Home > Restaurants > Staple and Fancy-2/14/2011

Staple and Fancy-2/14/2011


Location: 4739 Ballard Ave NW


Mon-Sun: 5-11

For Valentine’s Day we decided to try out the newest, high end restaurant in Ballard, Staple and Fancy.

Located at the industrial end of Ballard Ave in the refurbished Kolstrand building, Staple & Fancy is the fourth restaurant to be opened by local celebrity chef, Ethan Stowell. His other restaurants (Anchovies & Olives, How to Cook a Wolf and Tavolata) have been highlighted in Bon Appétit and Food & Wine magazines. He’s got a new cookbook, Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen (available at his restaurants and through the Seattle Public Library). Staple & Fancy highlights “Italian-inspired” food in a menu that has a little bit of everything and has the option to put your taste buds in the hands of the chef with a Chef’s Choice menu, created specially for that day’s diners.

I had read about Staple & Fancy before and a friend of J’s highly recommended it so we decided to visit it for the first special occasion of the year, Valentine’s Day. J made reservations nearly a month ago for a special 3 course plus appetizers, Valentine’s Day dinner, created for that day by Chef Stowell, who would also be at the restaurant overseeing things.

Due to torrential rains and high winds, we decided to drive down to the restaurant rather than walk as we usually do. The neighborhood around Staple & Fancy is a bit sketchy for Ballard Ave can be a bit sketchy, with most of the businesses being closed in the evening. Although with the coming of this restaurant, a neat little bar called The Walrus & the Carpenter and the bike store next door, the area is beginning to be a little gentrified.

The restaurant itself is small with an open kitchen, a short bar with seating for 35. Our reservations were for 5:30 and when we arrived it was already about a quarter full. We were seated at a small table along the wall, bench seat for me, chair for J. I will admit the seating was not the most comfortable thing in the world. I woke up the next morning with a backache. I have no idea why bench seating seems to be a trend lately among upscale restaurants. When I eat, I would like to be comfortable.

The Service:

Our server was friendly and helpful if a little erratic. Compared to the other diners around us, who had one server helping them the entire meal, at some points during the meal we ended up with two other people serving us. Maybe he was new or maybe he was too busy serving the table of VIPs next to us (Chef Stowell came out to chat with them a couple of times during the meal) or maybe we threw him off by being ready to order right after he brought our drinks, thanks to the magic of a menu posted on their website. I don’t know. It just seemed a little weird to me. I will give credit though to our being given plenty of time between courses and a comfortable atmosphere.

The Drinks:

Since J drove, we ordered a half bottle of Bertagna Pinot Noir which was nice and fruity. For the dessert course, we each ordered a glass of dessert wine. J had the Porto Kopke 1988 and I Andrew Rich’s Late Harvest sweet wine. The dessert wines paired beautifully with the desserts.

The Food:

The meal consisted of four courses. An appetizer course which was chosen by the chef then pasta, a main and a dessert course each with 2 choices a piece. We decided on an egalitarian way of choosing who got what. J had first choice for the pasta course and I got my choice of the main course.


There were six small plates for the appetizer course. Each plate included just enough for two people.

Soft Boiled Eggs with White Anchovy: I liked this one. The egg yolk wasn’t too under done which is usually my fear with soft boiled eggs. The taste of the egg melded nicely with the almost vinegary flavor of the white anchovy and the garlic of the aioli upon which the eggs sat.

Marinated Beets with Oranges, Pistachio and Pecorino Toscano: Because of a sensitivity to oranges, I couldn’t taste this dish. J, who does not normally like beets, was quite surprised with the flavor. He mentioned that the beety taste was nicely toned down and wondered if it was due to the acidity of the orange mixed with the nuts.

Prosciutto di Parma with Parmigiano-Reggiano: Slices of melt in your mouth prosciutto with fresh flakes of parmigiano. Nothing better than this simple dish.

