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A Tribute to Roman Food Inside Amazon’s Spheres

Chef Renee Erickson has opened one of the most anticipated restaurants of the year in Seattle.

amazon spheres seattle Photo: courtesy Aaron Leitz

Seattle’s history can be largely divided into eras defined by the massive companies that have variously led the city’s economy. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when it was a way station for gold prospectors en route to the Klondike, a Swedish immigrant, John W. Nordstrom was there to supply them. As the region’s timber industry grew, Weyerhauser became an important player in the region. During and after WWII, Boeing drove the region’s economy. By the time the century drew to an end, Microsoft had become the region’s dominant company, until being displaced this decade by Amazon.

During those latter economic eras, the dining scene came to be defined by certain restaurateurs. Victor Rosellini (with the help of my grandfather, chef Chester Smith) served continental cuisine to the city’s elite during Boeing’s midcentury heyday. Tom Douglas, led by Dahlia Lounge and Palace Kitchen, ascended in concert with Microsoft, by creating seasonal fare tinged with global influences. Now, the Emerald City’s leading restaurateur and company will join forces, kind of. Today Renee Erickson opens Willmott’s Ghost inside Amazon’s downtown Seattle geodesic domes called the Spheres.

Erickson began her Sea Creatures restaurant group with Jeremy Price, and Chad Dale by opening acclaimed seafood restaurant the Walrus and the Carpenter in 2010. They’ve since grown their empire by adding the Whale Wins, the outstanding steakhouse Bateau, French Atlantic-inspired Bar Melusine, doughnut shop General Porpoise, and more.

Amazon has transformed Seattle with a $4 billion campus stretching from South Lake Union to downtown, and the centerpiece is the three domes that opened earlier this year. The Spheres are largely a private botanical garden for the company’s employees, but there are also public-facing businesses opening inside, including Erickson’s new spot, named in honor of the flowering plant that botanist Ellen Wilmott used to plant widely.

Like restaurants she’s opened before, the food at Willmott’s Ghost has an autobiographical bent. “Willmott’s draws inspiration from the country where I ­first fell in love with food,” says Erickson, who studied in Rome in college. Like Danny Meyer and Joe Tarasco’s Vini e Fritti in New York, the restaurant will be a celebration of Roman aperitivo culture featuring spritzes, fried bites, and cured meats. Willmott will also serve pizza al taglio, rectangular pizza served by the slice.

The restaurant will be open all day during the week starting at 8 AM, will serve dinner on Saturdays, and is closed Sundays.

willmott's ghoset

Inside Renee Erickson’s new Roman-inspired restaurant.  Photo: courtesy Aaron Leitz

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