Welcome to One Year In ? or in this case, 20 Years In ? a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their anniversary.
Owner Susan Kaufman opened Serafina in 1991, when Italian food in America was largely mired in red sauce, meatballs and pasta. This Sunday, the restaurant and its companion cocktail spot Cicchetti are throwing an outdoor birthday party, complete with an outdoor grill, seasonal cocktails and an "Iron Bartender" challenge pitting some of the city's cocktail notables against one another. The front-of-house staff will even provide some of the entertainment, and it's a shockingly talented group.
Eater recently chatted with chef and 10-year veteran Dylan Giordan about how a restaurant stays viable over two decades, how Cicchetti and the cocktail program changed the restaurant, and the best place to park on a busy Saturday night.
You’ve been with Serafina for about 10 years, right? I started here a few months before September 11. A lot of restaurants around town saw a really big drop in business; we actually saw September and October were a little bit busier than they were the year before. I think a lot of people were staying away from destination restaurants, but wanted to go to places that made them feel good.
If not 9/11, what have been some of the rougher periods for Serafina? With recent downturn times, we’ve seen some of that, but we also know that we have great return clientele. This is so important. It’s not just about one person, one time, one meal, and out. Over the course of 10 or 20 years, those return guests are the ones keeping us afloat.
Any dishes that will never go off the menu? The signature dish is the melanzane alla Serafina; how can you beat tomatoes and cheese and pasta? Other untouchables are the sautéed calamari, and people really like our meatballs and mussels as well.
How is Serafina different now from when it opened? I think maybe it’s a little more upscale. Definitely when the restaurant opened it was very casual. I think people have also become more adventurous. Since I’ve been here, one of my signature dishes has become a roasted pork belly. Back then you only saw it at a couple places in town. Now you can’t cross the street without somebody trying to roast your pork belly.
We kind of revolutionized our bar program about six years ago when Chris Bollenbacher came on as our bar chef. He really brought a breath of life into the bar program. He pioneered the infusions, the tinctures – that part has just exploded.
How did opening Cicchetti in 2009 change things? It’s created a little more of a division between a more casual place and the more formal at Serafina. One gigantic advantage is having all these cocktail tastings and cooking classes; we put a lot of effort into those. But it’s a labor of love. I know [owner] Susan [Kaufman] had her eye on that space for years. It’s a sweet little spot. It's slick, it's got a ton of character. When both places are busy this corner is just throbbing just pumping it’s amazing.
Yeah, parking in Eastlake can be tough on a Saturday night. I always tell people to park above the convenience store. It’s three bucks, super simple, well-lit and secure.
· Serafina's 20th Anniversary [Official Website]
· All Previous One Year In Coverage on Eater Seattle [-ESEA-]