It has taken 19 years, an international move, three kids, and a career change for Javier Dalzell and Mariana Martos to open their first restaurant, Sur 16.
The dream started back in Mexico, as the young couple thought about opening their own taco place. Life took other turns, though, leading them to work at resorts and other people’s restaurants, before Dalzell finally took a job at Microsoft in Mexico City. More than a decade ago, he was transferred to Seattle’s Microsoft office, where he worked as the couple raised their children. But three years ago, Dalzell and Martos decided that it was finally time to dust off that original restaurant dream. Dalzell quit his job, and they both focused on Sur 16.
This time around, they’ve moved on from tacos, and are now doing a full-scale restaurant, with a bar, plus breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. They spent years searching for the perfect location, funding, and proper permits. And now, Sur 16 is about to debut, taking over the old Bagel Deli spot, at 340 15th Avenue East. Dalzell will run the kitchen while Martos takes charge of the front of the house and overall dining experience.
“We’re so excited,” said Martos, beaming. “Capitol Hill was our first choice. We were looking at Bellevue and Issaquah, but we thought the concept of the restaurant was much better on Capitol Hill. And then we found this place, and it’s perfect.”
While 19 years is a long time to plan a restaurant, the food concept behind Sur 16 took even longer.
“It took about a hundred years for mestizo food to really take shape,” said Dalzell. “It started in 1519, when Spain conquered Mexico. The food fusion that happened over the next century involved the combining of traditional Mexican dishes, and concepts from Spain, including a lot of influence from French cuisine. So now we’re taking that fusion and using local Seattle ingredients, like seafood.”
The name of the restaurant is a nod to this history, with Sur meaning “south” and the 16 standing for the sixteenth century, when the food fusion began to take shape. Martos and Dalzell are still finalizing the menu and exact names of dishes, but they already have a lot of firm ideas about what they’re going to do.
“One of our signature dishes will include oysters, but with a twist. They’re a little like Oysters Rockefeller (oysters on the half shell, often baked with spinach, butter, and cheese), except we’ll be using huitlacoche instead of spinach. Those are the mushrooms that grow on ears of corn. You don’t see them often in the United States, but they’re a delicacy in Mexico.”
Other signature dishes at dinner will include octopus marinated in a citrus sauce with a splash of habanero chili, and ceviche.
“In the morning, our concept will be something raw, like juice,” said Martos. “It will be something very simple and natural. We’ll maybe have some fruit salad, quinoa, and eggs with the same vegetables we use for the juice. It’ll be a simple breakfast, but very healthy. We might have the juices all day.”
For lunch, they want to do something similar to what eating at home is like in Mexico.
“You’ll get a small portion of soup,” explained Martos, “and then usually a salad and a small meat dish. Of course, we’ll also have vegan options because there are so many in the community. Something like this is what you would eat in your house, or what you’d pack for lunch. In Mexico, lunch portions are not traditionally huge.”
Right now, the transformation is fully underway on 15th, turning Bagel Deli into Sur 16. And so far, the change is dramatic. Gone are the giant counter, huge deli cases, and brown tiled floors. Instead, the new restaurant will be bright, modern, and airy.
“This, here, will be the bar,” said Dalzell, pointing to the area at the front near the windows, as he stepped through the construction. “We’ll also have plants all along this wall, and we’re painting it green. And look at these big windows! The dining room will sit 80, and the bar will be able to have 30 people.”
The couple is still waiting on a few more permits, but are hoping to open Sur 16 later this summer.
“We’re going to be here every day,” Martos told me, with Dalzell nodding in agreement. “Every single day. We know that it takes that much dedication to make a restaurant work. And we like working together. We’re hiring some great people, but we know that in the end this is our place and we need to make it work. It’s all of the little touches that matter most.”