Hill Tastes is a CHS essay series from a variety of Capitol Hill voices exploring the flavors of Capitol Hill restaurants, bars and more. Have a taste you’d like us to explore? Let us know.
Like all fine cooking, good things come to those who wait.
Now, after months of expectation, the corner of 15th Ave E and E Harrison has been converted from a tired, eclectic gift shop into a bustling culinary destination.
Ethan Stowell’s Rione XIII finally opened its doors to the public, bringing an authentic taste of Rome to the 15th Avenue shopping district.
Snagging a table just before 11P late on one of the restaurant’s first Saturdays, my partner and I sipped cocktails and wine while anticipating the food to come.
Our excitement increased when Seattle Symphony maestro Ludovic Morlot took a table nearby. Fine dining, celebrities and top-notch food all has arrived in this quiet section of Capitol Hill.
Don’t expect bread sticks, minestrone and spaghetti and meatballs. Here, the food is authentic Roman, not authentic Italian-American. The fried artichokes aren’t coated with a heavy batter. Instead, they’re served “Jewish style.” The baby hearts come served with a garlicky aioli and sprinkled with salty breadcrumbs.
The pasta — long tubes of hollow spaghetti — was fresh and perfectly cooked leaving just enough chew in the noodle. The tomato sauce was light, slightly spicy with salty pecorino. Pizza, topped with chanterelles, was served street-food style: The dough wasn’t paper thin or bready. It was thick enough to have character, texture and flavor. Other pizza options included clams and anchovies. No sign of pepperoni or pineapple.
“If you go to Italy, there are tons of different pizza styles,” Stowell explained a week after Rione XIII opened to the public. Everything on the menu here could be found at a Roman trattoria.
Stowell went to Italy to conduct some culinary anthropology. He went and ate.
“We hung out and got the feel of what people were eating,” he said.The result is a selection of antipasti, homemade mozzarella, pizzas, pastas and simple main courses, all affordably priced. Stowell hopes Rione XIII will become a spot where neighbors can stop by frequently, as often as weekly.
When Tilden, the gift shop, closed, Caffé Vita leased the space with plans to move in. That idea didn’t work out and Stowell was approached to see if he was interested. The space came to him.
“It was just kind of meant to be,” Stowell said. “It’s not the normal way of doing things.”
While the 1920s-era building had “character,” the building required major retrofitting, Stowell said. The store front was falling down, the floor needed to be replaced and the brick walls and massive ceiling beams needed to be repeatedly sandblasted.
The investment paid off. The room is sophisticated and attractive with blown-glass fixtures dangling above the bar.
“It’s good for the neighborhood. It’s good for the community,” Stowell said. A handsome counter-height bar provides a waiting area on the sidewalk.
The Wandering Goose, a southern-style bakery, which eventually will share the space, remains under construction. It’s expected to open soon — we’ll have more information on that shortly.
Sharing a dining space isn’t new to Stowell. His Ballard eatery Staple & Fancy splits a room with The Walrus & The Carpenter. Cutting down on the rent for two-handicap accessible bathrooms –- as required by the city –- is one way to lower overhead, Stowell said.
“It’s the new way to deal with inflation,” he said.
For Stowell, Rione XIII is restaurant number five in his burgeoning business and the second on 15th Ave E. Anchovies & Olives sits at the corner of Pine.
Since opening the Rione XIII, there have been lines and waits.
“It’s been great,” Stowell said. “People have been enjoying it.”I asked him what’s next.
“Have a baby and take a month off with the wife and kid,” he said.
But Stowell’s footprint on Capitol Hill may be expanding. “There may be something small happening,” he said.
Exactly what? Stowell wouldn’t say.