Ethan Stowell's Staple & Fancy Mercantile opened two years ago and is the place where you can most often find the empire-building chef on the line. This is a large part of the restaurant's appeal. Earlier this week, Eater interviewed Sennen David, the general manager for Staple & Fancy about your best chances for getting a table. David has been in the Stowell fold, since accepting the position of wine director at Union (now shuttered) and Tavolata five years ago.
Tell us a little bit about your current position.
Ethan sat me down and told me that he wanted to get back into the kitchen and that he wanted me to be both in on the planning and to run the front of the house. It sounded like a great concept and another opportunity to learn and thus I agreed. From there I have moved into the role of "opener," I consulted on the opening and wine list for Ballard Pizza Co. and will be moving soon to open and manage our new restaurant Rione XIII on Capitol Hill this August. My business card right now says "Wine Director" and I'm not sure if "Opener" is something that one would put on a business card. We have talked at length about my expanding role within the company and I have heard Ethan use the title "Food & Beverage Director" but I thought I would maybe ask for business cards that say "Shot Caller" on them.
It's 8pm on a Saturday. How long's the wait for a party with no reservations?
I can get you seat at the bar or on the patio without too much of a wait, but unfortunately the wait for a table in the dining room is about 2 hours.
Any recent celebrity sightings?
It has been fun to meet some of the Top Chef personalities.
Tell us about some of your favorite regulars?
There are quite a few couples who I am always happy to see. An older couple comes in around opening time quite often to share a salad and steak and they love to chat with every member of the floor staff inquiring as to how they've been and what they've been up to. The gentleman loves to bump fists which always makes me smile. I don't think anyone has told him about 'blowing it up' yet. There is another couple who have been coming in since the first week we opened and they have actually stopped in to eat a few times after having a disappointing experience elsewhere. My favorite quote has been 'It's my Birthday! We just ate at ______ and it was awful. Please help me!'. It's nice to know that someone has that much affection for you and your restaurant.
What are some of the challenges you face regularly?
We are a small restaurant and we offer a chef's menu which when eaten at a leisurely pace can take some time. We never want to hurry anyone and thus this combination results in our reservation book filling rather quickly. When people call to make a reservation and all I can offer them is 5 and 10PM they are not always understanding. The challenge of people that finish their meal and then sit at their table for an additional 2+ hours, that's a challenge that I'm still grappling with. As I said, we do not rush anyone but watching the next reservation wait an hour past their reservation time is hard. The current record is 5 hours and 15 minutes for total time at table (the check was paid around 2 hours and 55 minutes into this stretch). That's a challenge.
What are your personal favorite menu items/cocktails?
I love our pork cheeks. The chefs braise them for about 4 hours and the tenderness is incredible. I have always thought that our fried oysters are the best in the city and any crudo that the kitchen puts out is perfect for summer. The nice thing about a menu that is constantly changing is that I will likely have a new favorite by the time you read this. As for cocktails I enjoy our Caliana. It's a blend of gin, Aperol, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and orange bitters. An argument could be made for the combination of floral, citrus and bitterness but really I've always been a sucker for cocktails with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.
What about when you're not at work? Where do you like to eat and drink?
I have recently had a number of great meals at Revel. Their summer grill has never failed me. I also love Cafe Juanita however, as I live downtown, I am not always up for the drive. Right now though my most frequented spot is the new Green Leaf on 1st and Broad. I have always thought they serve some of the best Vietnamese food in the city and the new location has a great bar and serves food until 2AM. As anyone who works in a restaurant knows there is not always a great variety of offerings for late night food and thus a spot that serves great authentic food late is a godsend. I have probably eaten there four times a week since they opened.
So, what's your most importan gatekeeper tool?
That's easy, a smile. A smile and compassion goes a long way. Sometimes I have to give people bad news (like it's a two hour wait!) but I make sure that they know that I understand that it's bad news and that I'm on their side. They are my guests.