Phillip Frankland Lee’s Sushi by Scratch Expands to Seattle

A sushi bar with just a handful of seats—and a concept that earned a Michelin star in California—is coming to the Denny Triangle—South Lake Union zone. Sushi by Scratch Restaurants will open September 1 and serve a 17-course “new wave” take on omakase.

The restaurant already has four locations, all the work of restaurateurs (and executive chef and pastry chef) Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee. The couple owns the Scratch Restaurants group, and—yes—Lee has appeared on a few food TV shows, including the California season of top chef.

Each seating’s 10 diners will pass through the door at 2331 Sixth Ave into a sort of Japanese whiskey bar antechamber and start the night with a pre-dinner cocktail. Next, everyone ventures into the actual sushi bar. There are no tables in here, just the 10-seat counter staffed by three chefs and a bartender.

Lee is a white guy who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, “which has more sushi bars per capita than Tokyo does.” He proclaimed his desire to be a sushi chef at age 13. All of which to say, his approach isn’t the tradition-laced Edomae style of local temples like Sushi Kashiba.

Doing research in Tokyo over the years, Lee determined that the most memorable omakase spots were the ones where the chef told his own life story through presentation and ingredients. “I think the best way I can pay respect to that is not to tell the stories of their flavors, but to tell my stories,” he says.

That narrative might include hamachi brushed with a sweet corn pudding and topped with sourdough breadcrumbs, or a roasted bone marrow nigiri followed by a course of unagi fried in that marrow’s rendered fat, then garnished with poblano yuzu kosho. These $165 tasting menus consist entirely of nigiri. Lee calibrates his flavors with intention; dinner here doesn’t come with the usual sidecar of wasabi, or soy sauce for dunking. But as the restaurant name implies, the kitchen does make its soy sauce, vinegars, ponzu, and the like in house. Diners can add on a few more bites, if time allows, and go big with drink pairings.

Lee opened his first sushi bar in Los Angeles, in a tiny space adjacent to his original Scratch Bar and Kitchen. “Our first location was literally my old office.” Sushi by Scratch Restaurants now has four existing locations—Miami, Austin, Los Angeles, and Montecito, which currently holds a Michelin star. (Useful reminder: The international Michelin guide only reviews restaurants in a few regions of the US, and that doesn’t include the Northwest.)

Reservations go live today, August 1, for the month of September. The restaurant does three seatings a night, but given the tiny space, waitlists can hit Tomo levels of insanity. “Austin, I think has right now about 15,000 on the waitlist,” says Lee. “Miami just surpassed 20,000.”

Sushi by Scratch opened its Austin and Miami restaurants earlier this year; feedback on the ground in those towns is just now starting to percolate, but it often devolves into multiple exclamation points and excess profanity…the happy kind. Seattle lacks the sunny weather of Sushi by Scratch’s other locations, but as the restaurant expands, says Lee, “we really want to open in cities we want to spend time in.”

For all Seattle’s legendary growth in recent years, most of the restaurants transplanted from other cities tend to be concepts centered on comfort food—HaiDiLao, Kirkland’s Silverlake Ramen outpost, the upcoming Baekjeong Korean Barbecue at Alderwood Mall—rather than a chef or concept. Sushi by Scratch’s arrival feels like a litmus test of whether we’re over that circa-2010 aversion to pedigreed chefs from other cities.

If you find yourself in a quadruple-digit position on the waitlist for September, Sushi by Scratch will open its (virtual) books for additional seatings on the first day of every month, with reservations for November going live October 1 and so on.

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