The team behind Tavolata and How to Cook a Wolf continue their winning streak with Anchovies & Olives, an Italian/seafood restaurant on Capitol Hill.
Now that chef/restaurateur Ethan Stowell has four restaurants to oversee, I hardly expected to find him serving my soup at Anchovies & Olives. But there he was, trying not to spill a cool, pale-green cucumber distillation as he poured it into a bowl, setting two fat oysters and a dollop of lemony mascarpone afloat.
Ethan and Angela Stowell and their business partner, Patric Gabre-Kidan, are on a winning streak. Union put Stowell on the culinary map, but together the trio has demonstrated a knack for creating distinctive restaurants that mirror the neighborhood zeitgeist. Boisterous Tavolata suits the frenzied Belltown scene; How to Cook a Wolf’s urbane intimacy is just right for Queen Anne Hill. Now Anchovies & Olives brings a refined edginess to the burgeoning dining scene on the Pike/Pine periphery of Capitol Hill.
The restaurant’s street presence is nil, the inside largely unadorned. The L-shaped space has a 10-seat bar at the far end and windows all around, but the scene and the scenery are beside the point. From the moment you step inside, you’re caught in the kitchen’s embrace. Viewed across a crowded expanse of butcher block, chef Charles Walpole, burly and bald, nimbly maneuvers pans and plates, leaving no doubt that food is the driving force here.
Walpole, who cooked at Mistral and most recently at How to Cook a Wolf, taps into the same Italian vein here, but the focus is seafood. The menu opens with crudo — Italy’s answer to sashimi — and moves on to appetizers, pastas and entrees, all of which are subject to change, sometimes daily, often weekly, certainly seasonally.
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Right now spring is busting out all over. Hamachi crudo is accessorized in pink and green: the pale slivers of raw fish come with sweetened diced rhubarb, fava beans and a swipe of lemony avocado cream. Ribbons of asparagus and spring onion weave through soft, slippery strands of grilled cuttlefish sublimely finished with pine-nut butter. Clam broth pools beneath toothsome ravioli pregnant with ramp, spinach and ricotta, while the clams, free of their shells, loll like nude sunbathers on a verdant knoll.
Scallops — so often mated with sweet — shine in a gentle green garlic sauce and the savory company of eggplant, celery and pistachio nuts. Fresh peas also show their versatility, turning up one night in a spirited watercress broth with beets and a sturdy fillet of golden spot tilefish. Another night they were fragrant with basil, paired with soft, solelike sand dab, and richly sauced with a fish-stock-based emulsion of butter and pecorino.
We thought it imperative to start with anchovies and olives. We fished tiny Arbequinas from a bowl of golden olive oil using moist, airy chunks of Columbia City Bakery focaccia. We devoured a wanton landscape of cured anchovies draped over rumpled sheets of pink prosciutto that was deliciously slick and salty.
Apart from that appetizer, meat appears only in supporting roles. Speck ham contributes a pleasing smokiness to Hen of the Woods mushrooms, farro and currants, an earthy mélange that flatters lush arctic char. But (in a rare letdown) neither prosciutto nor green Cerignola olives could enliven a tuna and tomato sauce for seashell pasta. The meat was chewy, the fish dry, the olives hard, and the flavors refused to meld.
Quality seafood isn’t cheap; accordingly prices run high. Crudo is $14; fresh oysters variously topped are $3 each. Pastas ($16-$18) lend themselves to sharing, but entree portions are petite. Paying upward of $20 for 4 ounces of fish might provoke agita in tight times.
Those looking for a sweet finale will find house-made gelato and sorbet. With a little wine left in my glass (the all-Italian list compiled by Angela Stowell is another delight here), I was considering a cheese course when my attention was diverted by the arrival of my neighbor’s pasta: strands of fresh tagliarini in a silky sea urchin sauce.
I had to have it. A thick topping of pangrattato — garlicky fried bread crumbs — thickens the butter-rich sauce and tempers the sea urchin’s funkier notes. Even if you’re not a devotee of that spiny echinoid, you should give the roe a go — though maybe not for dessert.
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