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Ethan Stowell’s Tavolata opens downtown offering ‘good food, good service and a good vibe’

UPDATED: Fri., May 14, 2021

Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell opened the fourth location of his Italian restaurant Tavolata, his first outside Seattle, on May 1 downtown in the former location of the Olive Garden, and a former city leader welcomed him during his quiet opening weekend.

“A former mayor stopped in, had a drink, welcomed us to town and thanked us for investing in Spokane,” Stowell said at Tavolata on May 2. “It was a really nice and unexpected welcome. I’ve never experienced that before!” (My full interview with Stowell will be in next week’s Food.)

My guess is that it was David Condon, but what matters here is the warm welcome Stowell and his Pacific Northwest-inspired Tavolata, at 221 N. Wall St. and Italian for “table” and “the people seated at the table,” received right out the gate.

Stowell is founder and CEO of his restaurant group, Ethan Stowell Restaurants, which began in Seattle in 2007 and includes Tavolata, How to Cook a Wolf, Staple & Fancy Mercantile, Ballard Pizza Company, Rione XIII, Mkt., Red Cow and Frelard Pizza Company.

Also, Tavolata Capitol Hill, Cortina, Cortina Cafe, the San Juan Seltzery, How to Cook a Wolf Madison Park, Tavolata Stone Way and Goldfinch Tavern in the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle. In 2019, Wolf opened in the Nordstrom flagship store in New York City.

If opening a new restaurant wasn’t already a big undertaking, Stowell has set May 25 as the soft opening date for Bosco, his casual Italian eatery in the Wonder Building. Bosco will be offering complimentary bites from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday to coincide with Wonder Saturday Market’s season opening from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at 835 N. Post St.

Back to Tavolata, the modern Italian restaurant is the anchor tenant of the historic Old City Hall building across Spokane Falls Boulevard from Riverfront Park. If you dined at the Olive Garden there, as I did many times, you won’t recognize the space because Stowell gutted the restaurant.

The large, airy location – the biggest of the four Tavolata restaurants – includes high ceilings, light-gray walls, exposed brick and natural light. The open kitchen shares space with the main dining room featuring blond wood banquets and tables.

Edison lightbulbs adorn the wood bar top, and a bar counter offers more seating in addition to the lounge area with low soft seating and tables. Tavolata offers two private dining areas, and there are plans to cover the large sidewalk patio with a trellis this autumn for year-round dining.

Tavolata’s newlyweds

At the helm of Tavolata Spokane are newlyweds Tania and Scott Siff. The couple have long histories with Ethan Stowell Restaurants, Tania as bar and restaurant manager of Tavolata Capitol Hill and Scott as chef of Tavolata on Capitol Hill and Cortina.

Sight unseen, the Siffs, Tania as general manager and beverage director and Scott as executive chef, relocated to Spokane in February from New York, where Scott was the opening chef of Wolf in Nordstrom and Tania was on the management team of Huertas in the East Village.

“This was a new opportunity here in Spokane with Ethan Stowell Restaurants that we just couldn’t pass up,” Scott Siff said on Sunday. “We really love the company.”

The couple, who have been together for about eight years and tied the knot via Zoom wedding in their 600-square-foot Queens apartment in December, are enjoying their new home and especially the outdoors.

“We moved here fully sight unseen in mid-February,” said Tania Siff, who hails from New Hampshire, on Sunday. “We live downtown, and it’s a seven-minute walk to work. I love it. It’s just incredible to be so close to nature. I’ve been to Manito Park a couple times. There are so many beautiful green spaces, and we can’t wait to engulf ourselves in this city.”

“I’m really looking forward to learning the scene around here and dining at all the awesome places,” Scott Siff said. “There is so much access to hikes, restaurants and local shops, and we really want to enjoy the community.”

Classic Tavolata menu

Siff’s menu is classic Tavolata – a light-handed touch to Italian cuisine with a Pacific Northwest flare in its ingredients – and features seasonal shareable small plates, standout house-made pastas, protein-focused entrées and desserts.

