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August 24, 2010 at 7:19 AM

At Staple & Fancy, Ethan Stowell says: “Just do it”

If you pay attention to such things, and I know you do, chances are you’ve heard about Ethan Stowell’s new Italian kitchen. No, not his forthcoming cookbook showcasing dishes from his four restaurants, Anchovies & Olives, How to Cook a Wolf, Tavolata and Staple & Fancy Mercantile. The kitchen I’m talking about is the focal point of that last venture, his latest. Open a week, Staple & Fancy’s rustic Italian-oriented menu is brazenly brief — if you discount the chef’s fancy, divulged in a menu-note that has this to say about that:

Thanks for joining us at Staple & Fancy Mercantile. Please feel free to order as much or as little food as you like. And, if you would like to avoid the trouble of ordering altogether, please feel free to hand your menu back to your server and let the kitchen prepare you a family style supper served in four courses for $45 per person. Participation by the entire table is required. We would also like to inform you that you really should do this.

No truer words were ever said. You really should do this. And here’s one of the many reasons why:

Why trouble yourself? Leave it to the chef and you might end up nibbling speck with fresh figs, part of the $45/per person family-style menu that blew my mind opening week.

The Kolstrand Building, home to Staple & Fancy (far left), and the scene inside during the soft opening, August 13, when I stopped by for a quick look and stayed for a glass of wine.

Like Renee Erickson’s adjoining Walrus and the Carpenter (hiding in the way-back), Staple & Fancy has an open kitchen ringed by counter seats at the bar. But unlike Ethan’s other restaurants — on Capitol Hill, Queen Anne and in Belltown — his Ballard newcomer has the award-winning restaurateur doing something he hasn’t been doing enough of lately: cooking.

In Ethan Stowell’s new Italian kitchen, gnocchi is a staple.

Backed by a cabal of capable culinarians, his wife and business partner Angela (who was working the door), a barman you’ll recognize from the Stowell’s dearly departed Union, and a fleet of servers working the crowd, the chef proved his point regarding that family-style meal. Which I shared with my newly adopted “family,” seated below:

Thanks for treating me to dinner, dear famiglia. And as our ancestors might say: “Next year, in Gibraltar!”

Among the many dishes that made their way to our table were the ones you’ll see below. And according to Ethan (who swears he did not send out any more food than he would to any other party of seven willing to pay family-freight), it’s all about being generous. He’d rather have people leave sated and happy, he said, than complaining about penurious portions. Will he always have Painted Hills rib-eye on his family-style meal? Maybe not — once he gets his costs in order — but at this stage of the game, he’s hoping to keep his customers satisfied. And boy did he ever.

Schmear on crostini times two: smoked bluefish (left) and pork liver.

Panzanella salad with goat cheese (left), and spicy Guajillo chiles with shaved mojama.

St. Louis-style ribs (left) and fried East Coast clams, (better than Howard Johnson’s!)

Tomato soup with basil-oil, and squid-ink pasta with fresh “calamar” — as the Southern Italians I grew up around say.

Crisp-skinned dorade (left), and Painted Hills rib-eye with favas and tomato.

Yes there was dessert. Three of them, in fact. This cheesecake was my favorite. Not that I was hungry.

So, anybody else been yet? What did you eat?

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