Chef Brendan McGill was sick of hamburgers. He’d been running Burgerhaus, his pandemic pivot pop-up that focused on burgers, fries, and shakes, at Bainbridge Island’s Hitchcock Restaurant for a year. For a while, it had been been a fun switch-up from the fine-dining approach he was used to, but by fall 2021, his heart no longer felt in it.
“I didn’t want to eat that food a lot,” McGill says. “The place felt kind of greasy. There’s no way around it when you make a zillion fries every day.” He was also tired of only serving food that was good for takeout, and he longed for the times when his restaurant was somewhere people came to celebrate events like anniversaries and birthdays.
So McGill sat down with his staff to talk about the future of his restaurant. The team landed on turning it into an oyster bar, something closer to the Pacific Northwest fine-dining ethos that inspires him. And as McGill’s frustration with cooking food for takeout grew, the oyster bar concept became Seabird — perhaps his most ambitious restaurant yet, which is doing away with takeout altogether in a bold break from pandemic-style dining. Chef Grant Rico, who previously worked at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant SingleThread in California, is the restaurant’s executive chef and partner in the business. He brings some Japanese techniques, like using kelp for umami, to Seabird. The restaurant opened on June 9 in the former Hitchcock restaurant space, with McGill staying involved as a chef/owner. Café Hitchcock, McGill’s casual bar and lunch spot, is still serving breakfasts, sandwiches with house-cured meats, coffee and espresso and drinks from a full bar during the day, with flatbreads and charcuterie to pair with wine and cocktails in the evenings.
Seabird, which McGill describes as “unabashedly nice” and “anti-takeout,” is a return to the thoughtful preparation and impeccable sourcing he became known for at Hitchcock. But it’s also a departure in many ways. After 10 years running Hitchcock, he says customers expected him to always have certain things on the menu, like roasted chickens, juicy pork chops, big steaks, and pasta dishes. That made it difficult to find room for new dishes and ingredients.
“I almost couldn’t change like 20 different things,” McGill says. “By narrowing the focus to fish and vegetables, we can have 10 different types of fish and dive a little deeper.”
Seabird’s menu is an ode to the bounty of the Puget Sound. The 45-seat restaurant features a white granite-covered raw bar stacked with several types of local oysters and whole Dungeness crabs. The rest of the menu mainly consists of small plates meant to be shared, like a “seacuterie” with Columbia river smelt cured in the style of Spanish boquerones, mussels escabeche, and other cured local fish. The green salad includes greens grown on McGill’s Bainbridge Island farm as well as local wakame (the type of seaweed found in miso soup), bonito, and kelp pickles. Even the bread is flavored with seaweed and served alongside sugar kelp butter. Large plates include a whole roasted yelloweye rockfish served with koji barley, asparagus, and pine nut gremolata (herb paste).
Though seafood dominates the menu, there are vegetable dishes too, like a maitake dish served with koji porridge and mushroom consomme, and potatoes and morels with sea buckthorns and porcini.
The drink menu includes plenty of West Coast wines, from Vancouver, B.C., to Baja California, as well as some selections from Europe. All of them are meant to pair well with seafood, so diners shouldn’t expect a lot of big bold reds. The cocktail list, too, features cocktails meant to be paired with the menu, though it’s a full bar, and diners can order most standard cocktails as well.
Like the menu, the restaurant design is inspired by the ocean and a mix of Japanese and Pacific Northwest aesthetics. An octopus painted with Japanese calligraphy ink, by Dwight Hwang, hanging prominently in the dining room. A spiny chandelier evokes the shape of a sea urchin. And the front of the restaurant, which has a few tables for outdoor dining, is painted a deep-sea blue.
McGill says the menu will expand as the summer moves on, and the menu will change seasonally.
Seabird is located at 133 Winslow Way East, Bainbridge Island. It's open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.