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September 25, 2009 at 5:23 PM

Troiani closes, set to reopen soon as Sharp’s Fish Market

Tomorrow will see the end of Troiani — closed after a six-year run. As part of the Mackay Restaurant Group and sibling to the Seattle-based El Gaucho steakhouse chain, it was originally envisioned as an upscale, downtown Italian grill. One that opened to great applause, then quickly lost its chef (Walter Pisano — who made a triumphant return to his longstanding gig at Tulio), its namesake (managing partner Rich Troiani) and some might argue its raison d’etre. Today Mackay Restaurants announced plans to transform the spacious restaurant and bar at Third and Madison into Sharp’s Fish Market, an unfussy showcase for seafood. ETA for the re-do debut: late October.

Chad (left) and Paul Mackay of Mackay Restaurant Group at El Gaucho, 2005

Seattle Times photo/Harley Soltes

Selling seafood won’t be a new concept for Mackay, owners of Waterfront Seafood Grill at Pier 70, and Tacoma’s Sea Grill which was shuttered in March. Yet this changeover comes as high-end restaurants continue to feel the pinch and midtown office space sits vacant.

Bellevue’s El Gaucho, open just shy of a year, finally got the shot-in-the-arm (and help from the bank) it’s needed, says founding father Paul Mackay, who told me today he was relieved that 1500 Microsofties are finally — and belatedly — moving into Bellevue’s City Center Plaza where El Gaucho occupies 17,000-square feet of restaurant, bar and private-dining space. “We’d have never opened for lunch if we thought Microsoft wasn’t going to move in till now,” he says, admitting that it’s been a very tough year. “But we got through the summer still standing and we’ve made a profit in the last two quarters. We’re solid and ready to do that fall and winter business, which is our bread and butter.” With Microsoft employees in-house next week, he says, “Give us a little time and we’ll kick some butt.”

The Mackay group hopes to be kicking some hali-but, along with some other Northwest seafood, in Seattle’s Financial District when Sharp’s comes on the scene later this fall. Mackay says they’re hoping to attract business that heretofore went to Oceanaire Seafood Room, closed abruptly in July, as well as cash in on the downtown hotel trade. “What do all those people in the hotels come to Seattle for? Seafood.”

With an expanded bar and lounge, seafood entrees at more “approachable price-points” and the addition of a retail seafood counter as well as a retail wine license, the company is looking for ways to lure a broader audience. “With Sharp’s we’re not only able to satisfy the need for really fresh seafood, we’re doing so at an incredible value, all while aiming to be the after-work or before-game destination,” said company President and COO, Chad Mackay in today’s news release.

Looking back on Troiani’s rise and fall, Chad’s dad told me, “I’m not Italian. And we don’t have an Italian down there” running the kitchen or the dining room. But they do have a corporate chef of longstanding, Ken Sharp, who’s “working up a menu” for his namesake restaurant. When I suggested it’s about time Sharp gets some well deserved recognition, Paul said, “We’re not tying the restaurant to Ken — though that’s his name and it’s got a good connotation.” What’s more, unlike Troiani he says, “it’s easy for concierges to remember.”

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