Tavolàta's centerpiece namesake — a long communal table — has yet to grace its airy, bright dining room.
In the meantime, staff at the eatery opened during hopefully the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic are eager to welcome diners to enjoy its Italian-inspired food and drink, for now at tables spaced six feet apart.
Tavolàta, a Seattle-based eatery owned and operated by the sizable Ethan Stowell Restaurants group, quietly opened in early May in a prime spot directly across from Riverfront Park, one that last housed an Olive Garden.
While breadsticks aren't free and unlimited at Tavolàta, the quality of ingredients and attention to detail — all pasta is made fresh in house daily — are leagues above chain quality when it comes to Italian-inspired eats with a Northwest flair.
"We're definitely more of a progressive, lighter Italian food spot," says chef and owner Ethan Stowell, who's been traveling back and forth from Seattle to Spokane to oversee the opening.
"So, for example, you know how classic Italian sauce, they cook it down for hours? We don't do that," he continues. "We have a fresh sauce, where basically we take all those ingredients in grandma's tomato sauce she cooks for 25 hours, and we use it like a stock and cook things with that. It looks the same but doesn't have that heavy feeling."
For diners who've eaten at any of Stowell's three Seattle-area branches of Tavolàta, the Spokane menu will be familiar, and is nearly identical. One signature dish is the bestselling rigatoni ($24) with spicy sausage and topped with fresh Parmesan. Other pasta on Tavolàta menu, each dish with different sauces, proteins and seasonings, are spaghetti, linguine, pappardelle, paccheri, ravioli, pici and two versions of gnocchi (semolina and potato).
Starters range from salads and bruschetta ($16) to burrata ($16) and fried oysters ($15). Tavolàta's menu is designed to encourage family-style eating with generous portions. Three hearty, non-pasta entrees are a double-cut pork chop ($32), skirt steak ($26) and halibut ($32).
Happy hour, daily from 4 to 6 pm, offers the best deals of the day, with pasta dishes for $12 each, about half off dinner menu prices. A selection of house cocktails are $8-$9 each, with $6 glasses of house wine and $5 draft beer pints.
Happy hour is served in Tavolàta's spacious lounge and on a sidewalk patio, which will eventually be covered for year-round use.
"We have a few key things to Tavolàta," Stowell says. "We want to have a cool, good bar with the best happy hour in town. We are consistently rated the best happy hour in Seattle, and we want that. It gets people there early and gets the party — the vibe of a restaurant — going early on.
"The other thing is that we're great for groups and sharing," he continues. "You come here, and the portions are a decent size, and it never breaks the bank. We want people to feel like it's a great value for handcrafted food."
Ethan Stowell Restaurants has exponentially expanded since Tavolàta first opened in 2007 in Seattle's Belltown. In addition to now four locations of Tavolàta, the restaurant group's roster includes How to Cook a Wolf, Staple & Fancy Mercantile, Ballard Pizza Co., Rione XIII, Mkt., Red Cow, Frelard Pizza Co., Cortina, Cortina Cafe, The San Juan Seltzery and Goldfinch Tavern. Outside the Northwest, it also operates Wolf inside the Nordstrom flagship store in New York City.
Stowell and his restaurants have received numerous accolades from the beginning, including multiple James Beard nominations. The self-taught chef honed his craft on the job.
"I started my first day cooking in 1995 and started off like everyone, as a prep cook, and worked my way up and kept on working and opened my first restaurant, Union, in Seattle in 2003," Stowell says.
"We opened up Tavolàta and How to Cook a Wolf in 2007, and we just kept opening restaurants," he continues. "We started getting some notoriety and realized we were good at opening restaurants and running them, so I started on a journey of being a chef-restaurateur."
Stowell says he and his team had long looked at expanding beyond Seattle, and also considered Portland and Boise.
"Tavolàta has always been a really busy place for us. It's approachable, and people have fun when they come here, so we really wanted to bring it somewhere else," he says.
Spokane was the winner when Stowell discovered the space Tavolàta now calls home, in the historic Old City Hall building on Spokane Falls Boulevard. The Olive Garden closed in 2015, and the space was completely gutted and remodeled.
To run the restaurant, Stowell tapped two employees who've been with his company for about five years, general manager Tania Siff and her husband, chef Scott Siff, who was last running Wolf in NYC.
The couple moved here sight unseen, and are loving the Lilac City so far.
"We want to show Spokane what we do, and provide good service and food to the community," Tania Siff says. ♦
Tavolàta • 221 N. Wall St. • Open Sun-Thu 4-9 pm; Fri-Sat 4-10 pm • ethanstowellrestaurants.com • 509-606-5600