Restaurants conceived by James Weimann and Deming Maclise tend to feel a bit like theme parks. Having given us Paris (Bastille), Mexico (Poquitos), Scotland (Macleod’s) and Bavaria (Von Trapp’s), you just knew they’d get around to Italy sooner or later, and they have.
Stoneburner, in the Hotel Ballard, might have been lifted intact from the sidewalks of Milan, though most of its design elements have been sourced and scavenged from all over.
The bar’s woodwork once decorated the former Italian Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The pressed tin up above came from an old schoolhouse. The barrel-vaulted ceiling in the entrance is repurposed fir from the neighborhood. The lovely patterned tiles on the floor were custom made.
Turn-of-the-century steel gates and a vintage San Francisco streetlight stand sentinel in the dining room, near a secluded wine room where bottles are stored head-down in old riddling racks used to make Champagne.
Much of the cooking and food preparation is on display. Salumi (not house-made but sourced from various prime purveyors) is sliced at one end of the bar, next to the host stand. Opposite the front door, a hulking, gas-fired stone oven looms behind a curved marble counter. Six swing-arm stools afford a view of pizza-making, vegetables roasting and salads being assembled.
One day at lunch I watched sheets of dough roll from a pasta machine into the floury hands of the pastaio who draped them on a drying rack next to our table. Those would become “bed sheet” ravioli, tousled like luxurious linens on an unmade bed, shrouding plump pillows of roasted cauliflower and mascarpone purée.
All the pastas are house-made. Long ziti look like deflated balloons, but come alive in a sweet heirloom-tomato sauce smoothed with a touch of cream. Brine and heat play hide-and-seek in a bowl of squid ink-blackened bucatini (hollow spaghetti noodles) laced with Hama Hama clams and a measured dose of preserved green cayenne pepper.
Pastas are a highlight of the menu, but so are pizzas, built on a thin, pliant, charred crust. Servers recommend (and I endorse) the version topped with chanterelles, onion and thinly sliced potato rounds that crisp in the fiery oven. Drizzled with creamy fonduta cheese sauce just before serving, it comes with grated cheese, dried chili pepper and oregano on the side, yours to scatter about if you like. Do it; you’ll like it.
Vegetables come raw or roasted, often paired with grains, nuts or cheese. Coriander and shallots bolster sweet roasted carrots. Crisp slivers of sugar snap peas, salty Marcona almonds and grated pecorino sarda make for an alluring summer salad simply dressed with lemon and olive oil.
Caesar salad is stunningly re-imagined. Escarole and mojama (salt-cured tuna loin) supplant the classic romaine and anchovies. It’s embellished with radish coins, Parmesan shards and hominy bread croutons.
Pine nuts and sweet golden raisins punctuate caponata, made with chopped Swiss chard instead of the usual eggplant. A brilliant switch; too bad it was paired with burrata past its creamy peak.
Other missteps suggest a lack of attention to detail. Not enough char distinguished the grilled octopus paired with cucumber, cured olives and a flurry of herbs. Burnt leeks and nearly raw broccoli spears marred an otherwise lovely farro salad, herby and bright with salsa verde. Garlic trounced not only rosy slices of lamb leg, a dinner special, but also the white bean and porcini purée fast disintegrating in its copious juices.
And yet, the “Catch of the Day” — a fillet of Neah Bay ling cod — could not have been more carefully cooked: moist under a golden brown salt-and-pepper crust, a raft of yellow broad beans lifting it above a pool of intense tomato broth.
The restaurant’s namesake is executive chef Jason Stoneburner, who helms the kitchen here, as well as at Bastille. Pastry chef Elizabeth Shoemaker gets credit for desserts. Chocolate hazelnut gelato crowning a soft, dark chocolate brownie next to a swipe of apricot purée, and sour-cream ice cream melting into huckleberry upside-down cake are not, strictly speaking, very Italian, but like Stoneburner and the other restaurants in the Weimann-Maclise portfolio, they are crowd-pleasers.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.