Marlin Hathaway
Owner, the Asteroid Cafe, 1605 N 45th (Wallingford), 547-2514.

Marlin has owned and operated the Asteroid for just under five years, motivated by an endless passion for quality pasta and seasonal Italian cuisine. His wine knowledge is phenomenal, and his table service reflects this. Pay him a visit and allow yourself plenty of time to luxuriate in your meal--this is the polar opposite of fast food.

Have you waited tables since the Asteroid's been open? "Yeah, I've waited tables, cooked, and hosted. I wait tables as much as possible."

Your menu is awfully long--I was surprised. "Actually, we just pared it down at the beginning of August. We had a big slowdown in business around June...."

Yeah, a lot of restaurants did. "The same folks who used to come in and buy $150 bottles of wine were buying $40 bottles--and no new people were coming in. So I figured it was time to change things up. [My chef] Chris and I had always talked about eventually moving to a fixed-price dinner menu--just doing fresh sheets and keeping things as organic as possible, keeping the ingredients very local but still putting a lot of energy into quality Italian recipes. But to get to that point, we have to go gradually. I don't want to alienate our regulars. So we're transitioning slowly with a more simple menu. We've reduced our pastas so we can increase our rotating specials."

So what drew you to Italian food, and what keeps you coming back to it? "It's inherent respect for and connection to local resources--which I think is really important, and really lacking in our society. Also, a respect for the process of slow meals and the use of natural, sustainable ingredients--Italians have been doing a good job of that for thousands of years. And the food is damn good!"

Amen. It's like putting on a Rolling Stones record. Garlic, tomatoes, and basil will always taste good. "I could eat [garlic, tomatoes, and basil] every day of the week and not get bored. You can't go wrong with those ingredients. Also, the incredible reflectivity of the wine--how it mirrors the food. Wines coming from specific Italian regions consistently reflect the food from those regions. It's just hand-in-glove--the pairing is really easy."

You only have 28 seats in the place. How does that degree of physical intimacy affect people? "You have to be willing to be social in that environment. I think West Coast Americans could really learn to loosen up and accept others in their space."

I completely agree. I hate that we rush through food and we're so resistant to communal eating. "That's one of the reasons we encourage family-style dining. It's not about eating food and getting out; it's about shared time and conversation with your family or friends."

Interview by Hannah Levin