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Entertaining with the Perfect Holiday Recipes and Hostess Dresses | The Realest

Each month we take a lady we admire and give her the model treatment in our photo shoot, The Realest. We bring the wardrobe, stylist, photographer and makeup artist; she brings her anything-but-one-size-fits-all personality and style. Then we all head out on location for a professional shoot that showcases this month’s featured dress looks.

It’s that time of year when you gather you and yours to spread good cheer. In homes and restaurants around the globe, families and friends will come together to clink glasses and raise forks full of food. While we were thinking about what dishes we’d serve this season, we decided to consult restaurateur Sarah Penn. Sarah happens to own two of the loveliest and coziest restaurants in Seattle—perfect venues for intimate, festive mixers with kin.

Sarah Penn, The Realest

We visited Sarah at her two locations, Pair and Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor, where she shared scrumptious recipes with us and offered her suggestions for celebratory wine pairings, all while modeling five dresses perfect for hosting or attending a holiday party. Get her easy recipes for smoked salmon blini and potato leek gratin (you need these), and a peek at the dresses in her restaurants’ warm interiors.

Sarah Penn, The RealestChiara Boni La Petite Robe Stellina peplum jersey sheath dress | Loren Hope Clara crystal bracelet | Panacea crystal & tassel bracelet

Tell us about your two restaurants, Frank’s and Pair. What do you serve there? What are their styles and inspirations?

Pair is my husband’s, Felix, and my first restaurant. The interior is inspired by my great aunt’s love of early American décor. The vibe is Amish meeting house meets French Country. We serve ingredient-driven French, Italian and New American food with a paired wine list.

Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor is a tribute to my grandfather who was head of the Boston Globe printing press room. He was a working-class hero who enjoyed dining out with a Manhattan in hand. We feature local oysters and were the first to have a lobster roll on our menu. It’s New American cuisine: the best burger and fried chicken in town are on offer, as well as stellar cocktails.

Sarah Penn, The RealestWhat flavors will you be using in your holiday entertaining? 

There’ll be seafood, because we have the most incredible seafood in the world in the Northwest; and oysters on the half shell and Champagne is the best way to start any party. Cured or smoked salmon is classic and a crowd pleaser, with rich and tart crème fraîche for balance.

Dinner will have traditional elements because that’s what people crave. We’ll make it contemporary by making sure the textures are varied and flavor profiles complex. So it’ll be a turkey for Thanksgiving and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding for Christmas. We abide by the Robuchon method of mashers: a very high percentage of butter. My paternal grandmother’s cornbread dressing will have homemade stock instead of the Campbell’s chicken noodle that she used and, instead of mashed yams, I’ll make a yam salad with leeks and a mustard vinaigrette.

Christmas Eve will be our traditional feast of Dungeness crab and my mother’s New England clam chowder, lots of bread and French sea-salt butter, and my Caesar salad cribbed from Judy Rodger’s recipe for the Zuni Café.

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Tadashi Shoji corded lace tulle dress | Treasure&Bond mixed chain choker | BaubleBar crystal choker

Sarah Penn, The RealestDo you have some suggestions for holiday wines?

Champagne or crisp, fruity whites like Alsatian pinot gris are fantastic with hors d’oeuvres and also with fowl. French chardonnay, or Burgundian-style chardonnay from Oregon and Sonoma are a great accompaniment to rich seafood bisques and mains.

With reds I’d keep it light to medium for the flexibility and harmony they provide: pinot noirs from Oregon or France, Beaujolais (not nouveau), cabernet franc from the Northwest or France. If you know you’ll be having beef, then you can bring on the fuller Bordeaux or Washington Bordeaux blends.

But honestly, you can drink Champagne all night, switching to a rich rosé Champagne with dinner.

What do you usually wear to work?

I love a pencil or straight skirt, or black jeans on the bottom and a button-down shirt or boatneck sweater for a top. V-neck t-shirts with cardigans are also a go-to. I have a couple of jumpsuits that make the rounds. Clogs, boots, oxfords or tennis shoes complete the look.

