The restaurant named mkt. is Ethan Stowell's seventh in Seattle—or eighth, if you count Ballard Pizza Company, or ninth, if you count his original and now-long-defunct Union, or tenth or eleventh, if you count his hamburger and crepe outlets at Safeco Field. His main half-dozen places—Tavolàta, How to Cook a Wolf, Anchovies & Olives, Staple & Fancy, Rione XIII, and Bar Cotto—are all stylish, urbane rooms serving his trademark rustic Italian. Across the board, the pasta is excellent (all made fresh, thanks to the extruder in the basement of Tavolàta), the vegetable dishes are exceptionally good, the meats and fish are very well-handled, and it all has a local/seasonal/very-well-sourced bent. Some have questioned the lack of variation—but if a man loves Italian food, and he is masterful at assembling great teams of people to make it, and by this he prospers, why should he not follow his heart (rather than, as some might, opening a Tibetan dumpling shop, a Greek place, a tavern, a bakery, a seafood place, and something pan-Asian instead)? Along the way, he was named a 2008 Best New Chef by Food & Wine, then a Best New Chef All-Star this year, and was thrice nominated for a James Beard award. And so Ethan Stowell made one restaurant after another, each more or less in the same image, and the people rejoiced as one came to their own neighborhood, and it was good.
mkt. is different. Stowell fans will know this when they see that there is only one pasta on the menu (unheard of!). mkt. is smaller: 28 seats in a streamlined, shotgun-style space in Green Lake's Tangletown, with slate-colored walls and handsome handmade chairs. The sole flourish—metal letters spelling out food words in the back corner—seems a little overdone (and could make you want "goat," "geoduck," or other things on the wall and not on the menu). There's a roll-up garage door and the currently-required-by-upscale-restaurant-law wood-fired grill. In the long, narrow, open kitchen, you will find chef Joe Ritchie, who's worked with Jerry Traunfeld at the Herbfarm and Poppy. He is joined by Monica Dimas, whose résumé is also impressive: Monsoon, Spinasse, Le Pichet, Campagne. mkt. feels like a neighborhood place, with its funny shape and arm's-length-away kitchen, and it feels like their place. Stowell says the menu is different on purpose: In order to branch out, he gave Ritchie free rein. "The neighborhood's been digging it so far," he says.
mkt.'s zucchini fritters ($9) are very diggable. They're extremely light, ungreasy, almost cloud-like little orbs, with lemon zest and thyme and the right amount of salt in them, served with herby oil for dipping (any left over should definitely be saved for the complimentary Tall Grass bread). Four larger-sized grilled shrimp ($14) leaning against a fennel-celery salad were exemplary: firm, sweet, perfectly cooked. Same with four large scallops ($21): gently golden-butter-browned on top instead of hard-seared, so the texture could be heavenly all the way through. The scallops were so good, it almost didn't matter that their bed of small white beans had an undercooked pastiness and the bits of smoked pork shank among them were tasteless—a strange mistake in the context of the otherwise highly attentive work being done here.
Everything at mkt. is meant to share, the solicitous (if occasionally a little slow) servers tell you—and almost everything's portioned to be easily shared four ways, obviating those awkward, insincere oh-no-YOU-have-it moments. Chicken-fried quail ($16) was one exception; the bird was split in two, but you'd want to have a full half of it anyway, because the combination of crispy breading and delicate, slightly gamey meat is pretty much unbeatable. It comes with an elevated version of picnic-style potato salad and a roasted plum sauce for barbecue-esque dipping (which is a great idea, though the quail's so good, you might not get around to dipping it).
If the idea of grilled lamb tongue ($13) is unhorrifying to you, you should absolutely order it. The flavor and texture both fall somewhere between long-braised lamb shank and dirty-rich organ meat; it's dark and delicious, and it especially benefits from the smokiness of the wood-fired grill. It came with firm, pretty baby beets, grilled bread, and a drift of fresh horseradish.
As with other Stowellian restaurants, vegetables are anything but an afterthought. A tagine ($12) was generously full of especially firm, tasty ones—the potatoes actually managed to be exciting—with medjool dates, all in a drinkable sauce. A dish of smoked chanterelle and hen-of-the-wood mushrooms ($12)—seasoned simply with thyme and sauced with the giant glowing yolk of a beautiful duck egg—was phenomenal. And that one pasta dish, right now anyway, is a roasted porcini and ricotta ravioli in a mushroom broth ($15). It is as good as any plate of pasta that any Ethan Stowell restaurant has ever put out, and that is saying something.
(It's worth noting that Stowell's next two restaurants, already in the works, will be different, too: Red Cow will be more French, with a specialty of steak frites, and Noyer will be, excitingly, a small-size redux of his original, haute, great Union. Both will be in the lovely former Crémant/June/Restaurant Bea space, in Madrona, which is also exciting.)
The name mkt., absurdly, is supposed to be pronounced "market," with the "m" and the "k" and the "t" standing for "Meridian, the traditional name for the neighborhood; the historic Keystone Building it's housed in; and Tangletown, as the area is now known," according to a press release. If the name feels overthought, that's all right; the food at mkt. feels like a labor of love.