When JJ Proville’s Brooklyn apartment flooded during Hurricane Sandy, he uprooted his life and relocated to Seattle—on a whim. He had visited the Pacific Northwest and was charmed by its beauty and quality of life. He not only decided to stay, but convinced friend and business partner Zac Overman to make the cross-country trek as well. Now they are making their mark on the city’s dining scene.
Nestled in the Central District, the duo’s 50-seat bar and restaurant, L’Oursin, has been open for five months, serving French-inspired cuisine that features locally sourced foods of the Pacific Northwest, organic and biodynamic wines, and a cocktail list packed with traditional French aperitifs with a regional twist.
Proville oversees the kitchen, where he focuses on local seafood in meticulously crafted culinary offerings—dishes like smoked halibut cheeks with grilled leeks, poached ling cod in nettle-mussel broth. As head bartender, Overman is responsible for the inventive cocktail list—including drinks like the Perroquet with sweet anise-flavored pastis, vodka, mint, and lime; and the Alsatian Cousin, a delicate blend of blanc vermouth, sherry, and pear brandy.
The beginnings of L’Oursin go back a decade to a time when Proville and Overman worked together at the New York-based food magazine StarChefs. “We got to be friends with a bunch of cooks and bartenders, and we realized that’s what we wanted to be doing instead of just covering it from the sidelines,” Overman recalls. Proville and Overman pursued as much hands-on experience as possible, going on to work at establishments like Gramercy Tavern and Fort Defiance, and later at Seattle’s Il Corvo and Rob Roy, with the shared goal of launching their own restaurant someday.
The day came in 2016 when Proville’s French background and years of culinary training merged with Overman’s passion behind the bar, and the budding restaurateurs immersed themselves in the frenzy of actualizing a dream years in the making. While building out their Central District location, Proville and Overman also decided to start a farm in Woodinville to cultivate top-quality, local produce of their choosing—ingredients like microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, Alpine strawberries, and mini-cucumbers, which allow them to make their own cornichons.
As independent restaurateurs, they’re involved in every part of the business, including innovating the menu daily. Rather than offering traditional French fare, like steak frites, that patrons can find elsewhere, L’Oursin stands out with unique dishes like steelhead with sunchokes, salsify, and salmon eggs in a sea-urchin sauce. “[L’Oursin] is more complicated than salmon, rice, and a martini because there are two huge nerds running it,” Proville says with a laugh. Their bustling restaurant is a testament to their synergy as business partners and to their individual talents. As word spreads of L’Oursin’s clout, the two friends are proud to be forging their own way in the Seattle dining scene. “It’s a pretty crazy adventure,” Proville says, and Overman agrees. “It’s pretty nuts.” 1315 E. Jefferson St., 485-7173, loursinseattle.com