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Pacific Grill

Chef to the stars brings expertise to Tacoma

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Pacific Grill chef and co-owner Gordon Naccarato likens cooking to performance art, and he invites diners to the Pacific Grill show where he presents his favorite foods.

Just don’t ask him to make you blackened Cajun salmon, or you might find yourself lying in the pathway of a speeding light rail car. His philosophy, like many food designers, is less is more. His menu strives for simple, delectable elegance over the ostentatious froufrou. This from a man who has cooked for the sophisticated palates of people such as Steven Spielberg, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Walters, Ethel Kennedy, Angelica Houston, Jane Fonda, Yoko Ono and the list goes on.

Gordon is the son of Stan Naccarato, a renowned man about Tacoma and a legendary sports figure who served as president of the Tacoma Athletic Commission, chairman of the Washington State Athletic Commission, general manager of Tacoma Tides’ and the Tacoma Stars, entrepreneur of the Stanley Shoes chain, former player for the Cincinnati Reds earning three World Series rings, and most recently as boxing ring announcer for Emerald Queen Casino’s Battle of the Boat.  He just celebrated his 79th birthday last Thursday at the Pacific Grill.

The Naccarato children had a long way to go to get out from under the shadow of such a well-known and successful father. Gordon was always an overachiever and a self-proclaimed nerd. He was attending Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and was well on his way to becoming a lawyer when his life took a right turn. In 1979 he lived three blocks away from a restaurant called Michael’s on Third Street in Santa Monica. Coincidentally he met and befriended the owner, Michael McCarty, one day before the restaurant’s grand opening.

Gordon got a call three weeks after its opening from McCarty. One waiter was out with a broken ankle and another with a broken wrist. Naccarato rose to the challenge and worked six double shifts in a row. This new California cuisine styled restaurant, with its contemporary art by noted artists, was to become a white hot celebrity hot spot. In his six years there Gordon worked his way up to chef, and his crew was occasionally flown by private plane to places such as Lake Tahoe and Napa to cater prestigious events for exclusive clientele. Somewhere along the way Gordon decided the world didn’t need another lawyer.

It was Bruce Paltrow (father of the actress Gwyneth Paltrow) who helped to take Gordon’s career to even greater heights. He became somewhat of a father figure and advised Gordon to open his own restaurant in Aspen, Colo. He even gave him $117,000 of start-up capital to open “Gordon’s.”

“We were instantly the hottest restaurant in Aspen,” Gordon says. “At our New Year’s Eve parties we had to cover the windows with paper to keep out the paparazzi.” Even the restaurant staff was tinged with stardust; two of his busboys were sons of international superstar Andy Williams (best known for his song “Moon River” and his weekly television variety show “The Andy Williams Show,” 1963-1969).  

Later Gordon collaborated on several Los Angeles restaurants including the Monkey Bar owned by Jack Nicholson, Don Henley and Mick Jagger’s entertainment attorney. “Every night was crazy,” Gordon recalls. “I’m sad its not there anymore. I think its demise had something to do with the clientele partying too much; a lot of cocaine was being done in those days, and not a lot of dinners were being eaten. We still got some nice reviews though.”

It was his brother, Steve, frustrated by the software business and the dotcom bust, who coaxed him back to Tacoma, a place he never thought he’d live again. Gordon learned of Tacoma’s progressive new image, the addition of the Link Light Rail and other improvements, and he realized that he had proved himself in the world and could now indeed come home again as a self-made man. He values most the peer recognition he has received such as being chosen as one of America’s top 10 new chefs by Food and Wine magazine, positive reviews by Bon Appetit and Australian Vogue magazines, and being hired to cater parties for the late legendary culinary artist and author James Beard.

The restaurant business was in the Naccarato bloodline. Steve and Gordon used to help out in their grandparents’ café called The Little Ritz out on highway 99. Now, all grown up, the boys have partnered to start a restaurant of their own. Their first endeavor was re-opening local favorite Pearls by the Sea in Purdy, which they renamed simply The Beach House (it has since closed). They always had their eye on the property at Pacific Avenue and 15th Street in downtown Tacoma, and when the opportunity presented itself, they bounced on it, and the Pacific Grill was born. The concept was a modern version of the great American steakhouse. The menu changes from season to season.  But Gordon says the perfect date food is anything you can break apart and feed to each other using your fingers.

Pacific Grill is now considered one of the best restaurants in Tacoma, if not the best.

[The Pacific Grill, Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., 1502 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, (253) 627-3535]

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