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Ciudad Grill

Keeping the blues away

Sometimes the most unlikely places have the biggest impact. Walking past the outdoor grill with amazing aromas on a dreary, grey Seattle day is almost enough. But pulling open the metal door and entering a room naturally lit by a large skylight; with red, white, and blue chairs; painted figures and bright flags on concrete walls; and great background music takes you all the way. Looking through that window you can see graffiti on the building next door. Feels kind of like L.A. And then there's the food.

A concept created by Marcus Lalario (Li'l Woody's, Fat's Chicken & Waffles, Beat Box, War Room, Alive and Well, 95 Slide-closed) and Matt Dillon (Sitka & Spruce, The London Plane, Corson Building, Bar Sajor-closed, Old Chaser Farm), it combined their separate travel experiences. Marcus had been enjoying road-side chicken stands, and Matt had been loving grill-centric spots. They found the Georgetown location and put a custom grill out front. Ciudad's opening chef was Nick Coffey who had been at Sitka & Spruce for years. When he left, Marcus approached Aaron Willis (photo); they've been friends for 20 years.

Aaron had worked for Marcus when he was a club owner; worked at Crystal Mountain's Summit House; traveled extensively, living in Bali for several years, and visiting Cologne, Berlin, and Istanbul; was chef at Delicatus; has his own company, The Generous Chef, and did pop-up dinners mostly outside of Seattle-New York, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, L.A.-was a private chef, and did some consulting on the side. He attended Willamette University, University of Portland, WSU, and culinary school in San Diego, and has his sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

"I wrote a menu for Marcus and Matt, keeping items that were working, and pulling it back to the grill. I didn't want to change everything, so much was working well. I did want to put my personality on the plate, keeping the food approachable. When we sat down together, Matt had done his own menu and the two were similar, so he said go for it. I started at Ciudad on December 21, 2016. The menu ranges across a lot of territory and is large. I've never done these dishes elsewhere, but it's how I eat. I come from an Irish/Italian background, but my grandmother made teriyaki wings every week. I can still see that Kikkoman jug. My dad took me to Italy when I was 15 and I had real pepperoni in Venice and the best pizza in Vienna. I love high-end food, but prefer to cook for the masses; I don't want to do $100 plates. Our Chef's Menu is $35."

Photo courtesy of Ciudad Grill

They refer to Ciudad's food as flavors of the East, vibes from the West. Small plates include hummus, flatbread, haloumi, chicken wings with pomegranate honey, and more. "We go through 75 pounds of Brussels sprouts and as much as 50 heads of cauliflower a week," laughs Aaron. "The vegetables are very popular." Offerings include Brussels sprouts and burnt honey, saffron cauliflower and Turkish apricot, charred kale and ricotta salata. Grilled items are sold by weight, so you decide how hungry you are. Harissa marinated chicken, beef and lamb kofta, mojo shell on prawns, cider brined pork, herb marinated hanger steak, and vegetable mix with dukkah. They offer sauces on the side. "If you get chicken, then two or three different sauces, you can have a couple of meals taste-wise at one sitting. Use them as you want, or not at all. Fusion comes in with use of various techniques I've learned as I've traveled. As a chef, you want to do the best you can, hit your standard, and then raise the bar again. And you need to listen to customers."

Aaron looks to source from sustainable farms; about 90% of the vegetables and 65% of proteins are organic; the numbers vary per time of year. If meat is all natural, hormone-free, vegetarian diet, cage free, etc.; it finds its way onto the menu. "Those relationships are important. I want the source to be sustainable. I don't want to use something and then have it change six weeks later." Community is an important concept at Ciudad. "Eating is social just about everywhere. It's great to sit down at the end of the night and break bread. And we do other things to create community, like Dinner & a DJ. Once a month we have a chef in to do a pop-up dinner and pair the menu with the music. Concepts like Memphis barbecue with artists from Memphis or artists on a Memphis label. The last concept was Northern Italian with Pavarotti, Bocelli, Moroder. We've done three so far and they've all sold out. Our next is Filipino street food with BBoy hip hop and mash ups, remixes, and edits-a fusion theme. The Generous Chef is doing a Signs series like a Gemini dinner with dueling courses; this vs. that."

GM Jonathan Fleming

At the other end of the building is Bar Ciudad where you can find cocktails, beer, and rotisserie chicken. They offer three sides and snacks like fried chickpeas, pickled egg in curry spices, and roasted olives. Chicken comes whole, or halved. "This space has taken on its own vibe and we think it will be big by this summer. We do delivery from the Grill, and feel the rotisserie chicken from Bar Ciudad will be a big take out/delivery thing," says Aaron.

"This is the first time I've had a proper restaurant in Seattle, and I'm very fulfilled by it. Now that I've settled in, we have some new larger-prep items coming on the menu and are dialing in our own sausage. Brunch will start in May, officially on Mother's Day, and continue on." It all banishes the Seattle blues-and is the perfect spot when you're just feeling happy and want to connect over food.



Ciudad Grill & Bar Ciudad
6118 12th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98108






Connie Adams/April 2017


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