Even as a non-native English speaker, chef Perfecte Rocher (he sometimes goes by "Perfecto") talks a mile-a-minute — it's clear his high energy and enthusiasm are some of his top tools in the kitchen.
It's also evident how excited he is to be opening his own restaurant, Tarsan i Jane, with his partner in business and in life, Alia Zaine, free of investor influence and second-guessing. He's going to give Seattle a taste of his native Valencia and Catalan on his own terms.
Order a la carte or put yourself in the chef's hands with a four-course tasting menu (two appetizers, a rice course, and dessert) for dinner Thursday through Saturdays. Sunday brunch is for prix fixe paella, a five-course demonstration of Rocher's skill as a third-generation paellero. See the inaugural menus below.
Rocher, who has experience in Michelin-starred kitchens in California and even did a stint apprenticing at Spain's famous El Bulli, is proud of yet nervous about his ambitious vision. "One of my dreams is to see that people understand the food, but the person who understands the food is going to say, 'Fuck, they only have a wood fire, how they do all that?'"
In the former home of Tray Kitchen, the only major overhaul has been the cooking space, where a large wood-fired grill and oven now draw the eye — and the nose — from anywhere in the small room. He says the limitations inherent in cooking primarily with wood fire are worth it for the flavor the process imparts.
"There's no element in the kitchen that can beat that, no matter how modern or advanced. You can use modern cuisine to do new things, and we'll do that here, but to finalize things and cook with wood fire is something very magic," he tells Eater. "I'm cooking yesterday, and finishing some of these dishes with smokiness is...my god."
Rocher hopes people don't balk at the concise menu, which has about 11 dishes for opening day and will change frequently. When the patio opens in early June, its menu will be even tighter, focusing on raw oysters, small plates with almonds, anchovies, and jamon, and housemade sausages done in an additional wood oven.
The chef loves blending traditional and hyper-modern elements, and at recent pop-ups has been wowing guests with everything from Valencian prawns with smoked creme fraiche to uni flan, from honeycomb tripe stew to a plate showcasing the humble carrot in many textures. Rocher promises everything's even more impressive kissed with wood smoke before it's served.
Zaine, also a chef, intends to run everything front of house, though for the first couple weeks she will be in the kitchen with Rocher while their sous chef, Keaton Hunter, finishes out his tenure at Spinasse. Hunter's girlfriend, Katie Stark, will be the assistant manager, and just a few more employees will round out the small staff.
Rocher says he's thrilled about the cocktails, including multiple riffs on Spain's obsession, the gin and tonic served in large wine glasses with ice. The wine menu is almost exclusively Spanish, while the four drafts on opening day will be filled with selections from nearby Hilliard's Beer plus a hard cider from Finn River.
Eventually the owners want to offer cooking classes, but for now they'll have their hands full gearing up and changing the menu regularly. "What we want to do is have fresh product every day, every week," Rocher says. "Four days, boom, new product. That's the reason we open like this."
4012 Leary Way NW, (206) 557-7059, website. Open Thursday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Opening Paella Menu, Sunday, May 8 (subject to change):
Gaspatxo de Remolatxa—Beet gaspatcho, avocado, local micro greens
Truita de Creilla I Pa amb Tomaca—Catalan tomato toast, potato omelette
Amaniea de Cesar—Caesar-style romaine salad
Paella de Carsoses i Faves—Bomba rice, spare ribs, chicken, artichokes, favas
Pastís d'oli d'oliva amb mel—Rosa's Olive oil cake, honey ice cream, stone fruit