Crostini with Smoked Mackerel: The fish had a nice texture and fishy-smokiness without being overwhelming. The crostini was perfectly toasted. Other times I’ve had crostini it’s been so dry and hard that it rips up the roof of your mouth like Captn’ Crunch did when I was a kid..

Salmon Crudo with Red Radish and Watercress: Tasted like really good sushi. The only detractor was that the radishes were kind of tasteless.

Burrata with Marinated Peppers: Burrata, for those that don’t know, is a soft cheese made with mozzarella and cream (thank you Wikipedia). This plate was really good. It was basically a nest of julienned red peppers and sultanas with a dollop of Burrata on top. It was almost a dessert with the mix of the very sweet peppers and the creaminess of the cheese. Delicious.

Pasta Course:

I ordered the Conchiglie with Swordfish Puttanesca, Tomato, Capers and Olives. I was pleasantly surprised at the size of this course. Much more than I had expected. The little shell-shaped pasta was perfectly al dente. The puttanesca sauce had a bit of spiciness but did not take over the taste of the dish. In fact the weighty flavor of the swordfish shone through the sauce unlike other fish pastas I’ve had where the only time you taste the fish is when you actually bite into a piece. The dish was just a perfect melding of flavors.

J ordered the Potato Gnocchi with Red Wine Braised Beef Short Rib, Tomato, Horseradish and Oregano. His take on his pasta was that the sauce was excellent in the sense that it didn’t overwhelm the gnocchi or the short rib. There was a lot more meat than he had expected and it was nice and tender. I tasted the short rib and it had a very nice, if strongly oregano, flavor.

Main Course:

For my main course, I chose the Duck Breast with Almond and Salsify Puree with Thumbelina Carrots, Pearl Onions and Aged Balsamic. When the duck got to the table, I honestly thought it was a piece of beef. I have never had duck breast served sliced crosswise and rare. It was a little chewy with a couple of almost gristly bits to the point where I had a little trouble cutting it but the skin crust was lovely. Basically there was a layer of skin then delicious fat and finally the duck breast. It was good but not excellent. I guess my problem was that it didn’t really taste like duck. It tasted more like beef and if I’d wanted beef, I would’ve ordered beef.

J chose the Daurade (fish) with Artichokes, Meyer Lemon and Controne Beans. He felt that the fish was cooked perfectly. It was probably the best fish he’d ever had. The lemon reduction gave a fresh taste to the dish and bean sauce mixed well with the flavor of the fish.


My choice was the Ricotta Cheesecake with Vanilla Bean and Wild Huckleberry Sauce. The server brought a huge piece of cheesecake with a generous amount of huckleberries. It was delicious. Creamy with a graham cracker crust that soaked up the huckleberry juice. This was the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. Amazing.

J’s choice for dessert was the Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Ice Cream and Bourbon Caramel. He went crazy for the caramel. Said it was the best caramel he had ever had. That it had ruined all other caramels for him. I quote him “Un-fucking-believable. The cake was awesome. The ice cream was delicious. Just amazing.” The port he ordered to go with it was a perfect match.

The Price:

I will say, we have a blow-out meal like this maybe once a year. This will look expensive but considering what we received and upon looking at their regular menu, it was probably cheaper than if we had ordered each item separately.

Half-bottle Pinot Noir: $38.00

Valentine’s Day Menu: 2 @ $75.00

Porto Kopke: $12.00

Andrew Rich Late Harvest Dessert Wine: $9.00

The Verdict:

The winners of the menu were the soft boiled eggs, the buratta with marinated peppers, the two pasta dishes and the two desserts. All of these items were memorable for their taste, execution and creativity and made the meal worth the price.

One of the criteria I’ve begun to judge these Ballard restaurants by is whether we will go back once the year is over. I would say, at some point in the future, I’d be willing to go back to either try the chef’s choice menu or to have the cheesecake again. Holy crap, that cheesecake was amazing ….


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