At How to Cook a Wolf, simplicity will blow you away
Just as hunger brings the wolf from the woods, so How to Cook a Wolf lures a hungry horde to the top of Queen Anne. This two-month-old restaurant's odd...
Special to The Seattle Times
Soft-boiled eggs $8
Squid Salad $12
Polenta with fonduta $13
Agnolotti with spinach $14
Stuffed Quail $16
Italian $$ How to Cook a Wolf2208 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle;
Reservations: Not accepted.
Hours: 5 p.m.-midnight Thursdays-Mondays.
Prices: Appetizers, $5-$16; pasta, $13-$16.
Drinks: Spirits, beer and wine; the wine list is heavily but not exclusively Italian, includes an interesting mix of varietals and is moderately priced.
Parking: On street.
Who should go: Those seeking simple pleasures at the table.
Credit Cards: All major cards.
Access: No obstacles, but tight quarters for wheelchairs.
Just as hunger brings the wolf from the woods, so How to Cook a Wolf lures a hungry horde to the top of Queen Anne.
This two-month-old restaurant's odd name is the title of a book by M.F.K. Fisher, the influential 20th-century American food writer. First published in 1942, the book spoke to a nation at war and in the throes of rationing; a time when many felt the proverbial wolf at the door. But its central message, extolling the virtues of simplicity, still resonates today. "Since we must eat to live," Fisher wrote in a postscript to the revised edition, "We might as well do it with both grace and gusto."
There's grace and gusto aplenty at How to Cook a Wolf, where the mouthful-moniker suits this latest venture by Union chef/owner Ethan Stowell and his business partner, Patric Gabre-Kidan. They first teamed up to launch Tavolata in Belltown.
Wolf is Tavolata writ small, minus the grand communal table and the deafening roar. Wood, metal and stone define the intimate interior, setting a tone that's elemental but not raw. Cork covers the tables and countertop. A strip of copper bas-relief interrupts the flow of wood paneling as it climbs the walls above bench seating and curves at the low ceiling. It's a wolf's den, but an urbane one.
The Italian-inflected menu borrows from Tavolata, too, but in truncated form. There are no big platters of family-style entrees, but there are several pastas plus a lengthy list of appetizers. Some are as basic as olives, almonds or soft-boiled eggs, others more substantial. Many involve just a handful of ingredients, making quality key. These straightforward, seemingly artless preparations — the work of chef de cuisine Ryan Weed and sous chef Jason Stoneburner — yield tantalizing results.
Consider those eggs, halved to display sunny yolks somewhere beyond soft-boiled but well short of hard, wearing little more than a squiggle of anchovy mayonnaise and glittering grains of salt.
Mussels, released from their shells, bob in a brilliant green broth of parsley and shellfish liqueur, a soup at once intensely briny and vegetal, thick with fregola, large pearls of pasta similar to Israeli couscous.
Fonduta, a rich sauce made with egg, butter and fontina cheese, puddles under polenta. Pairing that ultra-lush sauce with a short stack of humble cornmeal cakes — delicately browned and crisp at the edges, gritty yet seductively soft — is like wearing sable with bluejeans.
Salads come in several delicious permutations. Duck, beets and mandarin orange make an eye-catching composition. The supple slices of rare breast meat nearly match the vibrant ruby color of the sweet beets, while orange segments contribute a tart, refreshing edge to the earthy ensemble. Squid salad is an even more vigorous amalgam of flavors: Tiny white rings and mauve-tinted tentacles, shaved shallot and flamboyant sprigs of parsley play peekaboo among the round, white controne beans, lustrous in vinaigrette bristling with red pepper flakes.
Frisée salad, in contrast, is an elegant pale-on-pale jumble of bitter, lacy white endive, ivory-fleshed pear ripe with vanilla notes and wide ribbons of musky, parchment-hued pecorino tossed in an appropriately muted white balsamic vinaigrette.
Skip around among the appetizers and soon enough you're full — especially if you've been dunking too much fabulous bread into the deep bowl of fruity olive oil provided gratis, or if you've included some of the heartier small plates, such as sea scallops or quail. The warm seared scallops perch on a cool sunchoke purée, a temperature disparity that sounds jarring but appealed to me, especially with a zesty green olive and lemon relish uniting the two elements. The quail's boneless belly was plump with bread and fresh thyme; fragrant chestnut honey glazed its burnished skin and sweetened little squares of bright orange butternut squash scattered on the plate like beads from a broken necklace.
The true jewels are the house-made pastas, in particular agnolotti. Lemon zest and ricotta fluff these tender pillows, nestled among wilted spinach, agleam with butter and cheese. But the dried pastas earn equally high marks for quality. Clams cling to silky strands of linguine. Hedgehog mushrooms and guanciale (cured pork jowls) are meaty mates for rich ribbons of fettuccine.
May I suggest cheese for dessert? Not that the gelato and sorbet aren't lovely, but the cheeses, each paired with a flattering condiment, are divine. The variety changes, but I especially enjoyed Valdeon, an intense Spanish blue cheese, with pear mostarda, and a firm, woodsy Italian pecorino ginepro with chianti jelly.
Expect to find Wolf packed. Service is fast-paced, but people tend to hang around, especially at the counter. The wait at the no-reservations Wolf can stretch to an hour at peak times, but they manage the waitlist efficiently. Because there's not much space inside to hang out, they ask for your cellphone number. At that point many head up the street to the bar at Opal — including Stowell and his wife one night, according to our observant cocktail waitress.
But if you find the corner by Wolf's front door is empty, order up a glass of Montepulciano, wedge yourself in among the wine racks and thumb through the copy of "How to Cook a Wolf" that lives on the counter. It's a read guaranteed to keep the wolf from the door.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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