This week, Mike Easton changed the Seattle food landscape with an Instagram post. He kept the announcement of Il Corvo’s closure short, thanking the city for nine great years. Whenever we emerge from our current Covid-19 limbo, the crowded, convivial pasta shop that transplants European sensibilities into the heart of Pioneer Square won’t be coming with us.
Il Corvo has always been an expression of Easton’s personal priorities (weekday lunch service allowed for time with his family). So too is its closure. Easton lost his wife, Victoria Diaz Easton, on April 18, an untimely and unexpected death with no relation to coronavirus.
Easton’s suddenly a single father to a nearly teenage daughter, in a time of homeschooling, and grieving the woman who’s been his partner since their youthful days in New Mexico. She also ran Il Corvo’s day to day operations, ever since the Eastons opened their second restaurant, Il Nido, in West Seattle. “Victoria was a huge part of that place,” says Easton. “How do you move forward from that?”
Moving forward was his first instinct. Chief among the many surreal aspects of this moment was balancing grief with the need to think about the future of his restaurant. Easton had planned to reopen Il Corvo for delivery. Like every other restaurateur, he looks at our near-term future and sees half-empty dining rooms and a ton of takeout. After some contemplation in Eastern Washington last week, though, he realized a few things.
“For fresh pasta,” says Easton, “I really hate delivery.” He envisioned a minimal staff hustling to answer a flood of lunchtime orders from around the city. “So pasta will inevitably sit around until a driver comes and picks it up.” He envisioned the upcharges to cover delivery fees on his famously $9.95 bowls of lumache and bucatini. “Now I’m going to be charging nearly $20 to get delivered a cold, possibly mushy item that is in no way the thing we worked so hard over all these years to develop and produce.”
Il Corvo famously began life as a pop-up in the Procopio gelato shop on Pike Hill Climb before finding its permanent home in Pioneer Square. Along the way, Easton earned multiple James Beard nominations and a particularly passionate fan base. Food writers have a tendency toward bombast when talking about the lines at popular restaurants, but last time I ate there (while researching this story), I waited nearly two hours for lunch, in the company of others perfectly happy to put in the time. One passerby shouted out “It’s worth it” to encourage those of us still half a block away from the front door. He was right.
It was late August and a sunny saffron cream sauce coated my orecchiette, with kernels of supremely crunchy corn all flecked with Mama Lil’s peppers. In that single bowl, Easton (via longtime Il Corvo chef David Crutcher) pledged deep loyalty to Italian pasta principles, and conveyed the cool beauty of a Northwest summer. Did I mention it was less than 10 bucks?
That price was possible because of volume. In other words, crowds. A half-full Il Corvo seems unrealistic, both in economics and atmosphere. “Part of the allure was the crowdedness,” says Easton. Meanwhile, Il Nido will continue on as a market, and reopen its dining room whenever it makes sense.
The force of a worldwide, city-shuttering pandemic is enough to topple even a popular restaurant. For Easton, the decision intermingled layers of grief, loss, and an aversion to letting his food languish in a compostable box. Those are weird factors to consider together, but typical was never Il Corvo’s thing. From the start, its magic lay in a guy with an uncommon mechanical mind, channeling his perfectionist tendencies not into a tasting menu, but into something we could eat playing hooky from work. That felt like a gift.
If dining ever returns to what it used to be, says Easton, and Il Corvo could once again operate as it did, he would “absolutely” resurrect it. Otherwise, he says: “I would much rather have all of Seattle say, ‘oh man, remember the lunches we used to have at Il Corvo?’ Rather than have people in Seattle go, ‘remember when Il Corvo was good? I got to-go from it the other day and it just wasn’t the same.’”
This was updated on May 8 with additional details from Mike Easton.