Phillip Frankland Lee’s Sushi by Scratch expands to Seattle
A sushi bar with just a handful of seats – and a concept that earned a Michelin star in California – is coming to the Denny Triangle – South Lake Union area. Sushi by Scratch restaurants will open on September 1 and will serve a “new wave” version of 17 omakase dishes.
The restaurant already has four locations, all the work of restaurateurs (and executive chef and pastry chef) Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee. The couple own the Scratch Restaurants group and, yes, Lee has appeared on a few food TV shows, including the California season of Excellent leader.
The 10 guests in each seat will walk through the door at 2331 Sixth Ave into a sort of antechamber of a Japanese whiskey bar and start the evening with a pre-dinner cocktail. Next, everyone ventures into the real sushi bar. There are no tables here, just the 10-seat counter staffed by three chefs and a bartender.
Lee is a white man who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, “which has more sushi bars per capita than Tokyo.” He proclaimed his desire to be a sushi chef at the age of 13. All this to say that his approach is not the traditional Edomae style of local temples like Sushi Kashiba.
Researching Tokyo over the years, Lee determined that the most memorable omakase spots were those where the chef told his own story through presentation and ingredients. “I think the best way to pay homage to that is not to tell the stories of their flavors, but to tell my stories,” he says.
This tale could include a hamachi slathered in sweet corn pudding and topped with sourdough breadcrumbs, or a roasted bone marrow nigiri followed by a course of unagi fried in the melted fat of that marrow, then topped with poblano. yuzu kosho. These $165 tasting menus are entirely made up of nigiri. Lee calibrates his flavors with intention; dinner here doesn’t come with the usual sidecar of wasabi or soy sauce for dipping. But as the name of the restaurant suggests, the kitchen prepares its soy sauce, vinegars, ponzu, etc., on the spot. Diners can add a few extra bites, time permitting, and take it a step further with drink pairings.
Lee opened his first sushi bar in Los Angeles, in a small space adjacent to his original Scratch Bar and Kitchen. “Our first location was literally my old office.” Sushi by Scratch Restaurants now has four existing locations: Miami, Austin, Los Angeles and Montecito, which currently holds a Michelin star. (Helpful reminder: The international Michelin guide only reviews restaurants in a few regions of the United States, and that doesn’t include the Northwest.)
Reservations go online today, August 1, for the month of September. The restaurant seats three per night, but given the small space, waiting lists can reach Tomo levels of insanity. “Austin, I think, has about 15,000 on the waiting list right now,” Lee says. “Miami just passed 20,000.”
Sushi by Scratch opened its Austin and Miami restaurants earlier this year; the reactions on the ground in these cities are just beginning to show, but they often turn into multiple exclamation points and excess profanity…the happy kind. Seattle doesn’t have the sunny weather of other Sushi by Scratch locations, but as the restaurant expands, Lee says, “we really want to open in cities where we want to hang out.”
For all of Seattle’s storied growth in recent years, most restaurants transplanted from other cities tend to be comfort food-centric concepts – HaiDiLao, Kirkland’s Silverlake Ramen outpost, upcoming Korean BBQ Baekjeong at Alderwood shopping center – rather than a leader or a concept. The arrival of Sushi by Scratch feels like a litmus test of whether we’ve outgrown that circa-2010 aversion to race chefs from other cities.
If you find yourself in a four-figure position on the waiting list for September, Sushi by Scratch will open its (virtual) books for additional seats on the first day of each month, with reservations for November going live on October 1. And so on.