For over 20 years, Chef Seth Caswell has cooked all over the US in almost every type of kitchen, from trendy New York restaurants to tony Hamptons eateries, from ski-town bakeries to neighborhood bistros, from a tiny café on Lummi Island to the bustling Google campus in Kirkland—not to mention his own renowned venture, Emmer & Rye on top of Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill. He brings all this experience to the Dunbar Room, the Sorrento’s fresh take on the traditional full-service hotel restaurant.
Working closely with hospitality specialist Jared Meisler, Chef Caswell has developed a menu that suits its setting, focusing on classic dishes prepared with carefully sourced ingredients.
“You come to the Sorrento and sense history,” Caswell says, “so I want to make sure we’re giving respect to the past. We’re not trying to push boundaries with what we’re doing. The food is very approachable.”
Caswell makes the most of his longstanding ties to local farmers and fishermen by highlighting Washington State’s excellent produce and seafood. As former president of the national food-education nonprofit Chefs Collective, he knows that that sometimes most sustainable products come from beyond your backyard.
“Like everyone in else in Seattle does, I could source my meat locally and put the farmer’s name on the menu,” he says. “But I’m in a hotel that does volume and my local producer won’t make enough to have a consistent menu. So I found Niman Ranch, which is a collaborative of likeminded farmers with high standards.” All of Niman Ranch’s meats are free-range, naturally fed and antibiotic-free.
“If you think about it you can connect the dots: This menu has a bunch of sustainable products on it,” Caswell says. “That’s something I’ve been able to do because of the time we’ve taken to consider the menu.”
As thoughtful as the menu is at the Dunbar Room, Caswell isn’t afraid to lighten up. Each dish is aimed at guests staying for extended periods and enjoying multiple meals, as well as Seattleites looking for a memorable dining experience.
“We didn’t make the food totally serious, fine dining at its finest,” Caswell says. He cites the “secret burger,” which is not-so-secretly listed right there on the menu, and the “crae-crae Sundae,” an “obscene” dessert item with three scoops of ice cream, homemade chocolate, butterscotch and blueberry sauces, homemade marshmallows, whipped cream and bananas. “See?” he laughs. “We have a sense of humor.”
In another nod to legacy, Caswell follows several of his mentors as head chef at the Sorrento. By doing so he takes unique position within the tight-knit, world-class community that is the Seattle dining scene.
“Local chefs are more creative now because we’re challenging each other, sharing a lot of the same purveyors and putting our personality onto the dishes we’re creating,” he says. “At the Dunbar Room, we have all the amenities of a grand hotel but we’re personalized and able to make personal contact with people. We want this to be a cultural hub, and so much of that conviviality comes from good food and good drink.”