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99 Park to respect its ingredients | Downtown restaurant opens Monday
99 Park Executive Chef Quinton Stewart says his farm-to-table concept for the soon-to-open downtown Bellevue restaurant will showcase locally sourced ingredients by giving them the respect they deserve.
"What we're trying to do is almost take care of them, and not let them get lost in sauces or salts, and just let them have their natural processes," says Stewart, whose culinary background started in Seattle, followed by a two-year stint in New York and then San Francisco. "I don't want to serve anything here that we've done before."
Stewart first interned at Seattle's Tilth restaurant in 2005, following graduation from the Art Institute of Seattle. After cutting his teeth at other Seattle kitchens like Spur and the Coterie Room, Stewart spent two years in New York — his dream being to one-day work work at the two-time Michelin starred Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"Their philosophy is to take as much as you can from the area and use it as the inspiration for your dish," Stewart says, a style he wants to apply at 99 Park. "We take some liberties with the other cultural influences."
On top of working at the Waverly Inn & Garden and Scandinavian brasserie ACME in New York, Stewart says he was lucky enough to learn from chefs Daniel Burns and Mads Refslund about modernist, new Nordic cuisine — the same style Noma is credited with pioneering.
Stewart held on to that knowledge over the winter while working kitchens in San Francisco.
"I wanted to get out of New York," says Stewart. "I stuck it out, I did my 2 1/2 years there."
When Stewart interviewed with 99 Park owners and the consulting firm they'd brought on, the original menu posted online was turned over to the 28-year-old chef for reinventing.
"I've had the freedom to take all of my experience and try to roll it all into one," he says.
People will come to 99 Park for comfort foods like burgers and sliders, says Stewart, but also be able to enjoy sharing small plates with friends and family, Stewart says. A Neah Bay albacore with Oregon quinoa tabouli and habanero aioli is sure to stay on the menu, he adds. Seasonal changes to the menu will enhance what is already available, but Stewart says he doesn't believe in going too far with tweaking culinary offerings.
"I think when chefs change up too much, they end up with a lot of misses on their menu," says Stewart, but consistency is important to repeat customers. "This is a neighborhood. It's like a place where actual people live. You have to be consistent."
Stewart is constantly making contacts at Bellevue farmers market, but says he is also using his western Washington roots to find wild-growing ingredients.
"I grew up foraging," he says. "I was interested in going out and finding chanterelles in Cle Elum and morels around the Puget Sound."
With less than a week until 99 Park opens Aug. 11 across from Bellevue Downtown Park on 102nd Avenue Northeast, work is heating up in the kitchen. Finding cooks to staff the kitchen was easier than expected, says Stewart, and test plates are coming out "hot and clean."
"And we've only been back there a week," he says.
99 Park will open for dinner at 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, with happy hour 4-6 p.m. and a late-night menu Thursday-Saturday until 1 a.m. Brunch will start at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.