Field Notes

With Bar Bacetto, Mike Easton Recreates Il Corvo in Waitsburg

Some of the best, long lost pasta in Seattle is now just a four-hour drive away.

By Allecia Vermillion Photography by Amber Fouts January 30, 2023

Seasonal pasta, impeccable chicory salads, great dessert. It's all so familiar...

Image: Amber Fouts

Waitsburg—population 1,200—has a three-block downtown with old brick buildings and lampposts hung with banners and flower baskets. Behind this low skyline, the town turns abruptly into hills and clouds and that golden vastness particular to Eastern Washington. Come evening you see a small cluster of people outside Bar Bacetto, hoping for one of its 12 seats.

It’s nothing compared to the lines Mike Easton generated in Seattle. Back at his first restaurant, Il Corvo, devotees stood for an hour, even 90 minutes on steep Pioneer Square sidewalks, all for a bowl of lunchtime pasta. But the sight of this queue, in a town 20 miles north of Walla Walla, brings back memories. So does the food inside.

The blackboard menu lists just three pastas, $18 to $22 apiece. Each noodle shape’s name is chalked in all caps, next to three antipasti: focaccia, cured meat, a perfect chicory salad. The only difference from the long-gone menu in Pioneer Square (besides portion size and prices) is a few desserts listed at the bottom. One bite of twisty, ridged torchietti in a rough-chop agrodolce and long-lost impressions flood back into your brain. It’s the gustatory equivalent of listening to that schmaltzy Maroon 5 “Memories” earworm and looking at your ex’s Instagram after one too many glasses of wine. Except, the object of your desire is now alive and well and waiting for you on the other side of a mountain range.

So much is different at Easton’s new place—the bar seating, the cocktails, the fact that this meal happens at nighttime. But this reincarnation of Il Corvo, 264 miles to the east, is filled with sense memories of one of the best restaurants Seattle ever lost.

Erin Easton refers to her husband, Mike, as "chef" in front of guests. But, like, in a sassy way.

Image: Amber Fouts

Mike Easton rates high on my list of chefs who should write a memoir. He’s got the sort of fierce intellect that doesn’t brook with authority figures. After dropping out of high school, he played in bands and tinkered with engines in an Albuquerque suburb. In between touring gigs, the occasional kitchen job helped raise cash for scooter parts and amplifier purchases. He became a recording engineer who cooked to blow off steam. Then he became a restaurant owner. Then a sterling evangelist for Tuscan food, and the Italian mindset around fresh pasta.

Il Corvo began as a popup in a gelato shop, back when the concept of popups was novel. By the time the pandemic struck, it occupied a small Pioneer Square storefront, a lunch counter that loomed as large in the city’s canon of meaningful restaurants as any tasting menu or tablecloth spot. Il Corvo never reopened. Easton’s first wife, Victoria, passed away unexpectedly in April 2020; he was suddenly a single father, a homeschool teacher, and a guy who felt strongly that delicate, handmade pasta had no business on a delivery app.

Don't call her a mixologist. Erin Easton is a committed and congenial bartender for Bacetto's small list of cocktails (and large supply of amaro).

Image: Amber Fouts

Plenty of Seattle diners consider Il Corvo Seattle’s greatest restaurant casualty in a year that was filled with them. This past May, Easton sold his second restaurant, Il Nido, to its chef and manager, and headed to the other side of Washington to re-make his life. He took over the former home of cocktail landmark Jimgermanbar. This summer he also married Erin Carr, who shares his irreverent humor and obsession with food. Now Erin Easton, she runs Bar Bacetto’s front of house, making cocktails and cheekily addressing Mike as “chef” in the company of diners. The Eastons and teenage daughter Pilar live upstairs.

Mike Easton's focaccia is on hand to start a meal, or to sop up leftover sauce once the pasta's done.

Image: Amber Fouts

The similarity to his original restaurant is the whole point, says Easton. “I wanted it to feel like Il Corvo, but with a bar.” Back then, the menu changed daily; at Bacetto it’s more like once a week. Easton’s still a brilliant matchmaker of pasta shapes and produce, still good at making three pasta dishes feel like a complete menu. There’s always a restrained overachiever, like bucatini in a tomato-vodka cream sauce. Notes of juniper berry and clove come through in a lamb sugo that clings to tube-shaped paccheri, a sturdy blanket against the chill outside. A spray of fioretto, or sprouted cauliflower seed, looks like tiny baby’s breath blossoms, sitting in a glass tumbler on the bar. It’s both decor and the main ingredient in that rustic agrodolce, a sweet-sour sauce that doesn’t hold back on vinegar. All the pasta was cooked perfectly, though that information feels about as useful as noting that Brandi Carlile sings on-key.

Being close to farms means Easton can push his seasonal ethos even further. Recently he drove half an hour to Hayshaker Farm, unannounced, in search of red dandelion greens. Owner Chandler Briggs handed the chef a bin and a knife and pointed him toward the field. A neighbor’s son raised a pig who was slightly underweight for the state fair. When it reached full weight, he offered it to Easton. “I drive five minutes and pick up a whole pig that belongs to the son of the city planner,” he says. “You can’t do that in Seattle.”

Bar Bacetto may be the pasta version of Proust’s madeleines (the actual desserts are great, especially the pizzelle recipe honed by Pilar), summoning memories of less-complicated, more carb-filled times. But the challenges of Il Corvo—or, really, of its mighty reputation—followed Easton over the mountains as well. “We had this dreamy idea of having a sleepy little pasta place.” Fat chance. For the first month, Erin managed crowds with a sign-in sheet. One party drove four hours from Portland; Bacetto’s three-hour wait meant they turned around and went home without pasta.

“I was trying to not have a real restaurant,” says Easton. Which is exactly what he tried to do when he started making pasta, only on weekday afternoons, in a gelato shop in 2011. But turning people away from Bacetto, or making them wait for hours, rankled his sense of hospitality. Especially when diners don’t have 50 other backup options nearby. (Bacetto’s crowd control woes are a boon for American 35, the friendly pizza bar across the street.) Now, the Eastons take a few nightly reservations—old-school, via phone.


How often does a restaurant this beloved reincarnate after more than two years? One winter night, Erin fixed me a gin, cider, and tonic cocktail in an enormous goblet. The trio next to me at the bar ordered all three pasta bowls and swapped them around on the countertop as if they were playing a shell game. The sound system played nothing but bangers you haven’t heard since they were on your Discman. Easton holds court in the open kitchen, talking shit, talking pasta, and pausing for the occasional hug. The four counter seats facing the kitchen are the best in the house.

The kitchen range's massive hood has "suffer no fools" lettered on the side that guests can see. On the side visible to Easton, it says, "suffer fools gladly." Yes, that was a custom request.

Image: Amber Fouts

Bar Bacetto channels Il Corvo, but not the elbow-brushing hustle of the space in Pioneer Square. This feeling goes back farther, to its popup days serving maccheroni and raviolini, before the national dining lists and James Beard nominations started coming. Back then it was just about the pasta. Realistic or not, that’s all Bar Bacetto wants to be.

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