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Hill Tastes | With Rione XIII paying off, ‘something small’ — maybe — next for Stowell

(Image: Geoffrey Smith/Rione XIII)

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.

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19 thoughts on “Hill Tastes | With Rione XIII paying off, ‘something small’ — maybe — next for Stowell

  1. Love this new restaurant, it’s the most fabulous addition to 15th in years. And I’m even more excited for Wandering Goose. Chocolate cake and scones are days away, I hope.

  2. i have to say my wife and i are so excited for the wandering goose! we went to rionne xviii and while it was fine, we want something not so fancy. wife and i are looking forward to some southern fare from the wandering goose. we have been following them and can’t wait for a bakery AND biscuits! imagine what that place will do for this sleepy hollow of capitol hill???

  3. This post is nothing but an ad for the restaurant. It’s not really a restaurant review in that it’s all positive and glowing.

    To me, it seems out of place on a blog which is primarily for neighborhood news.

  4. I’m sorry, but I think this post is totally appropriate. Have you seen all the people walking on 15th during the evenings? These new businesses are bringing a fresh vibrancy to 15th and building community. If they are doing something good, shouldn’t they be recognized?

  5. I can’t believe nobody’s complained about the bar in the middle of the sidewalk yet. So here it is: “I can’t believe the city allowed them to put that bar right in the middle of the sidewalk!”

  6. …crossing the street at 15th and Harrison. I’ve already seen several near-misses between pedestrians trying to cross 15th and distracted drivers endlessly cicling the neighborhood for parking (by the way there’s a $5 pay lot at Key Bank. Just FYI). This isn’t a sleepy little neighborhood street corner any more, so allow yourself 10 extra minutes to walk to QFC, that’s about how long it’ll take you to get someone to stop for you.

  7. For years we’ve watched Pike/Pine improve, and Broadway, and finally it’s 15th Ave E’s turn! I love the vibe at Rione XIII. That end of the block feels so much friendlier, and classier, and cleaner now. Really looking forward to Wandering Goose opening too. All excellent improvements to our little neighborhood center.

  8. I agree. It is not the same as a sidewalk cafe, which is cordoned off by a low fence of some kind, and is much less of a safety hazard than this high, standup bar. There will be an injury here at some point, sooner or later.

    Anyone who objects to this should be complaining to the City via the Customer Service Bureau’s online form: Do not bother to call SDOT as they will probably not return your call.

  9. I’ve been there three times now – once for dinner with the family and twice for lunch. Their pasta is to die for. I agree that the option of a more substantial meat portion would be a wonderful addition. But other than that it is so tasty that just thinking about their Carbonara makes me want to dash over!

  10. I mentioned this on an earlier post, but seriously: How is the standup bar a safety hazard? If it’s a safety hazard, then so is every other sidewalk café, light pole, newspaper box, planter, tree, curb, drain, sandwich board, busker, scaffold. Just walk around it like you do every other “hazard” on the street. If you are so worried about personal safety, perhaps you shouldn’t be living in a dangerous place like a city.

    Describe a scenario in which this particular sidewalk café causes an accident specific to it’s location and size. The bar itself is its own fence. And it’s higher than most. It’s closer to your line of sight.

    And it’s built to city code. Like every other sidewalk café in Seattle.