Last week at Mamnoon the waiter handed me what looked like an evening bag, slim as an envelope, embellished with a metallic design on a black background. Inside was the dinner menu, secured by magnets to the elegant tri-fold cover. Many restaurants incorporate art into their décor, but few put works of art into a diner’s hands. Mamnoon’s new menu covers are consistent with the restaurant’s aesthetic. They were designed by Seattle artist Tina Randolph, who also created the stenciled Venetian plaster tabletops I wrote about last month in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
Mamnoon’s owners, Racha and Wassef Haroun, commissioned the new menu covers to save on paper costs. Previously, the dinner menu was printed on a specially designed paper that echoed the eight-point star pattern of the laser-cut poplar screens at the entrance to the restaurant’s art-filled lounge. But the paper was expensive and was being used in large quantities because the menus change often, or get soiled, or people ask to keep them.
Just switching to cheaper paper wasn’t the answer for the Haroun’s, both of whom are actively involved in supporting the arts. Their solution was to commission Randolph to make reusable menu covers. Her tri-fold design is made of cardboard reinforced with balsa wood and covered with screen-printed Tyvek, treated to be stain-resistant. A thin steel sheet inserted in the middle section attracts slender magnets that secure the menu pages.
The Harouns have filled their Capitol Hill restaurant with art. “Art is something we live with,” Wassef says. Gradually pieces from their home have migrated to the restaurant. “We are here more than at the house, so it made sense to move some of it here,” says Racha. Mamnoon’s website includes notes on some of the works on display.
The newest installation, 30 chickens suspended in flight, is the work of a young Iranian artist, Nastaran Safaei. Its title, Simurgh, is both a play on the Farsi words for 30 birds and the name of a mythical, all-powerful bird that figures in a famous Persian poem. As summarized in notes from an exhibition at the Etemad Gallery in Dubai, the story goes like this: “A flock of birds undertake a difficult journey to the highest mountain in the Universe in search of the great Simurgh. Only 30 birds survive the journey, and upon reaching their destination, they realize that the Simurgh they seek is within them.” Food for thought to sustain the soul, even as you nourish the body.