It took six months longer than anticipated, but this week Sarah and Felix Penn finally got their second restaurant off the ground. The pair behind Pair opened Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor Tuesday. And who knew? I had a meeting to attend at nearby Seattle Children’s that night (where, bless ’em, the cafeteria food could use some work) and an hour to kill before that. So, instead of heading to Nishino, as I’d planned, I made a quick beeline for Ravenna. I grabbed a seat at the bar where I met this bubbly bartender, Kimberly, who poured me a flute of cava ($10) — though I might have opted for the less expensive non-vintage French brut ($7), or a split of Champagne-with-an-uppercase-“C” ($14):
Because I’m paid to be nosy, and because I was so enamored with their first restaurant, I wasted no time taking a tour of the place — a darling double-storefront, designed by Jacob and Lucas Milhoulides (see: How to Cook a Wolf). Frank’s is a royal revamping of what was formerly those oddly conjoined twins the Sterling Cafe (an organic restaurant) and the Sterling Salon (a beauty parlor). The Brothers M and Mrs. Penn used a mix of rustic-chic and reclaimed paneling for that “It’s homey! It’s mod! It’s Seattle!”-look: one that complements this casual take on the classic East Coast seafood-and-steakhouse model.
Oysters, Champagne and steak? Given the state of the economy, that might sound a bit crazy, but trust me: in this case it isn’t. “Cozy” is not my favorite descriptor, but that’s exactly how I’d describe the bar and lounge, where plush seats invite you to linger longer without body damage:
The menu encourages noshing (on oysters on the half-shell, natch, served for $2 each, perched on a custom-built tray with a cleverly crafted bed of ice), or a deconstructed version of a crab Louie (a roll-your-own refresher served with “lettuce cups” — $12). So I did:
This mid-range restaurant isn’t a bargain bite, but you get what you pay for. Felix and his crew are using sustainably raised meats and seafood; baking their own cheddar biscuits (stuffed with Kurobuta ham) and crackers (offered alongside smoked fish chowder); and preparing everything from a Niman Ranch porkchop ($17) to a Beecher’s-cheese burger with fries ($13).
You might eat these while sitting at a little corner table by the storefront windows: the kind of tables that seem to be the most coveted spots in restaurants all over town. (Like the left-of-the-entrance table at Le Pichet, or one of the deuces I once begged for — and famously didn’t get — at the late 1200 Bistro):
Since she’s running two restaurants — no easy feat — I suggested Sarah get off hers and sit down for a minute, if only to show off this little lounge-nook with its lush, two-tush furnishings, adjacent to the bar:
And are these happy hostesses adorable, or what?
Too bad their dining room — with its booths, banquettes and Oriental carpets (apparently a Penn-restaurant trademark) was so quiet for its debut-dinner. But hey, that’s why they call it a “soft opening”:
And speaking of soft, another rousing round of applause for those cushioned booths and banquettes — a (relatively) small price to pay to keep the customers satisfied. (Along with “Whoa! Way too noisy!” this is one of the main complaints I hear from otherwise-happy diners regarding Seattle-area restaurants.)
So, who’s Frank? Not this guy: that’s Felix, posing with his wife in front of their new joint:
Sous-chef Justin Green is holding down the fort in the kitchen up the block at Pair, I was told, and Sarah will split her time between the two restaurants. Frank, by the way, is Frank Duffin, Sarah’s maternal grandfather, seen here immortalized on the front page of what we now know as the Boston Globe:
Sarah says he was “a working-class hero” who made his mark as the head of the the Globe’s pressroom. “Growing up, we spent about a month at a time with him and my grandmother, Kay, in Boston and Cape Cod,” recalls his granddaughter, a Seattle native who grew up in Mount Baker. “They had style and loved to dine out, and they always included us in the party.” His namesake restaurant “is an incarnation of the type of civilized place where Frank would go to have a Manhattan and some surf and turf and know that life is good.”
I’ll drink to that. And so can you, after 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, at 2616 N.E. 55th St., Seattle; 206-525-0220.