how to cook a wolf
ethan stowell himself greets you from his side of the counter when you push open the front door of how to cook a wolf. the dining room forms an “l” around the bar and there are about as many bar seats as tables (seven if my count was correct). an arched wooden ceiling, reminiscent of jewel bako in nyc, creates a coziness at the tables which line the long leg of the “l”. a windowed garage door dominates the front wall and it’s impossible not to imagine how glorious the place will be on a breezy august evening. a thin half-moon bar the length of the garage door extends into a sidewalk, a perfect place to lean while you alternate between a handful of fried almonds and a sip of rosé.
it’s hard not to think of tavolata as you peruse the menu, least of all because it’s made of the same simple, easily updated piece of cream colored, folded in half paper. handmade pasta, chickpeas, beets, and cheese all have their moments, and in general, are un-obscured by rich sauces, complex preparations, or too many other ingredients.
take the mussel soup. each ingredient’s purpose was specific and had a distinct presence. lemon for tartness, butter for richness, parsley for flavor, fregola for heartiness, leeks for texture, but all, ultimately, meant to flatter the mussels. it was the plump, out-of-shell, meaty-not-chewy, sweet-not-fishy, generously added mussels that made this the dish that most makes me wish i lived on queen anne.
the duck (called a salad) is a hefty portion of mid-rare meat, lovely and steak-like, atop beets and mandarin oranges. perhaps inspired by duck á l’orange, it’s a far cleaner and more straightforward version with a necessary bit of tartness in the vinaigrette.
the scallops were seared and meaty, sweet, with crisp and brown edges. the controne beans were firm and difficult to get onto you fork; a nice textural contrast to the meat, giving sustenance to the dish (i always feel like scallops just melt away on me). bacon and shallots are smoky and sweet and give the perfect extra dimension.
by offering three times the appetizers as pasta dishes, the menu encourages multiple-small-plates style dining. and, because it’s impossible to stay away from the generously poured, bright green, floral and olive-y, herbal and vegetal (in the best possible way), olive oil, and thus bread, making a full meal out of small plates isn’t challenging.
if you make it to the pasta side of the menu, however, the agnolotti will make you happy you did. the easy form of ravioli (you may have seen green one’s made by the italian chef on top chef), the name agnolotti comes from their appearance (it means “little pillow”, not “breast”). filled with a buttery, satisfying cauliflower puree, and drizzled with a sweet/tart aged balsamic, i couldn’t help but close my eyes with each bite, as to not miss a bit of the flavor.
i’ll admit i was somewhat disappointed to see only gelato and sorbet offered as dessert. my dining partners and i collectively decided we were full enough, only to learn that our restaurant connections had gotten us a complimentary cheese plate. though i hadn’t realized it, this was exactly what i’d wanted to finish my meal with.
i’m not sure whether the extremely generous portions were standard or just part of the gift, but they were extremely generous. the pecorino ginepro and roncal were firm and lovely, while the la tur, a mix of cow, sheep, and goats milk from piedmont, was so oozy and pungent that it deserved it’s own little dish. eaten with a bit of the crab apple mostarda with accompanied and i was in creamy, nutty, fruity, lucious heaven.
there’s something about how to cook a wolf, in its atmosphere, in its food, that makes you feel like you’re in a well-loved place. indeed, ethan’s happy presence at the door only confirms this. i have to wonder if he simply needed union and tavolata to build up a following, or give him some practice and a steady income, or perhaps it just took him two practice restaurants to understand what he’d really been longing for. i could understand if how to cook a wolf was what it was.