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July 29, 2010 at 9:17 AM

Avila in Wallingford, closed — it’s a sad day for all

Eater Brannon Moore wanted more, and he was not happy when he wrote this week with bad news: Avila — a restaurant that tantalized the tastebuds of many a critic, professional and otherwise — has closed. I suspect he won’t be the only fan to voice a lament like this one:

“My wife and I went there several times over their short lifespan, and liked it more and more each time,” he said. “They were adventurous and experimental, sometimes to a fault; I don’t think I ever had a plate there that wouldn’t have benefited from the elimination of two or three major ingredients, or sometimes a major component. But the concepts were frequently innovative and fascinating, and the flavors, if not harmonious, were invariably stimulating and enjoyable. And the technique was always rock-solid, from the velvety radish soup to the obsessively meticulous brunoise of carrots.”

Avila’s handmade strudel with smoked salmon and sweetbreads. Note the meticulous brunoise.

[Seattle Times photo/Mark Harrison]

Brannon continued, “Whatever criticisms could be leveled against the food, they were always in the territory of excessive enthusiasm, and undisciplined exuberance. Hardly a damning complaint, and exactly the sort of thing that a restaurant deserves to be given the time to rein in. But no — another envelope-pusher bites the dust. Apparently, Seattle can only support so many trailblazers. Wallingford doesn’t lack for excellent cuisine (what with Joule, Sutra, and Tilth within two blocks of Avila either way), but we’re still poorer for the loss of this culinary adventurer.” Amen, brother. I’m right there with you.

I won’t soon forget the warm beignets and the deep-fried duck egg with house-cured bresaola and red-eye gravy served on Sunday brunch early this year, nor the oysters escabeche with pink grapefruit I sampled at the small open-kitchen counter at dinner. So I contacted the folks at Avila to find out why they called it quits this week, less than a year after it’s debut. Here’s what I learned:

“It was an agonizing decision to close,” said co-owner Bronwen Carpenter in an e-mail, “but after weighing several factors we decided it was for the best.” Despite the positive response to Avila, “the day-to-day business just wasn’t there.” With her husband, Jared, and his co-chef Alex Pitts, “we started with big dreams and and a shoestring budget,” she explained. But after a couple of slow months, increasingly long work days and a growing financial burden, the trio decided the closure was their best alternative.

Pitts, who worked with Mark Fuller at Spring Hill before opening Avila, is saddened but sanguine. “Jared and I were just a couple of punk kids who never had any business opening an actual restaurant with the amount of money at our disposal anyway,” he told me in an e-mail. “I’d like to think that if we could’ve held on for a few months longer we could have come out on top, but in this economy it’s hard to hold someone’s life savings in your hand and hope people will start going out again.”

Carpenter said she and her partners are thankful for the patronage of folks like Brannon Moore, and to the staff who’ve worked with them to make dining at Avila the kind of experience that made diners like Brannon and me look forward to returning. Pitts said yesterday he’s enjoying a few days of relaxation before considering exactly what to do next, and expects that whatever it is, “it will definitely involve great food, and hopefully be in Seattle.” For now, he’s been bouncing ideas off his pal and “patron saint” Mark Fuller, and perhaps we’ll soon see him back at Spring Hill in West Seattle.

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