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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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October 13, 2008 9:54 AM

How to cook a new seafood restaurant

Posted by Nancy Leson

By now, these guys should look familiar:



That's Patric Gabre-Kidan on the left and his business partner, Ethan Stowell. Stowell owns Union, which Gabre-Kidan helps run. Together they own and operate Belltown's Tavolata and Queen Anne's How to Cook a Wolf. And now they've set their sights on Capitol Hill with a new restaurant specializing in Italian seafood -- crudo, branzino, fresh sardines, clams with pasta. Guess what they're going to call it? (Attention M.F. K. Fisher fans: given all the buzz about How to Cook a Wolf, it's not, as you might have expected, Consider the Oyster Shooter, Serve it Raw, nor The Astronomical Fee.) I'll give you a hint:



The 40-seat restaurant will be called Anchovies and Olives, which may or may not have an ampersand (&)once it's up and running, but will most definitely encompass 1,500-square-feet -- including the bar, says Stowell. He expects to be doing business off 15th and Pine in The Pearl Apartments complex by "late December, early January" -- thanks to an invite from developers Jeff Brotman and Jim Sinegal, better known for their involvement with a certain Big Box store. "They asked me if I wanted to put something in there," Stowell says. "They're excited. We're excited."

He's also excited about the new restaurant's big island-kitchen -- to be built front-and-center in the dining room. We can expect "a lot of banquets, a lot of wood" and no communal tables. That's four restaurants in five years, folks. But who's counting? (Answer: lots of people.) It's interesting to see that Stowell wasn't kidding when he expressed his expansionist vision back when he had but a single restaurant: Union. Here's a direct quote from my "Taste of the Town" column, written in April 2006, when he gave me the dope on the Tavolata and his initial partnership with Gabre-Kidan:

"Pat and I have the same outlook," says Stowell, who worked with Gabre-Kidan at the Painted Table in the Alexis Hotel during the Tim Kelley era. "We both want to create a small-restaurant group," he says, hinting at ventures yet to come. "If I'm going to make this thing grow, I can't do it alone. Pat is one of the few people out there who can make me change my stubborn ways. He's one of those uber-intelligent guys, and he'll be helping me at Union as well, taking care of the books, the financing and budgeting."

These days, Stowell and Gabre-Kidan have a third partner to count on: Ethan's wife, Angela, seen below looking glamorous at the James Beard Awards in June. She does the far-less-glamorous job of maintaining the wine list and handling staffing at Wolf, and will be doing the same at Anchovies and Olives:



Gabre-Kidan has certainly been busy with the existing restaurants -- as well as with keeping his eye on the competition. I've spotted him recently at Poppy on opening night, and snapped him mid-day in front of Tavolata, where he took a moment to take a business call:



They haven't had trouble finding talent to staff their growing number of restaurants, Stowell says, "but I'm always looking, that's a big chunk of my job." With the economy in a tailspin and an increase in restaurant closures, he says, "decent cooks are out on the street for half an interview. They get offered jobs on the first day."

Speaking of talent, who's going to be running the kitchen at Anchovies and Olives? Why, it's Charles Walpole! I ran into in him in Woodinville last spring, back when he was still chefing at Novelty Hill/Januik winery:



While I was sipping and snacking in May, Walpole explained he was two days away from heading to How to Cook a Wolf, and told me how excited he was about returning to a restaurant environment after a year and a half at the winery -- particularly with the carrot of running his own kitchen at Stowell's next venture in the offing. Walpole's resume runs deep. He's cooked at Fullers (under Monique Barbeau), the Salish Lodge, Avenue One, 727 Pine (under Danielle Custer) and more recently at William Belickis' Mistral, where he built a steady fan-base during his 3 1/2-year tenure prior to its closure.

So, is Stowell nervous about adding to his mini-resto-empire given the state of the economy? "I wouldn't open another Tavolata," he says. "Filling a restaurant of that size, 85-seats, is a challenge -- but Tavolata is established." These days he laughs when real estate agents attempt to woo him with 3,400-square-foot restaurant spaces, and says he's incredulous when they offer to show him a 9,000-square-foot spot. "I say, forget it!"

Small is big. "With a restaurant like Union, your goal is to get it busy enough so you can staff it fully every day. With a smaller space, you're staff-full all the time because it's tiny." It's not hard to fill 40 seats, he insists. "At Wolf, if there are 10 people in there, it looks like a lively space. If you have a 110-seat restaurant and there are 40 or even 60 people in there, you're like, `What's going on in here? Where is everybody?'" In an effort to keep his restaurants full, Stowell says price-point is key (witness the changes at Union), as is making the most of what you've got. Starting this week, How to Cook a Wolf is open seven days, up from five.

At Anchovies and Olives, entrees will top-out at $18 and customers should feel free to "order as much -- or as little -- as they'd like," Stowell says. Hopefully, they'll like his pastas, all of which are made in-house at Tavolata and delivered, by company pasta-mobile, to each of the his restaurants. What's more, once his pasta-meister Marshall Nall gets up to speed (he's making all the pastas now, "taking a load off the prep-cooks"), they're hoping to sell the stuff retail. "DeLaurenti has carried it, and they want us to do some more," Stowell says. And then there's that fresh-air foodie-outlet, where other pasta-makers have introduced their goods to an adoring audience: "Angela and I would like to go to the Ballard farmers market and sell some pasta," says Stowell. "It's a pretty good dynamic -- and it would be a great marketing tool."

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