Chef Celinda Norton and her son, Nic, have closed Café Parco. File photo by Ronald Holden
Chef Celinda Norton and her son, Nic, have closed Café Parco. File photo by Ronald Holden
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First, the sad news: Celinda Norton has given up on Café Parco (1807 42nd Ave. E.), after three years in Madison Park. It’s not that Norton didn’t try: She cooked every meal herself, seven days a week. Her son, Nic, was the restaurant’s host and sommelier, and the clientele was loyal, just not sufficiently numerous — Madison Park being notorious for its “part-timer” population.

Norton got her start selling real estate in Cowlitz County, in southwest Washington. She’d worked as a busser at a Holiday Inn when she was 16, and one day, she bought a little restaurant.

Then she opened a sandwich shop in a medical plaza. When she outgrew that, she bought another, tore it down and made it into dinner house called the Rusty Duck.

“It did well, but I was bored,” she told me, “so I bought another building and turned it into Cibo con Amici.” It was a 12,000-square-foot, mid-market Italian restaurant, with live bands and Longview’s biggest bar.

Then she opened a wine shop, Pig Feathers.

In 2003, Norton left Longview and moved to Seattle. After a year of research, she opened 94 Stewart in the Pike Place Market, which she sold to take over the Madison Park Cafe space that Karen Binder had run for three decades.

“I didn’t want to do another French restaurant, didn’t want to replicate what Karen had already done,” she said. “But the property said European; hence, modern Italian. Not the Italian I’d already done in Longview — that was Italian for a meat-and-potatoes clientele, and this is Seattle. So New World Italian, with integrity and balance.”

She basically gutted the building. “The new layout accommodated more customers: 13 tables inside, and another 13 outside, plus a new private dining room with another 10 to 12 tables.”

She also installed new equipment in the kitchen and a complete dish pit in the basement.

Outside, Norton pulled up a bank of ivy along the front, put down plastic sheeting, rocks, then pavers and built a new terrace.

“We did everything ourselves, except the plumbing,” she said.

When Norton opened Parco, she had planned to have more kitchen help.

“My daughter Lindsey worked with me a couple days a week initially, but with both of us as competitive as we are, that wasn’t a good idea,” Norton explained. “When she left [to cook at Tilikum Cafe in Belltown], I rearranged the kitchen to give myself more efficiency, and I really like it.”

Or did like it. Norton sent out a farewell email to her followers, and to me, she said, “It’s now time to redefine success. Tomorrow is another day. I have owned and operated eight restaurants in my 35-year career. I’m certain I won’t be able to stay away.”

As for the building, it belongs to Binder, and she’ll decide what she wants to do with it when she returns to Seattle.

Opening soon

Madison Park’s culinary scene will be broadened this month, as two new eateries open their doors.

Taking the place of Madison Park Conservatory (MPC, 1927 43rd Ave. E.) will be Beachhouse Bar & Grill, owned by chef Ricky Eng and his wife, Maria, who are the proprietors of a successful restaurant of the same name in Kirkland.

The original Beachhouse, which opened on the Eastside five years ago (on the site of the Foghorn on Lake Washington Boulevard), features “gourmet American” food, such as grilled steak salad, buttermilk fried chicken and seared yellow fin tuna.

The Madison Park version of the Beachhouse will be about 80 percent the same as the Kirkland’s, according to Eng, at least in terms of cuisine. In Madison Park, however, Eng will take advantage of the wood-fired oven left by MPC. That means that some new signature steaks and appetizers, at a minimum, can be added to the restaurant’s repertoire, Eng said.

“Comfort food with a twist,” is how Eng described it.

Photos of the renovations — new light fixtures, new floors, new banquette seating downstairs — are being posted regularly on the Beachhouse’s Facebook page.

The Engs were originally talking about a mid-month opening, but which month?

Farther up the street, at the old Mad Pizza location (4021 E. Madison St.), a new Vietnamese restaurant made its debut near the end of September, according to the original announcement. Bella Viet Café will be a pho parlor operated by Tani Phan and Elena Vo. There will also be sandwiches, salads and some vegan fare.

Madison Park’s other pizzeria, The Independent (4235 E. Madison St.), has been operating under a caretaker, Joe Heffernan, all summer. Owner Tom Siegal left Seattle with his wife, who was accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I. 

And back to Thai cuisine for a final note: Alicia Fusion Bistro (200 Lake Washington Blvd.) in Leschi, adjacent to Daniel’s Broiler, has just opened. The owner is Ridgley Kuang of Belltown’s Green Leaf, who named the place for his daughter.

Pho is on the menu, of course, along with mussels in green curry and something called a Mishima ranch burger.

The restaurant will feature hardwood floors, candles and lots of windows overlooking Lake Washington.

RONALD HOLDEN is a restaurant writer and consultant who blogs at Cornichon.org and Crosscut.com. To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.