Small plates include a salumi board with prosciutto di parma, hot coppa, finocchiona, speck and salame Toscano; burrata with apricot agrodolce, watercress and crostini; asparagus with ramp vinaigrette, soft egg, peas, croutons and mint; and bruschetta with smoked salmon and pickled onions.

Pastas include gnocchi alla Romana, a semolina gnocchi with fresh mozzarella, tomato and chili; pappardelle with beef and pork ragu, tomato, mint, orange and grana Padano; paccheri with prawns, tomato, chili, sofrito and gremolata; and pici with cracked pepper and pecorino Romano.

Entrees include a double-cut pork chop with escarole, smoked grape mostarda and hazelnut pangrattato; skirt steak with wild mushrooms and salsa verde; and halibut with artichoke, spring peas and Meyer lemon.

Desserts include lemon zeppole with chocolate sauce for dipping; malted chocolate budino with chocolate pearls and malted whip; olive oil cake with creme fraiche, strawberry and cracked pepper agrodolce; and a small assortment of sorbettos and gelato.

“My favorite menu items right now are the linguini nero, which is full of flavor; the burrata, which changes seasonally but currently includes smoked grapes and a 12-year-aged balsamic served with crostini; and a double-cut pork chop with a seasonal apricot mostarda,” Siff said.

Customer favorites, Siff said, include the rigatoni, “a staple that has been on the menu since we opened”; the gnocchi, which is very traditional; and the smoked salmon bruschetta highlighting seasonal PNW ingredients. “These offer a sense of normalcy in this time,” he said.

The wine list is a section of Old World Italian wines and New World wines that showcase Washington and Oregon producers. The menu offers 18 wines by the glass, including the ESR private labels that are collaborations with Washington’s Avennia Winery, Mark Ryan Winery and Waters Winery, as well as select Italian wineries.

The inventive and robust bar program includes local craft beers on tap, domestic and craft beers, ciders and hard seltzers. The cocktail program includes Tavolata favorites Championship Pony with vodka, lime, ginger beer and basil and Radio Flyer with gin, lemon, Scrappy’s lavender bitters and prosecco.

Also, Cast No Shadow with gin, Cocchi Americano, white vermouth and Campari; King Hippo with white rum, grapefruit and marjoram simple syrup; Tavolata’s old fashioned the John Candy with Four Roses bourbon; and a beet-forward cocktail called Assistant to the Regional Manager.

Tavolata a second home

As of Monday, I will have dined at Tavolata four times. I was there on Day 2 when I had dinner, interviewed Stowell, met his team and girlfriend, Seattle attorney Sarah Leung, and received a tour of the large space. Also at Tavolata that Sunday: Adam Hegsted and Jeni Riplinger-Hegsted and Wonder Saturday Market’s Kim Deater and Nick Mounsey.

My fantastic dinner, with excellent service, was a salumi board with torta fritta, burrata with smoked grapes, pici with a pile of pecorino Romano, halibut with artichokes, blood orange sorbetto and the cocktails John Candy and Assistant to the Regional Manager

Three days later, I was back on Cinco de Mayo for patio dining in the evening, and our group enjoyed fried oysters, budino, a Black Manhattan, Incline cider and a Brick West Brewing IPA. Friday night was my nephew Shawn’s 10th birthday dinner (he loves octopus now!), and this week started with Happy Hour at Tavolata with a small gathering of local chefs.

Tavolata’s space is beautiful, and the bar, lounge and patio will become second homes. The service has been friendly, and I cannot get enough of the fresh pasta dishes – pici, spaghetti, linguini, paccheri and pappardelle. And, for such a casually elegant dining experience, I appreciate that Tavolata is family-friendly – Shawn was the center of attention on his birthday.

“We are inclusive with everyone at Tavolata, and it’s a restaurant for Happy Hour or a four-hour dinner,” Scott Siff said. “We’re super excited to be a part of the community. We are all about good food, good service and a good vibe, and we are really happy to be in Spokane.”

Tavolata is open from 4-9 p.m. daily and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Happy Hour is offered daily on the patio and in the bar area from 4-6 p.m. For reservations and more information, call (509) 606-5600 and visit ethanstowellrestaurants.com.

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