Forget musical chairs. Chef Mike Easton is playing musical stairs. This week, he’ll leave his post as chef-exec at Lecosho on the Harbor Steps in the very capable hands of Lauri Allen Carter and open Il Corvo (The Crow), just up the block on the Pike Street Hill Climb. “He’s leaving already?” I wondered when I heard the news just six months after Lecosho (finally) opened its doors. What’s up with that? Easton gave me the scoop — and I mean that literally.
Mike Easton pouring it on at Lesosho. Soon, he’ll be doing the same at Il Corvo. [Seattle Times/Mike Siegel]
As the crow flies, he’s not making a big move. Il Corvo, the piccolo pastaria where he’ll make pasta the old-fashioned way — by hand — will share retail space with Procopio Gelateria, a Hill Climb fixture since the ’80s. The marriage of pastaria and gelateria is a homecoming of sorts for Easton, one expected to be consummated when Il Corvo makes its debut (slated for May 1).
Procopio, tucked just off the Hill Climb stairway seen in reflection at 1501 Western Avenue, Suite 300, is making room Il Corvo. [courtesy Brian Garrity]
“When I first moved to Seattle in 1999,” to work in the recording industry as an engineer, “I got a job scooping ice cream and pulling espresso” at Procopio, Easton explained. Six years later he and his friend Jack Kelly bought — and later sold — Wallingford’s long-lived Bizzarro Italian Cafe. During their four-year tenure as owners, Easton took an extended Italian vacation, interning at a Tuscan ristorante six days a week. And it was there that he got a taste for the kind of place he’d like to someday call his own: “a tiny hole-in-the-wall with a chalkboard menu, a place where they make what they want to make that day, and when they run out, they run out.”
Small is beautiful, insists the chef, who’s cooked in professional kitchens since he was 16. Now 37, “I looked at this and saw an opportunity to do what I wanted to do.” Here in a 20-seat cafe with a 12-seat patio, he’ll be living the life he envisions: one that will have him waking early to prepare pastas cooked and served to the lunch crowd Mondays through Fridays, scooping gelato, then calling it quits in time to raise a glass of wine with his wife, put his 3-year-old to bed and offer the occasional wine-tasting and pasta-making class at Il Corvo.
Nesting with Procopio, he’ll cook with a trio of butane burners and a tabletop pasta-boiler and prepare most of his sauces to order. The cafe will undergo a swift decorative update, he said, including the dining room installation of a granite table for rolling out — and cranking out — fresh pasta.
Mike’s garganelli, soon to be on the menu at Il Corvo. [courtesy Mike Easton]
In addition to a short roster of antipasti, we can expect menu staples such as ragu Bolognese with pappardelle and a repertoire of pasta shapes created using the chef’s collection of rare and antique pasta machines. Among them, a cast-iron cavatelli maker patented in 1909 and his prized “torchio”– a hand-cranked extruder used for making bigoli and gargati, pasta specialties from the Veneto. Pasta prices will top out at $10.
Acini di pepe makes the cut. [courtesy Mike Easton]
“Everything I need is right here,” said Easton, citing proximity to Pike Place Market — just across the street and up the stairs. “And I plan to seek out growers direct, to also hit the neighborhood farmers markets,” perhaps scoring a handful of baby artichokes from one grower, or a selection of nettles from a friendly forager, using them to fill or sauce his pasta selections.
This isn’t the first time pasta will take the stage at Procopio, said its owner, Brian Garrity, who long ago offered pasta and panini to the tourists who crowded his shop in the summer months. Nor is it the first time he’s considered joining forces with Easton.
Sharing this space with the chef “has always been in the back of my mind,” said Garrity, who’s looking forward to spending more of his time marketing the wholesale side of his business, leaving much of the gelato-making to production manager Amber McMorrow. “The goal for us is to eventually get the production of Procopio off-site” — somewhere that can accommodate more freezer space.
“I’d really like to see Mike have his own place,” said Garrity. In the meantime, “This seemed like a great marriage, with Mike taking over the retail side. It won’t smell like sweets and coffee as much as it will onions and garlic, but we’ll continue to scoop gelato.”