There’s no recipe for success in the restaurant industry. But it’s no secret, either, that the folks who are the happiest are the ones who’ve figured out some balance amongst the long hours and demanding environment. “If you’re at a restaurant for three and a half years and working 14-hour shifts six out of seven days, it’s really hard to maintain that,” says chef Jeffrey Kessenich. He’s speaking from his experience running the kitchen at Tanglewood Supreme, the beloved Magnolia restaurant that closed in early 2016. When his new restaurant, Birch, opens on July 21, it will only be open Friday and Saturday evenings. “We’re hoping [the limited schedule] will help us stay fresh and energetic,” he adds.
Kessenich has landed into a pretty sweet situation: Since he left Tanglewood, he’s been working with the Kois Center, a continuing education center for dentists, as a sort of in-house caterer. It just so happens that they have an event space that overlooks Lake Union with 180-degree views—with the Space Needle beyond—from a perch just upstairs from White Swan Public House. While he’ll continue serving private lunches for center attendees there during the week, they’re letting him run his own restaurant, open to the public, from the space Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 9 p.m.
This arrangement, though unconventional, leaves Kessenich in a good place, where he can focus more on the menu and less on scrambling to pay rent. Diners can expect an emphasis on seafood—the chef built many relationships at Tanglewood and plans to bring favorites like Cape Cleare salmon and Weathervane scallops into the restaurant—but he’s quick to point out that he’s accommodating to vegetarians, vegans and anyone who’s gluten-free. Kessenich will offer a seven-course chef’s tasting menu (for just $70, possibly the cheapest such option in the city) and a three-course prix fixe for $50, with dessert optional for another $10. “Really, our goal is to offer this really great food, a unique and fun wine list—be fine dining without being pretentious,” he says. “We want people to come in and not worry too much on how much you’re spending.”
That wine list he’s talking about is courtesy of sommelier Zach Olson, whose background in wine started at Daniel’s Broiler and who now runs Rhônin Wine Consulting. Kessenich says Olson will focus on seasonal, local wines (not exclusively Washington, though) to pair with the food.
Since the restaurant has only 40 seats, reservations are required. Make ‘em online here.