Its official, mouthful of a name is Marine Hardware at Staple & Fancy, and we recommend the tasting menu for best value.
A couple briefly sat next to me at the bar at Marine Hardware. They were from Philadelphia, I learned, just before they asked me if this was The Walrus and The Carpenter. I directed them back out the door and down the brick-walled corridor to Renee Erickson’s oyster bar, hidden in the rear of the Kolstrand Building.
That happens a lot here, according to the staff. With four restaurants at this address, confusion is inevitable. Staple & Fancy Mercantile has the dominant street presence. Marine Hardware is right next door. Both are Ethan Stowell restaurants.
The restaurant’s official, mouthful of a name is Marine Hardware at Staple & Fancy. That helps in Google searches if it’s dinner you want and not boating supplies. They get those calls too, though not on the nifty wall phone with the fish handset, which is purely decorative.
Marine Hardware at Staple & Fancy ★★½
4741 Ballard Ave N.W., Seattle, 206-257-4390
Hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; Rosé Happy Hour 5-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Prices: $$$ (a la carte plates $5-$40; Chef’s tasting menu $55 (four courses) $85 (six courses)
Drinks: full bar; original cocktails; local draft beer; interesting wines by the glass, quartino or bottle
Service: genial, informal
Parking: on street or nearby lots
Who should go: Ethan Stowell fans
Credit cards: all major
Access: elevator access to basement restrooms
The fish phone, along with the neon-lettered “fish” sign above the bar, are vestiges of Chippy’s, Stowell’s upscale fish-and-chips bar, which had a two-year run in this spot. “Chippy’s was good and busy,” Stowell says. “It made money in the summertime, and lost money over the winter. Rather than restructuring, we decided to change the concept.”
The idea was to tap into the Staple & Fancy market but make it a little different. At the same time, Stowell had been looking for a way to get back into the kitchen himself, a place he could “move in and out of when I can.” This 26-seater is meant to be that place, but with more than a dozen restaurants and related businesses to oversee, plus frequent fundraisers and two young boys, he’s not often here. “It seemed easier to do than it turned out,” he said by phone, on his way out of town for one of six charity functions scheduled that week.
Marine Hardware is Staple & Fancy lite, more of a side hug than a full-on embrace. (The Side Hug also happens to be the dubious name of a dandy, allspice-and-orange-laced bourbon cocktail here, created by manager Gabriel Hodges.)
As they do next door, waiters present a printed a la carte menu but encourage diners to consider the chef’s-choice tasting menu. Here though, the four- or six-course menus ($55 or $85 respectively) are not a total surprise; each is culled from the dozen or so a la carte items. Several are variations on Stowell standards, some with roots that go as far back as Union, Stowell’s first solo venture, where Michael Gifford, late of Bramling Cross and now chef at Marine Hardware, also once cooked.
If two people shared three a la carte items — say, a salad, a pasta and a main dish — they would end up spending about as much as they would if they ordered the four-course prix fixe (starter, pasta, seafood, meat). The tasting menus are a good value, given the substantial portions, the occasional extra and a bonus dessert, provided you and your dining companions don’t mind ceding control over what you eat. (Insider tip: Speak up if there is something on the menu you particularly want — or don’t want — and they’ll oblige.)
But either tasting menu requires a commitment of time in a space better suited to the quick consumption of fish and chips and the menu I experienced could have been more finely tuned.
Ahi crudo and oysters came as a two-part starter. I only wished the brimming, briny shigokus crowned with smoked salmon roe had come before my tongue had been lashed by the kimchi-style ramps and fiddleheads paired with the seared tuna. (Butter whipped with foie gras on a Macrina Bakery ficelle quickly quelled the fire.)
The fish course was a fillet of buttery-tasting daurade. Its skin crackled like the tiny fried artichokes surrounding it, but too much lemon trounced the accompanying artichoke puree. On a different night, a perfect hollandaise graced Copper River sockeye I chose, paired with sautéed morels and fava beans.
The six-course tasting includes soup and a smoked foie gras terrine. The terrine’s encounter with smoke is brief — puffs shot from a “smoke gun” captured under a glass dome that covers the plate from kitchen to table. The smoke wilts the watercress but doesn’t much infiltrate the terrine. That excellent paté, inlaid with dried cherry conserve and served with petite brioche toasts, doesn’t need the hocus-pocus.
Dungeness crab and beet salad $18
Potato gnocchi with lamb neck sugo $20
Daurade with artichokes $24
Smoked foie gras terrine $25
Moulard duck breast $38
A dense, chilled watercress and potato soup marked the menu’s halfway point. I loved its peppery bite but a shot-glass portion, not a mugful, would have sufficed with pasta, meat and dessert to come.
The meat course brought rosy slices of seared Moulard duck breast, fava beans, ramps and fresh peas, on a plate dappled with an intense port wine reduction. Dessert was a dainty, meringue-topped, cherry-pistachio tart with pistachio ice cream.
The chef’s pasta choice was porcini agnolotti. Though lavished with fresh peas, brown butter and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, those little pouches were not as plump or tender as they should have been. They languished on the plate, unlike the potato gnocchi, my choice on another night. No bigger than a pinkie fingertip, they were resplendent in a lamb neck sugo roused with rosemary and sage under a shingled canopy of shaved summer black truffle.
On the phone, Stowell told me he loves making gnocchi. I hope he gets a chance to make some here one day soon.