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February 1, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Goodbye Spring Hill, aloha to a “fried chicken shop and whiskey bar”


So let’s say you gamble on opening your own restaurant in these tight economic times. And then let’s say you win the hearts of critics and locals alike, and Bon Appetit magazine calls your place one of the best new restaurants in America, and Food and Wine magazine calls you one of the best new chefs in America, and diners are practically ready to pay ransoms for reservations at your fried chicken dinners, which also happen to get short-listed among the best in the country.

What’s next?

In the case of Spring Hill in West Seattle, and owners Mark Fuller and Marjorie Chang Fuller, the answer is that you make a big change. Say goodbye to Spring Hill as you know it. Starting Feb. 8 the 4-year-old restaurant will shift into a new incarnation called ma’ono, a “fried chicken shop and whiskey bar” specializing in the sort of Hawaiian and mid-Pacific comfort food that Mark Fuller loved growing up in Kauai. Same address (4437 California Ave. S.W.), same owners, same chef.

Here’s what Marjorie Chang Fuller had to say about the change:

First, existing fans needn’t mourn too much. The fried chicken that chef-owner Fuller (a longtime Tom Douglas alum) made famous at his casual Monday night dinners isn’t going anywhere. As you might guess from the restaurant’s new moniker, it’s taking center stage instead, with some additional new versions and new sides like homemade kimchi. The well-loved burger is also staying put, as is one of my favorites, the hearty, insanely savory bowl of saimin noodles with pork belly and fish cake.

What’s going to be new? Hand rolls, steamed bbq pork buns, curry with bacon-fried rice, a house-made portuguese sausage “dog”, and a host of other sparky-looking small plates, salads, and other dishes. Marjorie Fuller said their hope was “to bring back that comfort level of what (Mark Fuller) grew up with, and share that with Seattle.”

People had come to think of Spring Hill as a fine-dining or destination restaurant, she said, but in their minds they’re a neighborhood place, and they wanted to reflect a more casual, free-spirited menu. The fried chicken, meanwhile, had taken on a life of its own, and Fuller liked the idea of offering it more often while taking it a little farther and giving it new twists. (I’m waiting to try the one with fiery Korean gochujang paste and hot chilies). Prices on the new menu range from $4 to $12 for small dishes, and $14 to $42 to mains. The $42 high-end is for the fried-chicken-for-two, so I suppose it’s fairer to call it $21/person. The couple will be adding 10 more seats to the bar, which will now seat 18, and staying open seven days a week.

We don’t have a ton of Hawaiian-influenced food in town, and I’m eager to see what Fuller does with delights like poke and, yes, even his take on “spiced ham musubi“. The couple’s already gotten a significant stamp of success, though: Their extended family recently came through to celebrate his grandmother’s 90th birthday, and tried out the new dishes inspired by his memories of island picnics. The kimchi got grandma’s approval. Mark your calendar for Feb. 8 and hope it gets ours too.

Spring Hill photo: Ross Mantle/The Seattle Times



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