When chef William Belickis closed Mistral Kitchen last year, it was the end of an era. His epic 5,000-square-foot South Lake Union restaurant had been open for almost nine years; his previous restaurant, the much smaller Belltown spot known simply as Mistral, had also had a run of nearly nine years.
For the 10 months or so that followed, Belickis ran a local wine and food import business with a friend. He explored a business that he knew little about and took the time needed, he says, to wipe his mind clean. This pause in his cooking career fortified him for the adventure to come: In January, he opened Violet (1734 12th Ave.; 206.695.2588) in the Capitol Hill space that briefly housed Mexican restaurant, Chavez. And while there’s no sign of Mistral in this new place, the concept—exceptionally seasonal American cuisine with international influences, best enjoyed by ordering the tasting menu—is nothing new to Belickis’ fans.
Chef William Belickis stands in the small kitchen of his Capitol Hill restaurant
Violet is the result of a fortuitous coffee date that occurred late last year between Belickis and Wade Moller, an old friend and co-owner of Chavez. Moller wanted out of the business, and Belickis was ready to get back in. The two came to an agreement and shook hands. The space—50 seats, a micro kitchen and cozy bar—suits the chef. But rather than the standard closing and reopening, Moller asked Belickis to take over immediately. “He asked if I could start right away, doing my thing,” Belickis says. “And I thought, ‘Huh…what would my thing be?’”
To figure it out, he stepped into the Chavez kitchen and ran it for a month to get to know the neighborhood, the regulars and the staff; he cooked, he cleaned, he bused tables, he mixed cocktails. And ultimately, he decided to stay true to his roots, offering a menu respectful of the seasonal produce and high-quality proteins that we’re so lucky to have access to in our region, or as he puts it, “Something personal, something personable.” Dishes like foie gras au torchon with passion fruit curd ($14) celebrate the French influence of Belickis’ mentor, New York City chef David Bouley, while others, like the outstanding grilled octopus ($15) and piquillo peppers with white anchovies ($11), show off his knack for Spanish cuisine.
And then there’s his Japanese inspiration, evident in Belickis’ use of the term “American omakase” to describe his five-course chef’s choice menu ($85), which takes the diner through the best of the day’s menu along with some off-menu treats. Rather than a tasting menu set at the beginning of the day, based solely on available ingredients and a chef’s vision, Belickis tailors his to individual diners. A server will ask what you like, what you hate, perhaps your reason for dining there that evening, and Belickis then delivers a customized menu—a feat he can accomplish because of the small size of the restaurant. Sometimes, he says, they’ll only be able to make a few portions of a specific dish, such as when they’re harvesting certain produce from the restaurant’s rooftop garden.
“It’s kind of like reading a book,” Belickis says of how his omakase unfolds. “There’s a progression of time…a story that needs to be told.” He’s a chef who has been crafting tasting menus from the start—long before such a large number of Seattle’s higher-end places began offering them. And it’s a worthy experience, particularly if you give him carte blanche.