Chris, a good friend of mine, is the General Manager and Chef de Cuisine of an upscale brewpub in Oregon. Over the course of many shared meals, he has taught me a piece of advice that has transformed my life: trust the chef.
A quality chef, he opines, is proud to practice the culinary craft and odd consumer preferences aside, the chef is best suited to make recommendations on what dish in their portfolio is fresh that night, pairs well with your drink of choice, or will simply blow your freaking mind for any number of reasons. This notion has driven me to order dishes I never would have otherwise on a chef’s recommendation, and I’ve never been regretted it.
Last weekend, my friend Jill was visiting Seattle and it had been a long day; a really long day. In need of food therapy we wandered into historic Ballard and found our way into Staple & Fancy Mercantile. Billed with a menu of simple Italian-inspired food and with a line out the door, I was excited to experience Ethan Stowell’s cuisine for the first time. Facing an hour wait, we lingered for a few minutes and some seats at the bar opened up! Pro tip: sit at the bar. I ordered a cocktail, opened the menu, and the note at the top jumped out at me:
And, if you would like to avoid the trouble of ordering altogether, please feel free to hand your menu back to your server and let the kitchen prepare you a family style supper served in four courses for $45 per person. Participation by the entire table is required. We would also like to inform you that you really should do this.Ummm, OK, if you insist, Ethan. After all, you’re the expert. I promptly handed my menu back, Jill did the same, and we were off to the races on one of the best 4-course meals I’ve ever had. Ten minutes later, there was food on the table. For the appetizer course, the staff brought out some bruschetta, marinated olives, and some salted cod spread. All delicious. Then the soft boiled eggs with anchovies and some fried gnocchi appeared. Then, a pork remouloude. And bread. And scallops.
Next thing we knew, we were surrounded by eight, yes eight, plates on the table each plate with plenty for the two of us. Surely, Jill commented, this has to be at least three of the four courses. Nope. Three more to come. Next up, a seafood ravioli in a sage brown butter….with a glass of wine. Then came the “main course”, seared ahi tuna, perfectly prepared. Finally, a chocolate pudding mousse dessert, which I paired with a delicious port.
As I waddled back to my condo, I had three observations from my Staple & Fancy experience:
1. The quality of the food coming out of Ethan Stowell’s kitchen is simply fantastic.
2. $45 for that much awesome food? It’s a steal.
3. When the chef offers to surprise you, you’d be a damn fool to not take advantage of the offer.
Staple & Fancy
4739 Ballard Ave NW
Managing Editor Josh Gana also covers wine for Seattle Pulp, part of the KOMO News Network. This article was originally published there.