WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE Good thing we put this up when we did! Along comes Bon Appetit this morning, naming Ethan Stowell's Anchovies & Olives one of the Top Ten New Restaurants in America. Congratulations, Ethan! And way to stay on top of things, Conde Nast! Anchovies has been around for 18 months and counting. (Cornichon's review, last November, is here.) Now, back to yesterday's post
We're not going to make a habit of this, reviewing a restaurant on its second night, but hey, Ethan Stowell's a big boy, he's done this before, and it's not as if he's got too fragile an ego. Roger Downey wrote an excellent preview of Staple & Fancy Mercantile for Crosscut last week, but don't wait for the rest of the critics to weigh in before deciding whether to try it. There isn't even a storefront sign yet; just go.
It's the most approachable of Stowell's restaurants, completely open to the sidewalk at the south end of Old Ballard, with maybe 50 seats in all. Stowell's parents were occupying the best table, showing off their son's new cookbook, Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen (to be published by Ten Speed Press next month). The menu is short and straightforward, althouth, in a typical Stowell linguistic curlicue, it says "Sweet Cream Ricotta." Which is true, there's a blob of fresh ricotta on the plate...that just happens to be garnished with some of those delicious heirloom tomatoes waiting on the bar. (Good Negroni, by the way; they use Vya vermouth.)
Staple & Fancy wants you to let the kitchen decide what you'll eat: ideally, a four-course prix fixe dinner, served family-style for the whole table, for $45 per person. Appetizers arrive, cicchetti-style: pork-liver mousse on crostini, for example, or grilled spot prawns. A pasta like potato gnocchi with mushrooms. The main dish could be pork shoulder or a grilled fish; with ricotta cheesecake for dessert.
The atmosphere, on this warm summer evening, is relaxed. At the back of the restaurant, windows overlook Renee Erickson's new oyster bar, The Walrus and the Carpenter. Stowell himself works contentedly in the kitchen and plans to make this his base of operations, now that he's got lieutenants installed as chefs de cuisine in his other outposts. For Staple & Fancy, he had the the appliances and counters custom-built for "tall."
As he writes in the cookbook, Stowell wants his places to be "sexy without being slick." And the food? "I want to reinforce the idea that food shouldn't be formal or fussy, just focused. It's got to be good, but it's also got to be fun." If Stowell keeps his focus, this could well his big year.
Meantime, let's have some fun with this mystery:
First, keep in mind that the Kolstrand Manufacturing wasn't the first owner of the premises, and that the restaurant occupies an addition to the original brick building. Before Kolstrand installed its marine hardware business in Ballard in the early 1900s, it had been a boarding house. Upstairs was a grocery identifying its goods as "Staple & Fancy" (hence the name to the restaurant). The outdoor advertising found on the south wall of the original building, a beautifully rendered sign for some brand of CIGAR, was uncovered in the course of restoration. The lower corner of the ad reads Foster & Kleiser, a local company that, by 1980, was the largest outdoor advertising agency in the country. (F&K was acquired in 1995 by ClearChannel, which also bought out rival Ackerley Communications.) But here's the mystery: the hand-painted signature isn't "Foster & Kleiser" but "Foster & Klieser." How can a painter mis-spell the company's name? Is the whole thing a forgery, or just an embarrassing mistake?