can Kerry Sear’s latest venture in the new Four Seasons rise above hotel restaurant status?
It’s a Tuesday night in early winter, and the bar at Art Restaurant in the new Four Seasons hotel, open since November, is flying. Servers weave and swerve, balancing trays of cocktails, doing their best to keep up with a capacity crowd. The cooks manning the open counter-dining station make piano-key clanking sounds in sparkling stainless bowls, furiously dressing and then artfully stacking tender baby lettuces, each carefully balancing a delicate Parmesan tuile on top. There isn’t a seat open at the more casual (yet still plenty swanky) lounge end of Art. On a Tuesday night. And we’re in a recession. What gives?
Then I spot chef Kerry Sear, working the room, ferrying gorgeous plates wearing ruby-red beets like jewelry, and pastas trailing the heady scent of local truffles. And then the dapper Thierry Rautureau, chef of Madison Valley’s fine-dining destination Rover’s, turns the corner and begins chatting up two other chefs. He waves hello to yet another one seated at the counter a couple of stools down from me, where I’m sipping a perfect martini ($12) out of a glass with a glimmering gold stem.
Finally, it hits me: Tuesday is, nine times out of 10, the chef’s night off. Art isn’t just packed—it’s packed with local restaurant-industry folks, scouting out the new place in town and sizing up Kerry Sear’s food. And Sear, cool as a cucumber even with all eyes trained on him—is making sure every single fried taro root chip is exactly where it belongs.
Sear is a pro. At Cascadia, the gloriously pretty restaurant he opened in 1999 (and which closed in October), luxe décor—think Limoges china, hand-blown glassware and a designer-clad waitstaff—was matched by precise, intricate plating. There, Sear prepared superb seven-course tasting menus showcasing sensationally fresh, seasonal, local produce (an almost groundbreaking concept in 1999). Its debut was met with resounding ooohs and ahhs, and added to Belltown’s already white-hot dining scene.
But when the tech boom went bust in 2000, followed by the tragedy of 9/11, money started drying up. Sear had 150 seats to fill, and the diners just weren’t showing up. By 2002, the chef was forced to lower his price point and, frankly, dumb down his menus. Out went dishes like “Wild Grass and Herb-Baked Partridge with Blackberry Reduction,” in came happy-hour sliders. Really tasty sliders, but still.
Art’s opening signaled the promise of a Kerry Sear comeback. With the deep pockets of Four Seasons behind him and a built-in audience of tony hotel guests as well as wealthy diners living just upstairs in 36 private multimillion-dollar residences, it seemed like the opportunity for this talented chef to wow us yet again. So, though I was glad to see Sear’s yummy sliders carried over to the bar menu at Art (three for $14), along with Seattle’s first East Coast–style lobster roll (at $18 it’s pricey, but wonderfully delicious), I was hoping for a glimpse of the old Kerry Sear. In other words, I didn’t come to Art to eat sliders. I came to eat partridge.
There are two wildly divergent environments in which to sup and sip at Art: Choose the lounge, with its low-slung, boxy leather chairs and swank, clubby air, and you’ll feel a little bit of the big-city movers and shakers rubbing off on you. Or opt for the subdued dining room, where sand-hued upholstery meets low lighting and the occasional gold-plated side table, to close a deal over rib-eyes and big-boned cabernets ($35 and up) in starchy formality. Single diners may sit comfortably at the winding chestnut counter, which carries over from the bar into the dining room