The chef Ethan Stowell closed his first restaurant, Union, in 2010, after the economic downturn hit downtown and Seattleites were less interested in luxuriating over fancy tasting menus at linen-draped tables. Since then he opened a series of smaller, more casual restaurants in residential neighborhoods.
The chef returned to his refined roots this year with the March opening of Marine Hardware, bringing back high-end ingredients like foie gras and truffles. This time it’s not downtown but in the Ballard neighborhood, in a 100-year-old building that houses another of Stowell’s restaurants, Staple & Fancy.
Though the food might be refined, there are no table linens. In fact, the seven tables are bare – all the better to showcase Stowell’s carefully chosen ingredients and venerable technique.
“We’ve grown with Seattle diners,” he said. “They want chanterelles and duck breast in a comfortable, casual, hip environment.”
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While plenty of ingredients come from the Northwest (Dungeness crab, oysters, salmon, ramps, fiddleheads, chanterelles, nettles), Stowell bucks the rigid farm-to-table trend: daurade (sea bream) is flown in from Greece, duck from the Hudson Valley and olives from Italy.
“Our roots are in Seattle, but we search out the best products from around the world,” he said.
Several items are available à la carte, but most diners choose one of the approachable chef’s choice tasting menus (four-course, $55; six-course, $85; wine pairings available). The wine list features lesser-known varietals and interesting older vintages.
When my husband and I visited on a blustery weeknight last month, the unassuming brick building was humming with eager diners. We chose the four-course menu and began with a palate cleanser of heirloom tomato soup, followed by shared plates of poached Penn Cove mussels, beef tartare with celery purée and a three-cucumber salad.
The starters were perfectly executed, but all chilled – perhaps more suited to a fairer evening. I was ready for warmth when the risotto arrived; it was velvety and intoxicating, prepared with lobster mushrooms and corn, and paired with an obscure Timorasso from Piedmont. Next was the Moulard duck breast, rich and tender, with local huckleberries, roasted turnips and king oyster mushrooms. To finish, we polished off a refreshing plumcot sorbetto.
With food this elegant, who needs table linens?
If you go
Marine Hardware, 4741 Ballard Ave. NW; 206-257-4390; ethanstowellrestaurants.com. Average dinner for two, without drinks or tip, about $140.