Rigatoni from Tavolata. Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith
Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith

From his casual chip shop in Ballard to his comforting Italian restaurant in Belltown, Chef Ethan Stowell has seen his dining empire expand all across Seattle since opening his first restaurant, Union, downtown in 2003.

Union was followed up with Tavolàta and How to Cook a Wolf in 2007, and Stowell achieved national acclaim in 2008, being named one of America’s “Best New Chefs” by Food & Wine and nabbing his first James Beard nomination for Best Chef in the Northwest. Between 2009 and 2014, Stowell opened nine restaurants, and he has another in the works at the Four Seasons in downtown Seattle.

In this edition of “My Famous Five,” Chef Stowell talks about five special dishes that his diners have come to know and love over the past decade.

Geoduck crudo from Anchovies & Olives and How to Cook a Wolf

The dish that put Chef Stowell on Seattle’s food map

Geoduck crudo from Anchovies & Olives and How to Cook a Wolf. Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith
Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith

There were only a couple of restaurants in the country doing crudo when we opened up Anchovies & Olives. Now everybody does crudo. It’s essentially Italian sashimi. We started doing [geoduck crudo] way back in the day in 2003, and we were one of the first restaurants using it. Geoduck can only grow out here in the Northwest, and there’s only one company that does all the farming of geoduck. We were one of the first ones doing it and I just loved it so much that at the beginning, I was like, “We gotta always have this on,” so that’s always on a couple of restaurants’ menus.”

Rigatoni from Tavolàta

One of Chef Stowell’s most popular dishes

Rigatoni from Tavolata. Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith
Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith

“It was really our first pasta dish. It’s rigatoni pasta with Italian sausage, tomato, marjoram, Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s similar to [rigatoni Bolognese] but it’s just homemade Italian sausage, so it’s pork shoulder, garlic, chili flakes, fennel pollen, a little bit of salt and pepper and that’s pretty much our entire sausage recipe. It’s one of those dishes that kind of evolved. We started buying artisan dried pasta, and then we switched to buying a fresh extruded rigatoni pasta. And then we started thinking about it, “Well, we can buy fresh extruded pasta. Why don’t we buy an extruder and make our own pasta? “And then it evolved to that and then it was like, “Why don’t we just open up a pasta restaurant?” And then we did that and it was a crazy popular restaurant. Essentially the rigatoni pasta got us into pasta restaurants and it kind of sent us in the Italian direction.

The dish sells great and it makes people happy every time. We actually enjoy making it and whenever we make it, we always make a little extra so we can have a couple of bites for ourselves.”

Bigoli from Anchovies & Olives

Chef Stowell’s personal favorite

Bigoli from Anchovies & Olives. Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith
Photo credit: Geoffrey Smith

It’s bigoli whole wheat pasta with anchovies, chili, garlic and mint. It’s just an olive oil-based sauce, got a lot of spice to it, got a lot of garlic flavor, has a touch of lemon juice to it. There’s a breadcrumb mixture from Italy called pangrattato, which is also known as poor man’s Parmesan cheese, so you sprinkle it over. It’s got a little crunch from the breadcrumbs; they’re fried in oil. 

We home make the pasta so it’s got really great toothsomeness to it. I like really thick spaghetti noodles so we make the thickest pasta we can. I’m not necessarily particular whether it’s spaghetti or bigoli, but it’s just that sauce that I love. That would be my last meal dish. It’s so simple and it takes no time to cook and as long as you’re working with great products, like really good olive oil, fresh garlic, really good packed anchovies, and really nice pasta, you’re golden. That would definitely be my last meal dish.”

Dungeness crab and avocado dip from Chippy’s Fish & Drink

A popular spin-off of Chef Stowell’s first signature dish

Dungeness crab and avocado dip from Chippy's“[At my first restaurant, Union,] we had this signature dish which was the Dungeness crab and avocado salad with basil oil and wild watercress. It sold like crazy, everybody bought it, and it was one of those dishes that was just so known to that restaurant that when we moved it, we didn’t feel like taking it with us. We felt it was supposed to be there, and then we’ve added it back in in a different format at Chippy’s. It’s essentially the same dish, but now it’s just a Dungeness crab and avocado dip with homemade potato chips. It sells like crazy there, too, now.

It was like my first signature dish and it’s just something that every cook was sick and tired of making because they made so many of them. It was a good first big seller for us. Dungeness crab was so known in the Northwest and it’s something you just love. I remember growing up as a kid, picking crab, and I wanted to do something with crab just because there’s so much here.

Lamb tongue salad from Red Cow

The dish whose popularity surprised Chef Stowell

“We had a lamb tongue salad. We do a version of it now at Red Cow. But the lamb tongue salad, I was surprised at how many people liked it. The first version we did was really popular with baby beet salad with horseradish crème fraîche and a grilled lamb tongue. It was awesome, it was great. The sweetness balanced the richness of the tongue, and the horseradish crème fraîche gave it a little bit of spice. But I was surprised by how well that sold. Now we have a lamb tongue potato and frisée salad with a warm mustard vinaigrette and that sells great, too.”

The 411:

Anchovies & Olives, 1550 15th Avenue (Capitol Hill); Italian, dinner only daily.

How to Cook a Wolf, 2208 Queen Anne Avenue N (Queen Anne); Italian, dinner only daily.

Tavolàta, 2323 2nd Avenue (Belltown); Italian, dinner only daily.

Chippy’s Fish & Drink, 4741 Ballard Avenue NW (Ballard); seafood, dinner only daily.

Red Cow, 1423 34th Avenue (Madrona); French, dinner only daily.