When Cantinetta opened in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood in 2009, it reinvigorated our American love for Italian cuisine — a cuisine “crush” that our culture has sustained throughout the last century. Cantinetta’s Bellevue offshoot brought handmade pasta and seasonally inspired dishes to Main Street before giving birth to another sibling, Mercato Stellina — one block west — in 2011. Known for its brick-oven pizzas with that perfect combination of crispy and chewy, Mercato Stellina specializes in traditional pies utilizing toppings like spicy salami, fresh mozzarella, and fresh herbs to “mercato” creations like white sauce with smoked salmon, sriracha, and capers. Or Gorgonzola, fresh pears, walnuts, speck, honeycomb, and sage.
Cantinetta co-founder Wade Moller and his former business partner opted to legally part ways last summer, with Moller electing to focus on the Mercato Stellina brand. He’s working with former Cantinetta executive chef Emran Chowdhury, and pasta maker Joe Obaya, along with the Chávez brand headed by Chef Gabriel Chávez.
The newest installment of restaurants — another Chávez and Mercato Stellina — just opened in December 2017 across the street from Pike Place Market’s north end. A tiny space, Chávez serves predominantly tacos and cocktails, with a few antojitos like langostino tamales and chile relleno.
Next-door street-side windows allow pedestrians to watch pasta maker Joe Obaya roll, shape, and cut pasta dough at Mercato Stellina. Tiny butternut squash-stuffed ravioli with elongated ribbons of pasta on either side resemble individually wrapped candies. An indentation in the pillowy part of the pasta is just big enough to hold a sphere or two of balsamic vinegar “caviar” that holds together until it encounters one’s teeth. Toothsome cavatelli with rabbit and chicken, mushrooms, and thyme hit all the right cold winter’s night notes — comfort food extraordinaire.
With the Seattle locations finally open, Moller says they are focusing attention back on the Bellevue Mercato, with plans to add what he calls “a sophisticated food counter” along the western windows, refinishing floors, and other minor improvements to elevate the space. Additionally, they plan to add beer and wine taps (look for Walla Walla-based Proletariat Wine by the glass or carafe) as well as some baked pastas to the menu.
Mercato Stellina is located at 10000 Main Street; 425.732.6611; open Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30-10 p.m.; mercatostellina.com