Five Seattle chefs at the top of their game. Between them, they have 19 James Beard award nominations, 16 restaurants, and countless rave reviews from some of the nation’s toughest critics… And oh, they all happen to be women. These five chefs are part of a growing number of women changing the culinary landscape and man, are we lucky to have them here in Seattle.
This is the second installment of a five-part blog series about the worlds of Chefs Maria Hines, Monica Dimas, Rachel Yang, Shannon Martincic, and Renee Erickson.
And now, let’s dive into Chef Martincic’s Northwest focused taqueria: Bar Noroeste.
Chef Shannon Martincic: Creating the Seattle-born taco
What if the taco originated in the Pacific Northwest?
That’s the question asked by Chef Shannon Martincic at her South Lake Union restaurant, Bar Noroeste. Think about it: If you were limited to ingredients from the Seattle region, what kind of taco would you come up with? Well, if you had the talent of Chef Martincic, you’d create something spectacular.
Chosen by Seattle Met as one of their Next Hot Chefs 2016, this 23-year-old is the only woman and the only chef under 30 who made the list. Chef Martincic’s culinary chops alone are enough to earn her a spot, but her resume isn’t too shabby either: she did a stint at Chicago’s three Michelin starred Alinea, for one.
And now, she’s Chef de Cuisine at Bar Noroeste (“northwest” in Spanish — get it?). This spot is a new concept from award-winning Seattle restaurant collective, Huxley Wallace. Headed up by Chef Josh Henderson, the collective includes acclaimed lakeside eatery Westward, sports-themed Quality Athletics and eight brand-new restaurants, which all opened in 2016. Talk about a culinary empire.
Bar Noroeste’s cool turquoise facade. Photo: Margaux Helm
The sleek, dark bar complete with jar of housemade apple shrub percolating on the top shelf. Photo: Margaux Helm
On the Tuesday evening when I visited Bar Noroeste, South Lake Union (or SLU, as the locals call it) was bustling with workers starting their evening commutes. Home to Amazon’s ever-expanding campus, SLU is booming in more ways than one. It’s not all new office buildings — dozens of trendy bars and restaurants have opened there in the past year. And Bar Noroeste fits right in. Its hip turquoise facade and sleek interior look like they were made for post-work happy hours and business lunches.
Special tequila-mezcal beverages mixed up by the bartender. For newbies to mezcal, it tastes smoky – similar to a peaty whisky. Photo: Margaux Helm
When I took a seat that evening, it was first things first: mezcal. That’s right, not tequila. Mezcal. If you’ve never tried it, it has a smoky flavor almost like a peaty whisky, but is made from agave. Our friendly bartender was excited to try out some of his latest tequila-mezcal creations on us, so of course, we had to. And thank goodness we did because the spicy cilantro-citrus concoction he mixed up was reason enough to come back. It was that good.
Bar Noroeste’s menu changes daily, as Chef Martincic wants to use only the freshest ingredients available. Photo: Margaux Helm
Looking over the menu, you’d never actually guess that Bar Noroeste only uses ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. That’s because it has all the dishes you’d expect at a taqueria, from empanadas to nachos and carne asada. But somehow, Chef Martincic manages to do it all (and to do it well) without avocado and with almost no citrus.
Messy, hearty nachos next to a unique salmon ceviche. Photo: Margaux Helm
Our cocktails were quickly followed by my favorite dish of the evening: the nachos. Topped with a generous portion of melt-in-your-mouth pork shoulder and a dollop of Bar Noroeste’s avocado-free “guacamole,” they were the messiest and most delicious nachos I’ve ever eaten. Interestingly, as part of her commitment to locally-sourced ingredients, Chef Martincic not only makes her tortilla chips in house, she also makes her own corn flour. That means her chips have extra texture and flavor to them that you can’t find on any grocery store shelf.
Foodie Tip: Bar Noroeste’s incredible housemade tortilla chips are available to-go. Don’t leave without a bag! Your snack game will thank you tomorrow.
As for the avocado-free “guacamole,” it was surprisingly tasty. I’m a big avocado fan (on toast and otherwise), so I was ready to be disappointed. But made with eggplant and pistachio, Chef Martincic’s creation was smooth, rich and flavorful — a very respectable substitute for a beloved dip.
Our beautifully set table of taco fixings. Photo: Margaux Helm
Then, bellies already full of nachos, it was time for the grand finale: carne asada and pork shoulder tacos. Brought to us by the warm and genuine Chef Martincic herself, the taco platter was accompanied by a beautiful assortment of tiny bowls filled with toppings. Chef Martincic carefully explained each topping to us: house-pickled onions, cojita cheese from a producer in Oregon, Rainier cherry-habanero sauce, pico de gallo and more.
This level of attention from Chef Martincic wasn’t even out of the ordinary. I watched her give the same thoughtful description to most tables in the restaurant. There’s something special about a chef who is so intentional about what she makes — and how she makes it — that she wants to share her vision with everyone who walks in the door.
My delectable taco creation! Photo: Margaux Helm
Plus, turns out, assembling your own tacos is very, very fun. It feels like a little culinary adventure. You get to taste each of the toppings on the table, put together different combinations, and then try the delectable results of your experiment.
Chef Martincic imbues the entire experience at Bar Noroeste with this same sense of fun. From the off-menu mezcal cocktails the bartender willingly mixes up for you, to the unabashedly messy nachos, eating at her restaurant is spontaneous and joyful. She rewards diners who are willing to take a chance on her. So if you’ve been asking yourself, “What if the taco was born in the Pacific Northwest?” then trust Chef Martincic to give you a resoundingly tasty answer.
Bar Noroeste is located just minutes from downtown in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle at 2051 7th Ave. It is open daily from 11am to close.