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September 18, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Sushi entrepreneurs found new family-friendly pizza place

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Here comes another cultural experience from the team that made an everyday Seattle experience out of kaiten sushi and real slurp-it-up ramen. James Allard and Steve Rosen, who originally brought us Blue C Sushi and Boom Noodle, are working on opening Elemental Wood-Fired Pizza in University Village by the middle of next month.

Another wood-fired pizza place? This is what Seattle needs?

“We asked ourselves the same question,” said Rosen, and within this context they decided the answer was yes.

As Rosen explains it, it was “a very specific, location-based decision.”

The Seattle pizza scene has “grown up very quickly,” and there are places doing great things with wood-fired ovens — and yet U Village didn’t yet have that “great, watch-the-pizza-being-tossed, made fresh, put in the oven, and delivered quickly to you” sort of place. The village “really does function as its own kind of neighborhood,” he said, and they figured a wood-fired, family-friendly pizza place would be their niche to fill. (There’s already Delfino’s delightful deep-dish, of course, but that’s entering what Rosen calls “one of the more polarizing conversation topics,” i.e. what sort of pizza crust you prefer.)

Next up was figuring out how to make their pizza “a bit unique” in our city’s scene.

“The first thing we decided was that we didn’t have to be religious about being hard-core Italian with everything. What we really wanted to do was give ourselves some freedom to be a bit playful. This is where the name “Elemental” came from. We looked as ingredients as elements, built our own ingredient “periodic table of elements” and figured as we evolve we can mix and match different elements together as well as our guests (to see) what combinations they might create. It just felt fun. We’re not going to go crazy out-of-the-box, but it was important to us to not feel too constricted.”

Don’t expect the sort of certified Neapolitan pizza that Tutta Bella (and, for that matter, Via Tribunali) produces, he said. He’s a Bella fan, but they already do it very well, and he doesn’t think we need a duplicate. Second, “just from a personal preference, we like a crust that’s got a little more heft to it,” like his own current favorites, Bar Del Corso and Delancey.

Elemental will also have some pastas and a few small plates and salads, but the focus is mostly on the pizza.

Two Wood Stone ovens are scheduled for delivery today. Cooks will be working out in the open behind a big counter, and there will be a 16-seat bar.

For a head chef, he said they were lucky to find Gustavo Frias, who had worked at Bar Del Corso and was opening pizzaiolo at Renton’s well-reviewed Smoking Monkey.

When his resume came over, “we said, we’d love to see what you can do.” And, since Rosen had a brick pizza oven “test kitchen” in his own backyard to develop this experiment, he got the benefit of the seeing.

Elemental will be in the space formerly occupied by Grace’s Kitchen, which I told Rosen had never won my heart. I think he felt the same way.

“I think in concept it was much better than we executed it,” he said.

But I used to love running into him at Blue C and seeing his pride in the place before he and Allard separated from the company last year, or seeing them both at Boom with opening chef Jonathan Hunt (now culinary projects manager at Amazon Fresh) and all their excitement about projects they were passionate about bringing to our town.

Look for Rosen and Allard to be present for the day-to-day operations when Elemental opens its doors: “I’m holding a paintbrush,” he said when we spoke by phone. “It’s just like when we opened (Blue C) in Fremont, we’re cleaning the office and scrubbing the floors… this is going back to restaurateuring 1.0.”

He doesn’t expect to “reinvent the wheel,” but to be working hard and serving good food.

“The whole process has been sort of fun, to reset and get into the science of some of this stuff and play around with flavors.”

I had to ask whether Elemental at U Village is just step one in a new mini-chain. Not even thinking about that right now, he said.

“We just want to work to please people right here. We’re going to be on the floor and really present. The goal is to make a real connection with the neighboring community, the way a good local restaurant should.”

— Photo courtesy of Steve Rosen, who wasn’t kidding when he said he was painting as we spoke.

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