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In Takeout-Heavy Environment, Acclaimed Chef Is ‘Doubling Down on Fine Dining’

Mike Easton will reopen Il Nido with a pricier, multi-course menu and dine-in service later this month

Closeup of bucatini with cacio e pepe and cauliflower at Il Nido in a white bowl.
Bucatini with cacio e pepe at Il Nido
Il Nido/Instagram

One celebrated Seattle chef is attempting to return to dine-in this month, but a bit fancier than before. Mike Easton recently told Seattle Met that he’s “doubling down on fine dining” when he reopens his West Seattle restaurant Il Nido for sit-down service after briefly experimenting with being a retail market.

The Italian destination made its debut last year to great acclaim at the more-than-century old Alki Homestead, serving a variety of items a la carte at mid-range prices, such as Easton’s famed pastas and a grilled ribeye that might have been 2019’s best dish. Reservations were booked out months in advance. But like all restaurants in the area, it closed its dining room this spring, opening only in a limited capacity for retail sales and heat-at-home items, selling dry pasta, sauces, and bottles of wine.

Now that Seattle is currently in phase two of the state’s reopening plan, allowing for 50 percent seating capacity inside (as long as each table has members from the same household), Il Nido will offer a multi-course price fixe menu, which will start at around $95 per person. The targeted reopening date is September 22.

Easton said the higher cost is necessary since there will be fewer customers, but the same number of staff as before. There will also be a series of health protocols in place, including temperature checks, curtains separating tables, and no crowded lobby (diners will need to wait outside on the sidewalk or in their car before their reservation is called at the host station). In somewhat of a surprise move, Il Nido won’t offer patio seating at all — Easton said weather concerns in the fall and mandatory reservations made things too complicated. Details are light on the new dishes, but the multi-course menu will include drink pairings and add-ons.

Closed to dine-in customers and limited to pantry items and heat-at-home meals up until now, Easton has taken a largely different route than other fine-dining chefs and owners around town. The iconic Canlis has gone through a series of different iterations since the spring (including a burger drive-thru, CSA box delivery, and an outdoor crab pop-up), with no signs of returning to dine-in, while chef Holly Smith of Kirkland’s Cafe Juanita has said she won’t open her dining room until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19. High-end Bellevue steakhouse John Howie, meanwhile, has recently created a curated delivery service. And of course expanded outdoor patios are all the rage.

Still, despite the “doubling down” statement, Easton is hedging his bets a bit. Though there won’t be outdoor seating, the restaurant will install a pizza oven outside, just in case Seattle needs to reinstitute restrictions on dining rooms. If that were to happen, Il Nido would instantly become a pizza pop-up, something that would be yet another new experience for the pasta pro.

The shift to fine dining comes during a tumultuous year for Easton, one marked by personal tragedy. Earlier this spring, his wife and business partner passed away unexpectedly (for causes unrelated to COVID-19), and he subsequently permanently closed his popular Pioneer Square lunch spot Il Corvo. Il Nido is now his only restaurant, and Easton says that after a summer spent focused on his family, he’s ready for it to return.