For the guest, it all begins with plating. As each dish arrives, it displays flawless presentation and resembles an edible work of art that speaks volumes even before the first bite. Seasonal menus are making their debut everywhere, but for many, it's not so much about image or branding as it is a sincere admiration of the craft. Such is the case for Matthew Schweitzer, co-owner and chef at Hilltop Kitchen and Marrow. We at the Weekly Volcano caught wind of the highly anticipated spring menu, due to be unveiled the first week of May, and reached out to find out more. Schweitzer was prompt to reply and informed me about his team and their vision and was also kind enough to give me a preview of some new menu items from the two establishments.
He began by praising his staff, Hilltop Kitchen Chef Michaela Ketchum and Sous Chefs Andrew Drury and Bo Newcomber, and Marrow's Chef Michael Joinette and Sous Chef Brandon McKinney. It's not an empty sort of praise, either, but a clear faith in their shared vision and culinary prowess. Instead of each kitchen re-creating Schweitzer's dishes, both have been given the creative freedom to tell stories through their craft, and they really shine in what Schweitzer refers to as a push into the national market.
"Our kitchens create from the nexus of our various travel experiences and our love of fresh, seasonal foods," he said. "We cook simply, treat ingredients honestly, and seek to honor each plate by highlighting natural flavors. The way we cook isn't the fastest or cheapest, but for us it makes the most sense. Modern Northwest ingredient-driven scratch cooking that highlights the seasons and embraces the concepts of each respective kitchen while feeling the push are all things we constantly talk about.
"We like to draw on a range of intrinsic influences," he continued, "and nourish our guests with food that's treated honestly and with ingredients that are cooked in a way to delineate and intensify their natural flavors and textures."
A plethora of already house-made ingredients communicates this loud and clear, and the trend continues into the seasonal menu items. A Pig Face Cubano features pork three ways, and yes, it includes the "filet mignon" of the beast. The pig face is tender and delightful and locally sourced from farms like Carlton, Heritage and Tails and Trotters. Embellished with housemade mustard and relish concocted from housemade pickles, it's meaty and salty with playful pops of zest. In-house smoked ancho chili sea salt and lime foam accompany Olympia-based Sweet Bay Oysters, sourced fresh each morning, which makes for a refreshing margarita-esque treat.
Other dishes, like the cauliflower entrée, crab Gnudi and cabbage radiatori, put contemporary spins on classic techniques and highlight an oft-forgotten but vital aspect of food: texture. They also tease the palate with ingredients like Hilltop Kitchen Hawt Sauce, a brown butter hot sauce concoction that brings some warmth and flavorful pastrami spices combined with the rich gaminess of duck confit and crisp duck skin that melts in your mouth, all tossed with a housemade cabbage rigatoni. Hilltop Kitchen delights with the Pork Crepinette. Spicy Al Pastor glaze, bright leafy kale, pearl onions, pineapple and perfectly perched duck yolk is an exquisite treat for the eyes as much as it is for the taste buds.
The menus at both locations are diverse and unique and elevate the expectations of the Tacoma dining scene.
"To some, ‘local,' ‘seasonal' and ‘sustainable' are simply buzzwords thrown together to describe a dining trend," Schweitzer said. "But for us, it's a commitment, a choice and a way of life. Our food is founded on the principles of community, relationships and ethics, paying homage to our heritage by drawing from the seasonal resources that surround us. Our philosophy is to further explore the meaning of local food and seasonal ingredients, finding a connection between each plate, guest and the origins of those ingredients. We provide an arm's-reach approach to cooking by sourcing quality base ingredients regionally to produce bread and cheese in-house, and we butcher and cure internally. By producing these products in-house, it allows us to take full control over what we eat and the quality of our food."
Even the basic stuff is raising the standards of local dining, with items like the Big Marrow burger bringing some innovation and what Schweitzer calls ‘elevated grime,' a phrase I developed an instant fancy for. Both establishments have already garnered local media buzz and a loyal audience of diners, but there is no doubt in my mind that the creative and passionate minds that reside in these two kitchens will continue to redefine what eating out means by providing a compelling and divine experience.
"Our goal is to lead the Tacoma and national culinary scene in food quality and taste while providing genuine enlightened hospitality and service," Schweitzer said. "We strive to support our local farmers and community by staying true to our homemade, local, seasonal and regional food philosophy. Our desire to push is ultimately what drives us, always pushing the boundaries of excellence and creativity, while providing a fun, knowledgeable, unique and unforgettable dining experience for each guest."
MARROW, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.267.5299, marrowtacoma.com
HILLTOP KITCHEN, 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Wednesday, 11-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, 913 Martin Luther King Way, Tacoma, 253.327.1397,