Cooking is in PerfecteRocher’s bones. The self-taught Spanish chef, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in London and San Francisco, grew up among the orange trees and rice fields of Villalonga, a mountain town in Valencia, where his grandfather ran a popular paella restaurant called Tarsan. Rocher practically lived in that kitchen, playing soccer there, washing dishes and absorbing the secrets of Valencia’s traditional rice, seafood and meat dishes.
In April, Rocher and his partner in business and in life, cook and butcher Alia Zaine, opened TarsanI Jane, a prix fixe restaurant dedicated to Valencian and Catalan specialties and Spanish wines. The name is a playful shout-out to his grandfather’s restaurant; Zaine is the “Jane.” It’s located in the Fremont/Ballard space that once held Heong Soon Park’s Tray Kitchen, with seating for 36 people, a chic gray accent wall and an 11-foot, wood-fired grill that brings to life Rocher’s exceptional cuisine. Rocher visited Seattle five years ago and fell in love with the city. When it was time to take the plunge and open his first restaurant free of investor influence, he decided to do it here.
Rocher came from the renowned Smoke.Oil.Salt in Los Angeles, where he developed a reputation for masterful paella, each perfectly chewy kernel of rice imbued with notes of saffron and paprika. His stews, too, are almost ethereal, the smoky arroscaldos, a revelation of charred artichokes, marinated short ribs and blistered fava beans swimming in a bold and tangy red broth.
Rocher takes risks, particularly with temperature. For the peixmantega, fresh butterfish is cooked over a wood fire for seconds and served on room-temp salt cod pâté that’s drizzled with mint oil. I expected hot, cooked fish, but the dish, he later explained, is intentionally served at room temperature. It’s a hybrid homage to raw Japanese escolar and the whipped cod Valencians commonly eat with bread. Had I known this before diving into it (a cue from the server would have been nice), I would have better appreciated the chef’s intention rather than being surprised at the uncooked dish. I think that’s especially important since TarsanI Jane is strictly chef’s choice, meaning you choose a five- or seven-course ($59/$79) menu that Rocher has created using what is freshest that day.
Not ready to commit to a prix fixe menu? Partake in Rocher’s all-natural llangonissa, or handmade sausages ($10), on traditional Valencian flatbread served only on the patio with Spanish cocktails. As Northwest-inspired fine dining restaurants continue to multiply in Seattle, it’s nice to tuck into a place like Tarsan I Jane, a rare opportunity to dive deep into a unique and singular culinary tradition. I’m so pleased it’s here. Fremont, 4012 Leary Way NW; 206.557.7059; tarsanijane.com