Chef Jonathan Doar had never set foot on the West Coast before he moved to Seattle last spring to open Triumph Bar with brothers Jim and Brandon Marsh. The hybrid wine bar-restaurant in Lower Queen Anne boasts more than 300 bottles of Italian and American wine, a dynamite cocktail program with seasonal specials, and a menu that takes cues from Italy, the Deep South, and the Pacific Northwest.
Doar is quick to tell you that Triumph Bar is more than wine. He's built a small-plates menu of cheeses and salumi that complements the wine selection, sure, but he's also serving an array of dishes that can stand on their own, from housemade charcuterie to seasonal vegetable plates to a beast of a porterhouse. Eater caught up with Doar to learn more about the restaurant's first year and what to expect from its second.
How have things changed over the past year?
We're off the beaten path a bit so things started out slowly. But we're right next to the new Taylor Shellfish [in Lower Queen Anne] so we're getting a lot more foot traffic. We're building our clientele. The menu has come a very long way, so I couldn't be happier about that. As far as food goes, we're not Italian but we do have an Italian background. I spent about a year traveling in Italy in 2012 so because we're mostly wine we have a lot of salumi and a lot of cheese. That's where we have people start when they sit down. And we have small plates that we move into, everything from oysters to grilled peaches and burrata, is a big hit. Cured salmon, we do that in house, with a molasses rub. We have larger plates like a 45 ounce porterhouse for two. It's a big boy. Bread pudding is our staple sweet.
How did Triumph come to be?
I'm a Boston guy, so moving out here just to open up this restaurant last May. The owner and I, Jim Marsh, he was a sommelier at a New York City restaurant called Fishtail, and I worked there in the kitchen as a sous chef and we developed a nice bond there. And he's from out here and he said he was going to come back to Seattle to open up a restaurant with his brother, Brandon Marsh, also a sommelier. And I actually got the call when I was in Italy. I came out here to open the restaurant last May, and it was my first time on the West Coast. I couldn't be happier, as a chef working with the ingredients out here, it's amazing. The produce, the fish, it's very cool.
How often does the menu change?
Very often. Most of the stuff is very seasonal. I'm constantly trying to teach myself about the different ingredients available out here. I'm always changing the menu based on what's in season, and it's just more fun that way. We have a chalkboard where we do three or four specials every single night.
Was it challenging to open a restaurant in a new city?
I've never opened a restaurant as a chef, which was one of the big draws for me to come out here, so I could learn about that as a chef. It takes a lot out of you, but in return it makes you stronger and knowledgeable on all sorts of levels.
Who's on your team helping you out?
One of my pals came out here with me, Danny Hill, and it's just him and I in the kitchen. It's a two-man crew which we take a lot of pride in. Other restaurants have five or six people in the kitchen, with one or two tasks each. Our menu is pretty large, so when we fill up we run around and bust ass, but it's a lot of fun. That's what we look forward to. Danny's leaving and will be replaced by a gal named Nina Vicente, a former executive chef at Spur Gastropub, so we can't be more excited about that. I think she'll be able to bring a little bit of what Spur did, which is a little more refined, to what we do here, which is a little bit more simple and rustic, and we'll meet in the middle.
What should we look forward to in year two?
We had a slower first year than we envisioned but now that we're pretty well known we envision a good second year, very busy second year. We've held the line with the quality. Our entire staff is just eight people and all eight were from the opening so there's been zero turnover. And I think Triumph is good enough to be on the list with the top restaurants in the city. In fact, I'd put my bread pudding up against any other in the city.
Triumph Bar. 114 Republican St., Lower Queen Anne. TriumphBar.com. (206) 420-1791. Seven days a week, 3 p.m. to close.