By the looks of things at his new Ballard restaurant, Sawyer, Mitch Mayers is having a blast — and so are his diners.
The chef was most recently chef de cuisine at Lark, a fine-dining institution in Seattle. The menu reflects that classic training to some extent, with dishes that skew upscale. But this is decidedly Mayers’ restaurant, and there are plenty of playful dishes that speak to his unique point of view.
At first blush, these two divergent approaches seemed at odds with each other, but Mayers somehow manages to pull it all off, with whimsy successfully living alongside more serious plates. And that means Sawyer is both a date-night destination and a place to meet friends after work. It works, whether you’re craving an indulgent beer-and-burger situation, or looking to dress things up a bit.
Mayers shows off his Lark chops with dishes like the artfully composed potato gnocchi dish, decorated with green figs, charred castelfranco radicchio, saba, goat cheese and pine nuts; or the wood-grilled halibut, served with saffron risotto, heirloom tomatoes and a red pepper and walnut spread.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the animal-style burger, a delicious mess with two Wagyu patties, caramelized onion mornay, tomatoes, secret sauce, lettuce and sour pickles. It pairs well with the fried jojos, which Mayers piles atop a from-scratch buttermilk ranch. Then there’s wild boar ribs, which come with mustard barbecue sauce and cornbread muffins, and a Dungeness crab roll. While fun, these dishes still reflect the chef’s ample training and attention to detail.
Mayer’s judicious use of the fryer recalls his family’s state fair concession stand, but a meal at Sawyer won’t be nearly as artery-clogging or over-indulgent. For dessert, homemade Dilly Bars and Choco Tacos recall childhood favorites, but these iterations are dressed up with flower petals, cookie dough semifreddo and Theo Chocolate.
The cocktail lineup is solid, too, with originals like The Lobo (mezcal, fresh cantaloupe, lemon, Douglas fir and something called “chef tears”) and the Mijo Trio (rum, banana, pineapple, falernum, lemon and coconut cream) — two standouts on a menu of nine options.
Sawyer replaces the barbecue-focused Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen just off the thriving, cobble-stoned Ballard Avenue. The name reflects the building’s origins as a sawmill, back when Ballard was a regional hub for the lumber industry. It’s off to a promising start, with Mayers planning to add brunch soon — a development that’s sure to bring more playful and well-executed dishes to fruition.