Former Szmania owner and chef Ludger Szmania, in the kitchen with sauté pan in hand. Photo by Ronald Holden
Former Szmania owner and chef Ludger Szmania, in the kitchen with sauté pan in hand. Photo by Ronald Holden
There’s a new chef and a new owner at Szmania’s: Michael Rogozinski. He bought out restaurant founders Ludger and Julie Szmania earlier this year and took over the space on April 1.

When Szmania’s (3321 W. McGraw St.) opened in Magnolia Village in 1990, it was the only sophisticated, fine-dining establishment for miles around and was widely admired. Now the Village is an international smorgasbord, with a collection of more-than-decent Thai, Greek, Pan-Asian and Italian eateries.

Ludger and Julie are packing up for a new adventure: They’re moving to Wenatchee, where they’ll operate a six-room bed-and-breakfast resort called Warm Springs Inn & Winery.

Rogozinski and his wife, Carolyn, have signed a long-term lease for the property. They have the right to keep the Szmania’s name for a year and have retained much of the staff.

A few more notes from restaurants around town: Murray Stenson will headline the bar program at the upcoming The Elysian on Second, in the space vacated by Noc Noc, at 1516 Second Ave.

Pintxo (2207 Second Ave.) in Belltown is heading into spring with a new late-night menu.

Bar Sajor (323 Occidental Ave. S.) in Pioneer Square is now open for dinner.

Serious Pie is teaming up with Starbucks to open a new pizzeria on Capitol Hill; details to come.

Piecora’s, on the other hand, is closing; the owners have sold the building that houses the venerable pizzeria on 14th Avenue.

Belltown’s Frontier Room (2203 First Ave.) is closed.

The Mix Martini Lounge has taken over from Karma at 2318 Second Ave. in Belltown.

Mexcaleria Oaxaca has opened a new spot on Capitol Hill at 422 E. Pine St.

A bar called Russell’s has opened at 4111 Stone Way N.; it has nothing to do with the Russell’s in Bothell.

Dave Meinert has reopened The Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill at 922 E. Pike St.

And, finally, Corretto takes over from PaneVino at 416 Broadway E.

Playing ball in the kitchen

That smiling fellow watching the open kitchen high above third base at Safeco Field (1250 First Ave. S.) with a father’s pride — that’s John Sergi. Close by, wearing a Mariners cap, is Ethan Stowell, who’s got a dozen restaurants scattered around Seattle. Next to him, in spotless whites, executive chef David Dekker, who commands the far-flung kitchens of Safeco Field. Along with a platoon of sous chefs, they’re busy building crab rolls, frying oysters, dishing up smoked-salmon chowder and plating fish-and-chips.

Sergi is the chief design officer of Centerplate Stir. His job: “strategic hospitality design.” His challenge (he’d say “opportunity”) is to feed (he’d say “engage”) every one of the 54,097 sports fans who might attend one of the season’s 81 Mariners home games — not to mention the thousands more who attend private and corporate events.

This season brings Sound Seafood, a newly reclaimed space on the Terrace level above third base, featuring not just fish-and-chips and local draughts but genuine cask beers from local breweries (hyper-local, as in Georgetown and Fremont) with great character. Bonache in Ballard provides hot sauces for the wings, and Hot Cakes chocolatier Autumn Martin is on hand as well, with desserts like a chocolate salted caramel tart. Custom cocktails were designed by Anu Apte of Belltown’s Rob Roy.

Another honor

Call him Viceroy of VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) — VPN being the “official” pizza of Naples. Joe Fugere is a homegrown entrepreneur who launched the Tutta Bella pizza chain 10 years ago in Columbia City. Fugere had a pair of custom-made pizza ovens shipped from Naples, and when he opened, he was rewarded with the first VPN certification in the Northwest, “Attesta Numero 198.”

Stores in Wallingford, Issaquah and Westlake followed, and by late last year, Tutta Bella had opened its fifth store, this time in the Crossroads Shopping Mall in Bellevue. Last month, another ceremony: “Attesta Numero 496.”

One key question: Is there an official way to eat an authentic margherita pizza? Do you pick it up with your hands, or use a knife and fork? The “official” answer: If the pizza is served uncut, use utensils; if sliced, you’re allowed (but not required) to pick it up.

On the other hand, pizza is the street food of Naples, where it’s often picked up whole and folded over, not once but twice, in a style called al’ libretto, like a book.

Nothing against his legion of competitors, though Fugere is clearly on the side of thin crust. “In Naples, they say there are only two kinds of pizza: VPN and imitation VPN.”

Where are they now?

Among the restaurants counted as the nation’s “most popular” by Urbanspoon are five Seattle stalwarts.

Urbanspoon, you may recall, was actually invented in Seattle by a young programmer named Ethan Lowry. Like other online directories before and since, Urbanspoon had its ups and downs, but it was quick to develop a mobile app that searched nearby restaurants by price and cuisine. Urbanspoon began expanding across the country and was soon acquired by IAC Interactive.

The most recent numbers tell familiar stories but share one nagging question that a prospective diner might ask: “Remind me, exactly, where this place is?”

Leading the Seattle list is Ray’s Boathouse (6049 Seaview Ave. N.W.), the venerable temple to fresh salmon on the shores of Shilshole Bay. Chef Wayne Johnson recently left the building; there’s no verdict yet on the new guy, Paul Duncan.

Matt’s in the Market (94 Pike St.), with its iconic view of the Public Market Center sign, is an always-crowded favorite.

Capitol Hill’s Lark (926 12th Ave.) is much in the news, with a James Beard nomination for chef John Sundstrom and an International Association of Culinary Professionals award for his cookbook.

It’s no surprise that Canlis (2576 Aurora Ave. N.) is on the list; it’s been Seattle’s beacon of quality for three generations. Brothers Mark and Brian Canlis are smooth-as-silk hosts, and chef Jason Franey brings a touch of East Coast sophistication to his palate of Northwest ingredients.

Finally, Book Bindery (198 Nickerson St.), on the banks of the Ship Canal, is where the ministrations of chef Shaun McCrain make you forget you’re in the built-out end of a wine warehouse at the foot of the Fremont Bridge.

RONALD HOLDEN is a restaurant writer and consultant who blogs at and To comment on this column, write to