When it comes to restaurant real estate, 3247 California Avenue is a familiar address. Perhaps you knew it as the original Ovio Bistro, its successor O2, or later as the Italian wine bar and cafe, Beato. Its most recent incarnation — the French-accented bistro Eness — came and went so fast it may have broken a record. But come mid-August, the doors will reopen with a new chef/owner intent on making his mark in West Seattle.
Say hello to Jacob Wiegner, who’s just left his sous-chef’s post at Olivar on Capitol Hill to fly solo with Blackboard Bistro. With two young children and “one in the oven,” Wiegner admits he’s got a lot on his plate. But with years of restaurant experience, and direction from his friend and mentor Philippe Thomelin, he’s intent on putting something delicious on yours.
“I moved 30 times growing up,” says the 32-year-old Wiegner, whose father was an engineer. At 13 his family landed in London where he stayed through his early 20s and learned to cook. “I trained there at a time when the food in England was going from drab to what I personally think makes it one of the best food cities in the world.” There he met his wife Ginger (a red-haired Kiwi from New Zealand) and when they had their first child they decided to move back to the states to be closer to his folks In southwest Florida.
“Florida, food-wise, was pretty awful,” he says, recalling Midwest snowbirds’ penchant for overcooked steaks. But as sous-chef at Cafe Lurcat, considered “the best restaurant in town,” he learned a lot from his superior. “The chef was a numbers-guy, and he took me under his wing and taught me the business side of the business.” But after four years at Lurcat, he and Ginger decided that Florida was no place to raise their kids. Seattle, on the other hand, held great appeal.
“I wanted a city with a big food scene. And for a big city, it doesn’t feel like one,” he says. Besides, “It reminds my wife of home.” What’s more, “it’s a family city,” and family is of utmost importance, Wiegner insists. “I don’t have anywhere I consider home as a child,” though he came from Pennsylvania Dutch stock and “that influence has affected me.”
Which is why, when he opens Blackboard Bistro, his daily-changing menu will offer a modern take on an old classic: deviled pickled red-beet eggs.
“That’s something my grandma always had in the fridge,” when he visited her in Pennsylvania. And it’s why he’ll be offering a daily three-course childrens’ menu, priced around $8-10 with “mini-versions of child-friendly food, but not that deep-fried rubbish.” That way, he says, “your kids’ food doesn’t come out first, and then they drive mom and dad crazy. They can match with their parents, and enjoy a meal together.” We can expect to find his youngsters in the house, dining alongside their mom, who’ll help with the books and other behind-the-scenes action, Wiegner says.
After a swift cosmetic makeover, Blackboard Bistro will be open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with each day’s offerings posted on a big blackboard menu. He hopes to keep prices at a point that will keep locals coming back for more — and frequently — with dishes averaging $12.50. The opening menu is set to offer a watermelon and feta salad with Fresno oil and pumpkin seeds; frisee with slow-roasted pork; gnocchi with house-smoked trout; and a quartet of beef sliders with four different toppings and fried shallot rings. Northwest beer and wine will be highlighted and classic cocktails available.
Though he’s sorry to lose his right-hand man, chef Thomelin says Wiegner’s “probably in the top 10 guys I’ve worked with in last 20 years — in talent, ethics and the way he sees food. He’s cautious about his flavors and not just mixing things together.” As opening sous, “He told me `I’m going to be here for a year, and then I’m opening my own place,'” says Thomelin. “But he’s given me two years and it’s been a good experience together and a great friendship. I’m very excited about his new venture.”