If you keep up with Seattle restaurants, Stoneburner is going to give you déjà vu. It is the latest concept from the restaurant-concepters (and, presumably, rakers-in-of-money) James Weimann and Deming Maclise, who've been concepting since 2009, with Bastille (French), Poquitos (Mexican), Macleod's Scottish Pub (aye), and Von Trapp's (giant Germanic beer hall with indoor bocce named after the family from The Sound of Music).
Weimann and Maclise are known for outfitting their restaurants' interiors with stuff pillaged, er, reclaimed, from around the world. Sometimes the details get lost in translation. According to press materials, Stoneburner's got "warm wood from the decommissioned Italian Embassy in Buenos Aires," but a server said it was the impressive mirrors in another room that came from that embassy. The handsome barrel-style vaulted wooden ceiling in one area was previously flooring from an Amish school in Pennsylvania, another server said; in reality, it's fir salvaged from an unspecified building on Ballard Avenue, while the school gave up its pressed-tin ceiling for the bar. In any case, Stoneburner feels a good deal like Bastille—the same reproduction-Euro-bistro allure, with soaring riveted metal archways, lovely marble, and pretty tile. If, with Bastille just one block down the street, it feels like meta-reproduction, it is all high-quality and looks great, especially the timely Gatsby-style glam lighting flourishes in the bar.
Stoneburner's menu is familiar, too, but not from the Weimann/Maclise empire. Namesake executive chef Jason Stoneburner—who also remains the executive chef of Bastille—used to work for Ethan Stowell, first at Union and then at How to Cook a Wolf, and the Stoneburner menu is, in the context of Seattle, unmistakably Stowellian. It's rustic Italian with seasonal Northwest ingredients, with a familiar list of snacks, simple vegetables/salads, housemade pasta, Neapolitan-style pizza, and a few large plates with hunks of protein, including a shareable extra-big one. A twin of Stowell's puffy zeppole was also on the dessert menu recently. Of course, Stowell cannot claim this ages-old approach to Italian food—which he has replicated at his own half-dozen local restaurants, including Staple & Fancy, just down Ballard Avenue—any more than Bastille can claim its classic Parisian look. It's just that the mash-up of the two, however pleasant, feels far from inventive.
Stoneburner is very pleasant. Right now, the huge windows on tranquil, leafy Ballard Avenue are rolled away to let the glorious Seattle summer in. (If you got a sunburn sitting inside Stoneburner early on: They now have awnings.) The seating is comfortable (though the booths under the central barreled ceiling of uncertain provenance can get very, very loud). Multiple tables one evening were laughing giddily at things their servers said. Stoneburner's open kitchen—with Stoneburner himself for now omnipresent—looks calm, spacious, and old-fashionedy stylish, with its tile walls, opaque glass panels, and vintage fan. It also has the currently upscale-Seattle-restaurant compulsory stone-hearth fireplace (though it's gas, rather than the more au courant and time-consuming wood). And the food is good—not great, but good.
Almost everybody seemed to order the deep-fried Castelvetrano olives ($6). The preparation brings out their meatiness, and they aren't too greasy, though fans might miss the freshness, firmness, and gimlet green that makes them a favorite in the first place. Soft-boiled eggs topped with mayonnaise-rich tuna tonnato and tiny bits of bright-red pickled Fresno peppers ($5) were the even better surf version of the deviled egg. Two dishes had a lot of olive oil, like Roman orgiastic amounts of olive oil (which, actually, has been known to happen at Ethan Stowell's places, too): A grass-fed beef crudo ($13) lost flavor under the onslaught, while roasted beets with peppery purslane, assertive sweet onion, and lots of oregano ($8) stood up to it and then some. Another night, heirloom tomatoes with spicy arugula and sweet-and-sour bits of pickled watermelon ($9) was perfectly, appropriately underdressed, letting the tomatoes be.
Seafoodwise, a nice piece of tuna ($25; they'd run out of the menu's promised halibut, sadly) was plated with highly pureed artichoke that tasted bitter, almost metallic, along with wincingly vinegary marinated tomatoes. In a grilled octopus salad with cucumbers, olives, and mint ($16), the octopus seemed to have barely touched the grill, lacking any char and still gelatinous in parts; less stalwart seafood-eaters might have been grossed out.
It was so loud under the vaulted ceiling one night, our server misheard "cavatelli" as "spaccatelli," a more than acceptable accident considering the spicy-goodness of the latter with its capers, anchovy, chili, bits of broccoli, and Parmesan ($14). Another pasta dish, bedsheet ravioli ($14), was a wonderful, eggy cloud, so light that without its creamy cauliflower filling and fragments of caramelized cauliflower on top, it might have floated away. The pizza I tried, with sopressata and mozzarella ($14), didn't have the blackened bubbles of the best of them, but the salt content was right in both the crust and the herby sauce, and the sauce and the mozzarella tasted fresh, and it was all quite tasty.
Wine storage at Stoneburner is used to decorative advantage, with a wall of bottles creating a sense of plenty. Why wouldn't you have another glass? There's so much! It's canny and it's pretty, like Stoneburner itself. You'd never guess that the whole building was new, with this classic-looking and -tasting restaurant reproducing already proven results.