On April 24, the 76-room, century old Hotel Sorrento unveiled its revamped eatery. Gone is the stodgy Hunt Club and in its place owners Barbara and Michael Malone have debuted the chic, Moroccan-tiled Dunbar Room, whose name is repurposed from the Sorrento’s 1960s restaurant. Come summer, the garden in the hotel’s front courtyard will offer the Dunbar’s full contemporary American menu for dining alfresco in the sun.
We caught up with the team behind the transformation--executive chef Seth Caswell (Emmer & Rye, Google Seattle campus) and Jared Meisler (L.A.’s Roger Room, The Pikey) to hear details on the vibe, craft cocktail program and Northwest-inspired menu, which features “toasted” small plates such as Maple & Bourbon Glazed Pork Belly with a Rosemary Waffle as well as heartier entrees, like the Dunbar Room Secret Burger.
How did you two meet and end up working together on this project?
Jared: I had been aware of Seth and his talents and abilities. When I started this project, I was reaching out to any chefs that I thought were talented and wanted to work with. I must’ve interviewed 12. Then, we met, got drunk and tasted a lot of food together. He stood out because his food just tasted really good. I like how his menus read. I thought they were really approachable and interesting.
Walter Pisano. Barbara Figueroa. Brian Scheehser. You're following in the footsteps of legendary chefs. What do you hope to bring to the Sorrento’s legacy?
Seth: One of the things that was so exciting about this was that these are chefs that I really look up to. Since Brian left, the hotel's food has never made the standards that he had set. My goal was to return it to those standards and really celebrate the local flavors of the Pacific Northwest.
What are the challenges of crafting a menu for a guest and traveler versus a local?
Jared: The first challenge was to make a menu that the average hotel traveler and consumer would be happy with. From there, taking those dishes and making them as good as possible. But, we want to be known as a local restaurant so the fact that we're located in a destination hotel shouldn’t change that. We like to think of how Clyde Common inside the Ace Hotel works. They’ve got one of Portland’s best restaurants in their hotel, and they're stoked. As a traveler myself, I eat through a city when I'm traveling. From a business perspective, it's a smart move to make it feel as local as possible.
Seth: What I've been doing with local purveyors over the years is working really well. The Malones love the fact that this hotel has been built on so many local connections, so let's show our visitors who are coming from out of town what the food and the people of the Northwest are like. Let’s start with grilled octopus and go to Dungeness crab and avocado toast.
What's so secret about the secret burger?
Jared: Off-the-menu burgers have become such a trend so we're being cheeky about it and saying, ‘Here’s ours.’ It's an indicator that we're not uptight and serious. But this is a serious burger. We start with Washington state grass-fed beef plus 20 percent Wagyu beef--that's our normal burger. For the secret burger, we take 50 percent of that combination and add chuck Wagyu short ribs, mushrooms cooked with sherry, and smoked blue cheese jam with bacon and caramelized onion. Then when people take a bite we watch their eyes go to the back of their heads.
What do we need to know about the revamped cocktail program?
Jared: We're very proud of it. It’s fresh, local, with organic fruits and juices daily. Beyond that, we feel that the recipes are a really good indicator of where the craft cocktail movement is right now. It’s about rich, robust, smoky, and spicy flavors. I'm personally into making drinks strong. If you're going to charge a lot of money people expect that. We're using spice in very original ways, like squeezing ginger root fresh every day and making bitters and infusing them with habanero peppers. When I got into the cocktail culture 10 years ago, no one ever wanted spicy or bitter flavors. That’s what your grandfather liked. But now we’re making our own amaro and you can't keep it on the shelf.