He’s worked for some of the biggest names in restaurants, but you’ve likely never heard of him. Eric Johnson has spent most of his professional career working in New York for both Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges, whom he then followed to Paris and Shanghai. After living overseas for nearly a decade, he landed in Seattle three years ago, with aspirations of opening a restaurant here. And he is.
He’s bringing Vietnamese cuisine to the auto-row era building at 300 Pike on Capitol Hill, sandwiched between strong Victrola Coffee and Six Arms, which will soon see even more action with the addition of a new Starbucks roastery complex around the corner that will include Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie.
Johnson’s restaurant will be a nod to his return home after years of being an ex-pat. It's called Stateside. Here are 10 things to know:
Moving to Seattle was a no-brainer. “I’ve always said this is where I want to live,” says Johnson, who grew up on Long Island, NY. Both his dad and his grandmother, who just turned 100-years-old, live in Vancouver, WA and he's alwasy been fascinated by the state's geography. “The Olympic Peninsula was like my childhood paradise.”
Before moving to Seattle, Johnson lived in Hong Kong where he had what he calls “essentially a pop-up” restaurant for a year and a half until the building he was in was demolished.
He has good taste in Seattle restaurants, Spinasse is definitely among his favorites. "I would say my favorite is Mamnoon, and I’m not just saying that because they’re around the corner from where I’m going to open; that is phenomenal! All the Matt Dillon stuff is amazing. Revel has been a favorite since basically day one. My other favorite restaurant, which for me is the pound-for-pound champion of Seattle is Bar del Corso. It is like the most delicious, reasonably-priced place. I also like Flying Squirrel, which is next to my house. Kedai Makan is awesome. Really, really good.”
He has a soft spot in his heart for Vietnam. “I love Southeast Asia in general, and Vietnam resonates with me on some good level. I never lived there, but I’ve been there multiple times. And also, it’s sort of the natural middle point for a lot of my experience, given that I lived and worked in France and in French restaurants for a lot of years. And the French culinary influence on Vietnam is kind of obvious, baguettes and banh mis. And the other main influence is China; I lived in greater China for eight years.”
He thinks Stateside can help fill a void. “I think there’s a large part of the repertoire that’s not necessarily represented yet [in Seattle]. There are a lot of different soups…some of them are represented, but the noodle soups — they’re not all pho.”
Don’t ask him what’s going to be on his menu, because he has no idea right now. “I literally have a list of about 500 ideas and so I’m sifting through trying to figure out what cross-section to start out with.” “Lunch, which we’re not going to do immediately, will be centered around banh mis and noodle soups. I’d love for there to be a late night [menu], too.” Brunch will also be introduced eventually.
The food on Stateside's menu will be mostly familiar. “Some yes, some no. And quite honestly, you want to take people outside the box but you can only take them so far outside the box. And so there’s a layer of like, I’m guessing we’re probably not going to do silkworm larvae (laughs), but we could! Amazingly, it tastes exactly like popcorn.”
Stateside will be 2,400-square-feet: 70 seats and 12 at the bar. “It’s not remotely fancy. I’ve even tried not to mention the guys that I’ve worked for because people will form an opinion. It is what it is, I don’t have any secrets, but this isn’t going to be emthat/em.”
The interior of Stateside sounds like it’s going to be a looker. “One thing I can tell you is that we’re experimenting with a few different things, like distressed plaster walls that involve canvass and sanding and plaster and color. This week’s project has been antiquing mirrors. We’ve been playing around with what the shapes are going to be and where they’re going to go. Let’s just say it involves hydrochloric acid and a spray bottle. Exactly what [the place] will look like, we don’t know. But we’re playing around with different elements.”
You can bet he’ll be on the water today, or at least wishing he was. “When I moved into a house in Seward Park — I hadn’t had a driveway in 20 years, much less a yard — I noticed that Washington has the most pleasure boats per capita in the whole country, so I looked on Craigslist and bought a fishing boat and went salmon fishing that same day. On that day, I was so happy to be back in the states. Of course, it took me six months to figure out how to catch anything.”
Best case scenario, Stateside will open October 1.