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Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Taste of the Town

New venture for Union owner; Queen Anne welcomes Gorditos

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Rumors that Ethan Stowell, owner of Union (1400 First Ave., Seattle, 206-838-8000; www.unionseattle.com), has been planning another restaurant venture have been swirling for a year. After keeping mum on the subject, he recently copped to the concept (casual, rustic Italian) but refused to say where he hoped to open ("No, not in Pioneer Square") or with whom ("because he's still working for somebody else").

Now, with the lease signed and the business partner having given notice, Stowell's finally dishing the details.

Tavolata, a name that translates as "to gather around the table," will reside in a Belltown storefront that — if you play restaurant geography — sits midway between Wasabi Bistro and Marjorie. The space at 2323 Second Ave. is set to be transformed into an 80-seat restaurant and bar with an open kitchen, serving food nightly till 1 a.m. The expected opening date: September.

Stowell and business partner Patric Gabre-Kidan, longtime head of the pastry program at Tom Douglas Restaurants and the man-in-charge of the sweets at the Dahlia Bakery, hope to give Seattle something it's never seen before. They'll do so, in part, by grinding their own wheat for housemade extruded pastas and trying their best to outfit the bar with as many Italian spirits as possible.

"Pat and I have the same outlook," says Stowell, who worked with Gabre-Kidan at the Painted Table in the Alexis Hotel during the Tim Kelley era. "We both want to create a small-restaurant group," he says, hinting at ventures yet to come. "If I'm going to make this thing grow, I can't do it alone. Pat is one of the few people out there who can make me change my stubborn ways. He's one of those über-intelligent guys, and he'll be helping me at Union as well, taking care of the books, the financing and budgeting."

With his partner taking on more of the administrative duties, Stowell can concentrate on the kitchen at both restaurants, regularly commuting between them. Each will have a chef de cuisine, says Stowell, whose right-hand man at Union, Jason Stoneburner, will take on that title there.

Stowell, who turns 32 next week, has gained a well-deserved reputation locally and nationally as a young comer with an expressive way with extraordinary ingredients. When asked about his other well-deserved reputation — his youthful cockiness — he laughs before replying, "I'm too tired to be cocky now."

More Mondo Mexican

It's been nearly a dozen years since Marlene Hall and Gabriel Ramirez opened the doors to Greenwood's favorite Mexican restaurant, Gorditos (213 N. 85th St., Seattle 206-706-9352). And folks have been lining up to place orders — and watch the cooks in action at the grill — ever since. Last week marked the long-anticipated debut of the Greenwood Gorditos' Queen Anne sibling (1507 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle; 206-282-2792).

I can't wait to get in there for a couple of ceviche tostadas and a side of guacamole. Though I'm as apt to go the heavy-duty route and wrap my hands around Gorditos' gargantuan Burrito Grande (steak, please, and make mine "wet"!). With seating for 90, there's plenty of room for you, too, here atop Queen Anne Hill. So come check it out. They're open from 10:30 a.m. till midnight Wednesdays-Mondays (closed Tuesdays).

It's a Smash!

Smash Wine Bar & Bistro (1401 N. 45th St., Seattle, 206-547-3232), created in the space formerly occupied by Treasure Thai, opened early this month in the commercial heart of Wallingford. Co-owners Dana Hannon and Jeffrey Dorgan (a 19-year veteran of the Space Needle restaurant) will be familiar faces to those who frequent Kerry Sear's Cascadia Restaurant where she tended bar, he was sommelier and they met their "Smash"-ing chef Kristen Ratcliffe.

At Smash, you might pair wines with one (or more!) of a dozen cheeses or indulge in Ratcliffe's small-plates menu, meant to complement more than 30 wines available by the glass. Those who can't decide what to drink — or prefer to compare and contrast specific varietals or a range of regional pours — may choose from eight proffered wine flights (a trio of "tastes"). Those who'd rather drink the hard stuff can focus their attention on a special martini menu. Me? I'm looking forward to trying something crisp, light and white and such signature dishes as Yukon Gold "Tater Tots" with lemon-chive crème fraîche. Open 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

Eat, drink and be charitable

When it comes to picking a fight, our restaurant community is happy to do so, and they hope you will join them. On Thursday more than 150 Seattle-area restaurants will participate in the nationwide event, Dining Out For Life, helping fight AIDS by donating at least 30 percent of their proceeds to Lifelong AIDS Alliance.

The list of participating restaurants (see www.dineoutforlife.org or call 206-323-DINE) encompasses everything from pizza parlors to neighborhood bistros, sandwich shops to some of the city's finest dining venues. Eat, drink and make merry, knowing your dining dollars assist a local organization whose services and support go a long way toward making life easier for those living with HIV/AIDS.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or taste@seattletimes.com

See more columns at seattletimes.com/nancyleson

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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