Babirusa Welcomes New Chef

Another day, another major restaurant change
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A Ryan Miller creation: morels, snap peas, hakurei turnips, chamomile curry

A peek behind the curtain: we’re currently writing stories that you won’t read until our September issue comes out. We’ve already enjoyed summer—sipped the best beers, gone on some awesome adventures—and are settling in to the cozy onset of fall. It’s just the nature of the magazine industry: All this research, writing, editing, photography and design takes time

But that passage of time occasionally means that what we’re excited about now is no longer relevant in four months. Last week, as I was putting the finishing touches on a restaurant review for August’s issue, I found out that the co-owner and chef—Charles Walpole of Babirusa (and Blind Pig before)—was stepping down at the end of May, out of the restaurant and possibly out of Seattle period. In his place chef Ryan Miller (most recently at Damn The Weather) will take over; he’s already been working with Walpole and was largely responsible for at least half the delicious dishes I tried.

It’s not the first time this has happened by any means, but it’s the most recent, and has marked a noticeable uptick in businesses—particularly retail and restaurants—closing or changing significantly in those crucial days between when we finish the magazine and when you hold it in your hands. There’s a bigger story here, one that speaks to the speed of which our city, and more specifically our local dining scene, is changing. Not even those of us charged with keeping tabs on the changes can keep up (of course, that won’t stop us from trying; you’ll be seeing more on this story soon).

Today (May 31) is Walpole’s last day—stop by and wish him well. I’ve been assured that tasting menu isn’t going anywhere. Here’s my original review:

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” chef Charles Walpole says with a bit of a laugh. He’s referring to the signs he ignored—a less-than-ideal rent situation chief among them—leading up to the closing late last year of the critically adored Blind Pig Bistro and neighboring bar Babirusa, located in the small space that once housed Sitka & Spruce. “We made a mistake thinking we could build something long-term there,” says Walpole, who owned the Eastlake businesses with partner Rene Gutierrez.

But those closings—concerning to their legions of neighborhood regulars—paved the way for Walpole and Gutierrez’s newest venture: Babirusa 2.0, open in Belltown since March, with an all-weather patio, booth and bar seating for more than 100 and a much larger kitchen for Walpole and his team to turn out creative American small plates. 

In fact, the open kitchen is a dramatic focal point of the new space. There, Walpole has taken advantage of a refrigerated countertop case and small charcoal grill meant for yakitori, both left behind by former tenant Kushibar; he’s using the first to expand his raw bar offerings (oysters, scallop ceviche, hamachi crudo, etc.) and the latter to grill quail or finish tender octopus. 

Though the new place has the Babirusa name, Blind Pig’s legendary tasting menu lives on here. Gutierrez says most diners in the new place are choosing to order a la carte, but I think—if budget allows—the tasting menu ($75) makes the experience. Walpole and chef de cuisine Ryan Miller (who worked at Blind Pig before leading the kitchen at Damn the Weather) change the six courses nightly, to show off the best of what’s in season, and to highlight his approach to whole-animal cooking. My tasting menu meal included the freshest oysters, a simple salad studded with duck hearts and blue cheese, and pork garnished with edible foraged flowers, among other dishes.

Overall, Walpole and Gutierrez—and the staff that followed them over from Eastlake—seem right at home in Belltown. The one thing Walpole says he misses? The chalkboard menu that spelled out the day’s dishes; despite the much larger space, there just wasn’t enough open wall to hang it.

Must try: Though the menu changes almost daily, you can count on a few regular dishes, like the excellent bavette steak, smoky but juicy, served with fingerling potatoes roasted in beef fat ($24).

Belltown, 2319 Second Ave.; 206.329.2744; babirusaseattle.com

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