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Lauren Ralph Lauren jersey column gown | Nadri Starry Night crystal ear crawlers | Treasure&Bond fringe earrings | BaubleBar crystal choker

Sarah Penn, The Realest
What about when you go out?

I’ll wear higher-heeled short boots and jeans, a t-shirt or drapey sweater, and long earrings and my leather jacket. I love dresses, too; I have a black leather sheath that I’ve worn lately with rag&bone pumps.

You run your restaurants with your partner, Felix. How do you balance your duties and time?

Felix is the founding chef and head of kitchen operations; his day is done by around 4pm. We both do menu tastings with the chefs, and Felix guides those who have less experience. I’m the general manager, so I oversee service as well as the cocktail and wine programs. Twelve years in and I’m still at work almost every night because I love service the most.

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Valentino Rockstud leather flap clutch

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Lauren Ralph Lauren sequin body-con dress | Steve Madden Ava sandal

What are your favorite things about owning and managing restaurants?

I love the immediacy: when it’s a happening busy night and everything is humming along it feels wonderful, lively and fun to me. Everyone’s knowledge and skill are resulting in our guests having a great time.

I’m very engaged in the challenges and rewards of maintaining a staff of 30 between the two restaurants. Managing is the area I’ve grown the most in and there’s endless opportunity to learn. It’s humbling, in a grounding way. People refer to restaurant staff as family and it truly feels that way: you’re in the trenches together and nobody is backbiting and competing for that big promotion (a potential downside, too), so there’s an amazing camaraderie that’s organic.

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Anna Beck Gili saddle ring | Sole Society Gladice crystal minaudière 

What’s your idea of the “perfect meal?”

The perfect meal starts with beautiful lighting and warm and witty friends. There’s French wine, raw seafood, white truffles, divine pasta, fresh butter, meat and produce that is locally and humanely sourced, farmstead cheese first and a creamy and crisp chocolate dessert to finish. And it’s made with love that translates to presence.

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Did you have a favorite dress from the shoot?

What a hard choice! It was amazing to feel so festive and sparkly but truly comfortable at the same time.

The Chiara Boni La Petite Robe floral dress felt very supportive yet body-con at the same time. The off-the-shoulder neckline was flattering and unusual, but I never felt I had to mess with it or that it was going to slip out of place. I felt great in it!

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Chiara Boni La Petite Robe Lyris print sheath dress | Tasha pendant earrings | Madewell Glider bangle 

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Cornmeal Blini with Cured or Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche


1/2 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

butter and olive oil for frying

1 1/2 cups crème fraîche (you can make your own with 1:5 parts buttermilk and heavy cream; whip in container till it foams, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let set in kitchen overnight)

1/4 lb. smoked or cured wild salmon

1 bunch chives, cut into small batons


  1. Heat oven to 200°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking soda and salt, and stir well to mix. Add egg and milk, and mix until smooth.
  3. Heat a heavy griddle or frying pan over medium heat until hot, melt the butter on the griddle, adding a small amount of olive oil so it doesn’t burn. Using a spoon and working in small batches, drop tablespoons of batter into the pan. When bubbles form evenly on the top of the blini, flip over and cook until golden.
  4. Transfer the first batch of cooked blini to a heatproof plate lined with paper towels and keep warm, covered, in the oven. Repeat with remaining batter.
  5. To serve, top each warm blini with a bit of salmon, crème fraîche and two batons of chives.

Sarah Penn, The Realest

Potato Leek Gratin


9 Yukon Gold potatoes

2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese

3 cups chopped leek tops

5 1/2 cups heavy cream


  1. Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch rounds.
  2. Layer in the bottom of a casserole dish or ramekin.
  3. Sprinkle salt and pepper, a handful of cheese and a handful of leeks.
  4. Continue layers until one inch from the top—the last layer is potatoes, cheese and salt and pepper only.
  5. Pour cream over the top and bake at 350ºF degrees for two to two and a half hours.
Chef: Bronte Edwards | Images: Elizabeth Rudge | Styling: Carmella Storniola & Brenna Carlson | Hair & Makeup: Jenny Verador
—Britt Burritt