Back in late November, when Matt Selby, the opening exec chef and a partner in the Corner House (he's now the exec chef of Central) departed ways with majority owners and partners Scott Kinsey and James Iacino, president of Seattle Fish, the Jefferson Park restaurant closed for a few days to regroup. And in the months since then, there have been numerous changes, including the hiring of a new chef, the implementation of a new menu and the hiring of two additional partners: Leigh Sullivan and Travis Plakke, both of whom are lifelong veterans of the restaurant industry.
"When Matt left, his ownership shares were transferred back to James, who then gave the shares to me and Travis -- and he also named us operating partners and general managers, which basically means that we're at the Corner House all the time, managing the staff and running the restaurant," says Sullivan, who also owns Leigh Sullivan Enterprises, a company that, up until she became a partner in the Corner House, provided public relations expertise to several Denver restaurants, including the Corner House. "From a personal perspective," adds Sullivan, "I'm no longer a restaurant consultant because of the conflict of interest, but I've been a part of the Corner House since its inception, and I love everything about it, so it just made sense for me to become an owner."
And, notes Sullivan, who opened several big-name restaurants with her ex-husband Troy Guard, who owns TAG, TAG Raw Bar, TAG Burger Bar and the forthcoming Guard & Grace, running restaurants is in her blood. "To be honest, I've really missed being in the restaurant business, and there hasn't been a single day where I haven't wanted to get back into it: I love all the day-to-day stuff that comes with running a restaurant," she says, adding that while she's no longer representing restaurants, Leigh Sullivan Enterprises is still going strong, and her current client list, which includes Seattle Fish and FIVE, will soon take on new client: "I'm helping these two amazing soccer mom ladies launch a new liquor brand called Queen City Spirits, a company that makes these really unique, delicious and all-natural flavored vodkas, and we'll launch it just as soon as we get the logo approved," reveals Sullivan.
In the meantime, she's concentrating on her new chef at the Corner House, Sharif Villa Cruz, who previously cooked at TAG, Row 14, Paxia, where he was the exec chef and, most recently, Jax, Glendale, where he commanded the grill and saute station. "The guy is just badass," enthuses Sullivan. "He's got an amazing palate, he's a good person, he has an amazing work ethic and he has really high morals, all of which are important. I'm super-psyched to be working with him again," she adds.
And Cruz's menu, notes Sullivan, leans toward seafood, which I always believed should have been the focus of Corner House from the beginning, especially given the fact that Iacino has access to just about everything that swims in the sea. "We have a tiny kitchen with no grease trap and no hood, so we're limited in terms of what we can do, and we have to be creative with our cooking techniques," explains Sullivan, but seafood, she says, "lends itself to that kind of kitchen setup."
Cruz's board now struts oysters on the half shell, oysters Rockefeller, yellowtail sashimi, an octopus confit, mussels two ways, Scottish salmon, crab rillettes and a gluten-free clam chowder. "A good 80 percent of the menu is now devoted to seafood, and, yes, we've got the best selection of seafood at our fingertips because of James, so it obviously made sense for us to move in that direction," says Sullivan, stressing, too, that nearly all of Cruz's dishes are gluten-free.
And with the new menu comes a refreshed spring cocktail lineup, which Plokke, who quarterbacks the bar program, plans to unveil today. "They're all delicious with lighter ingredients, and they all pair really well with seafood," says Plakke, who says he's "flipped" all eight cocktails, blowing out all of winter's heavier drinks. "Some of the spring cocktails are plays on classics, while others are a bit more creative, and the biggest thing is that there's no pretense," notes Plakke. "I'm not a flashy guy, and neither are the cocktails; they're clean and simple," he adds.
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In addition to a new chef, new partners and new menus, Corner House also flaunts a fresh front-of-house staff led by Gordan Cresswell, who worked at TAG, Bistro Vendome and Harman's; Steven Waters, formerly of TAG, the Corner Office and Ace; and Ashton Delery, a previous staffer at the Corner Office and Linger. "They're all professional on the floor, and all of them, at one point in their career, have been managers or leads, so they're all pros with some great experience," says Sullivan.
"With all the new changes, we're moving onward and upward, and we're so excited to put our stamp on the Corner House. We're doing what we love -- this is who we are," she concludes.Follow @CafeWestword