Now, you aren’t going to believe this. But I actually chose to eat at an Ethan Stowell restaurant for my birthday dinner, you know, by the Italian-inspired chef I have ranted about for the last year.
I was hopeful, I was curious, I was willing to set aside our differences and sweep it all under the rug. The menu’ looked interesting, with words like $1 happy hour penn cove oysters, apple rhubarb geoduck crudo and marinated radicchio sultana basil smoked mussel salad, how could you blame me?
Lets get started. The “power hour” penn cove oysters were slimy and bleachy tasting. Don’t be fooled by looks. They were more slimy than they were firm. They were more astringent than bright & briney. And they finished more citrus-like than cucumbersome.
I must admit though, I really shouldn’t be complaining about $1 oysters. But they had so much potential and were ruined by 2 simple little details!
1.) The oysters came already doused with the mignonette, which I’m pretty sure was spike with white wine instead of champagne. And if it was champagne, it was rancid. Again, I am not fussying it up over $1 oysters, but c’mon! How hard is it to leave mignonette “sauce” on the side in a little dainty saucer that it should stay in before being lightly spooned on immediately before making the slurpy leap into your belly!
2.) The oysters came covered in cracked coriander. Okay, I love fresh cracked coriander, and the fusion was a nice thought, but coriander has properties to that of flour or cornstarch. I.e. In India cuisine, coriander is used traditionally, not only for its nutty orange spice goodness, but also as a thickening agent for curries.
Lets put 1 + 2 together: They added a thickening agent (coriander) a top of mignonette dressed fresh oysters and you got yourself a slimy “Pine Sol” gooeyshellfish disaster. But for $1, its a novelty at best.
The appetizers were actually decent so I did manage to calm down and feel confident for the Primi round. I’m being a tad dramatic, but those oysters deserved to be naked with dignity!
Anyways, back to the good news: the apps
I have to say, Stowell has definently impressed me with his Burrata skills. I had the pleasure of indulging in it before at How to Cook a Wolf and this time it came paired with a red pepper and saba caponata. I bet Mamma’s Lil Red Peppers had something to do with this roasted savory seafood salad concoction. I have to say, that caponata (or in siciliano, capunata:) had a pretty creative twist that still retained its authenticity for what concerns southern Italian comfort food. Even though this one was made sans fried eggplant, it used a red pepper variation (hence the creative twist suggestion). Most caponata I find in restaurants are made without seafood, which is what is traditionally found in Sicilian Capunata, where the salad originates. And they added little thoughtful yet true compliments such as golden sultanas that sweetly sealed the deal with the Burrata. Bravo.
The other apps were Fried Oysters with crunchy Savoy Cabbage in an surprisingly fresh anchovy pepper dressing and Castelvetrano Olives (those hearty green ones) bathing and marinating in chili and lemon olive oil with a rosemary twig. Oh, and buttery crusty Baguette from my FAVORITE bakery: Columbia City. Well done.
I even tried the Geoduck Crudi interlaced with apple and rhubarb on a bed on crisp cucumber and topped with picked mustard seed.
The Apple Rhubarb mix lent a sweet poignancy to the buttery firm Geoduck. The mustard seed had a spicy briny finish, including hints of honey and apple cider vinegar, to the little cucumber geoduck crudi stack. Very subtle and obnoxiously refreshing,
I was thrilled to see what the Primi (seafood pastas), or my standard of a main, would delight my palate with. Only to be two-faced.
One face was scary: a primi of black worm-thick spaghetti salt lick Frutti di Mare hodgepodge snowed in with roe (Spaghetti Neri with Squid, Mussels and fresno chili):
…and rice porridge (Cuttlefish Risotto):
I think these images speak for themselves…
Although I will say, the pasta was just too much. All I could taste was the pasta and the baby squid with the occasional squeak of roe in between my teeth. But when asked how the sauce was, I didn’t have a proper response. The sauce was essentially a salt broth. There could have been a tad more pepper, olive oil or butter, lemon even, and I didn’t even realize there was “fresno chili.” The Primo was a good idea in essence, even the squid was actually cooked well (which is so easy to screw up) but I think the chef needs to rethink finishing the pasta with an anonymous salt solution.
I have to say, over all, this was the best Ethan Stowell restaurant I have visited yet. I think my immediate reaction is worth noting but not irreparable. These inconsistencies are simply missed opportunities. The menu’ items are traditional yet PNW inspired with creative splashes here and there, the cost of each dish was manageable considering it is a seafood restaurant, and the service was beyond friendly but real. There is no horrendous systematic chronic pattern as I noticed at Staple and Fancy for example, instead just a few acute maladies that I firmly think will be caught and remedied at some point. Except for the risotto. That my friend, is a chronic disaster and should just quietly step off the menu’ before any aficionado of Northern Italian food steps in and discovers this travesty.