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Pacific Grill in Tacoma has closed permanently

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Pacific Grill in downtown Tacoma is closing permanently. Read to the end of this article for a release from owner Gordon Naccarato of Naccarato Restaurant Group. It should come as no surprise, in an era when restaurants are barely hanging on, that the pandemic restrictions played a major part in the closure of the longtime Tacoma restaurant.

I will miss the downtown mainstay so much.

I reached chef-founder Gordon Naccarato this evening and he said he’s doing OK, all things considered. I asked him the same question I ask every chef after they move on from a project – “what’s next?” He noted, “It is never easy losing a child… But I guess if all my dreams come true I would be an expat moving to Portugal, And maybe leading walking food tours of whatever city I land in. I would love that so much. Otherwise look for me sitting under the large olive tree in the center of town.”

It’s tough out there. The best thing diners can do is go eat at a favorite establishment to make sure that your favorite spot won’t experience a similar fate.

While I intend to pump info from Naccarato about any potential future restaurant projects (here’s hoping), I’d like to scramble out an homage to this 15-year-old restaurant that played a pivotal role in rejuvenating upscale dining in Tacoma.

When it opened in 2005, there were few fine dining restaurants downtown, and throughout Pierce County, that treated dinner as an occasion. There was Sixth Avenue’s Primo Grill, owned by Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner, and Over The Moon Cafe in Tacoma’s Opera Alley, a restaurant from Deanna Harris Bender. And, of course, there was Brix 25 across the bridge in Gig Harbor, purchased by Katie Doherty and Thad Lyman in 2009. A drive to Parkland would yield a lovely meal at Marzano from Elisa Marzano. It was a small field then. (Thankfully, all those restaurants are still swinging, by the way. Keep them in business and pledge to dine at one of them or get take-out in the next month.)

Today, choices abound for finer dining experiences in Pierce County: En Rama, Wooden City, Asado (although temporarily closed), The Table, Green.House, Table 47, Bar Bistro, Citron European Bistro, Carne Aqui, Toscanos and so many more. I’d make the case that restaurants such as Pacific Grill, Primo Grill and Marzano made space for these restaurants to exist – and thrive – in the area.

Pacific Grill was the best of all worlds: A fine place for a fancy-pants meal with a killer menu featuring steaks, pasta and an eclectic assortment of items influenced by Naccarato’s travels. The menu was modern American but with a 1960s sensibility and a backbone for comfort eating. On the same visit, you could start your dinner with carrot ginger soup – with a splash of coconut milk and lime – and then dig into an order of fried chicken flanked by a chilled sweet potato salad and baked beans threaded with hunks of bacon. Few restaurants in Tacoma could pull that off.

The restaurant also came with a come-as-you-are vibe where it was simply fine to show up in jeans. The all-day happy hour in the bar was the stuff of legends. I spent hundreds (thousands?) of my expense account eating my way through that lengthy bar menu and other than En Rama or Wooden City, I can’t think of a finer place to get an old fashioned downtown. While Pacific Grill was home to some of the best and most reliable food in the city, it also was home to great bar eats. Like the beer-battered onion rings. Naccarato calls his rings “Paltrow style” after Bruce Paltrow, who Naccarato partnered with to open his first restaurant, Gordon’s, in Aspen in 1984.

Back then when he had Gordon’s in Aspen, “Food and Wine Magazine” named Naccarato one of the top 10 best new chefs in America the first year the magazine bestowed those awards.

Naccarato grew up here, but after graduating from the University of Washington, he bolted to California bound for law school. He skipped law school, and instead became a chef. His resume, as I always like to say, is way more pretentious than the kid who grew up in Tacoma, although he did cook aside celebrity chefs, such as Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at Campanile, Michael McCarty of Michael’s in Santa Monica and Jonathan Waxman. He might as well have been destined for that path.

I’ve thought for years that it was his maternal Swedish grandparents who ran the restaurants, but I was wrong. Naccarato told me it was his Nana and Pappa Naccarato who ran The Ritz in Spanaway more than 50 years ago. A quick Tacoma history lesson: Naccarato’s dad was famous local sports promoter and legend, Stan “The Man” Naccarato. He was the guy who saved Triple-A baseball in Tacoma. He died in 2016.

RETURNING HOME TO OPEN THE BEACH HOUSE AT PURDY

After a few decades away from Tacoma – and after closing his first restaurant – it was time to come back home to Tacoma, which Naccarato did at the prodding of his brother, Steve Naccarato, a Tacoma artist and former restaurant owner – of Shake Shake Shake fame.

The brothers opened The Beach House at Purdy in 2002 and it was an instant hit. However, as is the case for waterfront destination restaurants, they couldn’t make the numbers work year-round and it’s tough to survive all year off of summer earnings (said every restaurant owner on Ruston and the Foss Waterway).

The Naccarato brothers continued trying to make it work – and ultimately closed the restaurant in 2008- but hopped the bridge to open Pacific Grill in 2005 with Joe Hardwick, Jr. in the historic Waddell Building. That distinctive building is one of Tacoma’s oldest, and lived a previous life as a bank and a saloon and once was a derelict eyesore. Naccarato told me years ago that he was attracted to the Waddell Building because it reminded him of the long, narrow restaurant spaces he knew and loved in Manhattan.

Over the years, Naccarato shrunk and expanded his restaurant portfolio in Pierce County. He operated the Pacific Grill Events Center, as well as Classics at LeMay – America’s Car Museum. In 2014, he opened Smoke + Cedar in Tacoma at Allenmore Golf Course. He closed that restaurant in 2015. It is now the home of Urban Elk. He worked with brother Steve Naccarato on his Shake Shake Shake restaurant, a restaurant that Steve Naccarato later exited (Robert Stocker is now the owner).

Of all the things I’ll miss about Pacific Grill, it’s the restaurant’s sense-of-place. I think I said it best in my 2012 review of Pacific Grill, “A stately dining room with exposed brick and soaring windows, skilled servers who remember a martini order and a kitchen that flame grills a perfect ribeye – downtown Tacoma’s Pacific Grill is at once swanky and approachable.” (this is where you picture me sobbing).

Here’s the announcement from the restaurant:

A release from Pacific Grill about the closure of the downtown Tacoma restaurant.
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