What defines a romantic restaurant?
Candlelight and tablecloths? Cheesy. Soft music? Yawn. Nowadays, it’s more about telling a story; using intimate spaces, thought-provoking art and, of course, delicious, memorable food to create a meaningful mood.
Ernest Loves Agnes, the 49-seat Italian restaurant (formerly Kingfish Cafe) on North Capitol Hill, achieves this beautifully. The name refers to the love affair between Ernest Hemingway and Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, who met in 1918 when Hemingway was injured on the Italian front. The intention behind the split dining room is to keep the left side family friendly and the right, bar friendly (with some seating for minors). But I wonder, as others probably have, if the intention is also to represent Agnes (lots of plants; languid, feminine photographs; open kitchen) and Ernest (massive dark wooden bar, copper-topped tables, photos from his home in Cuba). That’s romantic.
The deliberately un-Italian decor allows executive chef Mac Jarvis’ (formerly of Smith, Lola) food to shine, specifically, hefty meatballs ($12), handmade pastas ($14–$17) and chewy, deck-oven pizzas ($13–$17). Jarvis’ handmade tagliatelle ($17) with slow-braised, shoulder-cut Anderson Ranch lamb, is scrumptious and heady with the aroma of sage. I appreciated Northwest touches, such as the squid ink raviolini ($17) stuffed with spiced lobster mushrooms and pecorino fresco, although the pequín peppers in the mushroom mixture overpowered the semisoft cheese. By contrast, a simple, refreshing saffron Greek yogurt perfectly balanced fiery, harissa-glazed rainbow carrots ($8)—a popular combination at Matt Dillon’s and Renee Erickson’s restaurants as well. Licked that one clean.
Until now, co-owners Jason Lajeunesse and Joey Burgess have been synonymous with casual eats and watering holes along Pike/Pine: Lost Lake Cafe & Lounge, The Comet Tavern, Grim’s Provisions & Spirits. For their first foray into fine dining, I think they’ve done a truly lovely job and look forward to seeing what else they can do. Capitol Hill, 602 19th Ave. E; 206.535.8723; ernestlovesagnes.com