(BlatherMunch is our Sunday foodish respite from political bias,
media dish, snotty intenuendo, and liberal glee. For more essays on
food & dining click here or 'BlatherMunch' in Categories).
1531 14th Ave.
Spinasse Trattoria is pasta... how 1988, you say?
This joint ain't pasta fazool. Chef/owner Justin Neidermeyer interned in Barbaresco, has sold pasta around town for years at farmers markets as Pian Pianino ("nice and slow"). He's earned his chops as a pastaiolo, and brings pastabilities heretofore unknown in these parts.
Spinasse is worth the wait and the price-point to cantilever your hindside into the tiny, elegant storefront tucked in a seedy Capitol Hill block.
And it's more than pasta.
(Pasta is always, will always be there, here. In the '80's we learned the noodles we loved were really something special and when called pasta, the raw materials of the mac & cheese you feed your kids could be transformed into something you serve to the boss when he comes to dinner. We went a bit loco with it then, but after the '90's, pasta was relegated to less auspicious corners of menus as Seattle fell in love with other such Italian edibles such as salumi, veal chops, tartuffa, and gelato).
Gotta say, though, walking into Spinasse gave me stage-fright aftershocks.
In a different time dimension, this space would find me standing right over there where the end of the bar is now behind a hinky microphone reading some prose I was pawning off as poetry. And dubious poetry it was. At the tim , the early 1990's, I had one foot in a life as a chef, and the other as a writer, writing for nobody but myself.
At the time it was known as The Globe, named after the hallowed Elizabethan theater that all English majors know from high school Shakespeare. It was a vegan hangspot for brilliant idiots, who came not for the food, but to hear their own work read out loud by themselves, and... get some instant gratification in the form of applause.
On Sundays, it was home of Red Sky Poetry Theater, the durable poetry reading that lasted for decades. In this room, I could get a response for the work I was doing filling notebooks and pitching peculiar essays or obtuse story ideas at frigid editors who rarely even returned an SASE. It was like throwing rocks at a dead dog.
It's a different century, the nostalgia is gone, and here we are seated in that hallowed space, the ghosts excised, cockroaches expunged, and the performer on-stage in the back of the house with his imported flour and rolling pins. Life has went on...
I say 'seated,' but that's too comfortable-sounding -- what really happens is you're squeezed into a communal table with strangers so close, you can smell the color of the wine they're drinking. This is a bit of a trend around town these days, and while cute and so very Euro down-dress, it can be a pain in the ass, and certainly not for everyone or every occasion. Like one where you get to talk about the people next to you not to them because you're sitting so close your buttocks are touching. Or one where you talk to your date/mate intimately or even in a normal tone. As everybody gets into the wine at Spinasse, the noise level goes up and you must shout to be heard by your companion across the table. The P-I's Leslie Kelly agrees about communal tables.
Other than that, we loved this restaurant.
We ordered the combination of all the antipasti. -- it was a great decision. There was rich yet subtle flavored salami from Berkeley's Fra' Mani with roasted leeks. Paper-thin prosciutto from San Daniele, again with a nuanced, low-salt cure giving the pig a voice (an oink?) in the flavor chorus. There were anchovies with a fresh-tasting green sauce sprinkled with crumbled egg yolks.
The chicory salad with radicchio, chunks of marinated rabbit, wide slices of Reggiano, and dressed in old balsamic was perhaps the most memorable salad we've had this decade. The salad of tiny beets in good oil, was perfumed with fennel seeds. Thin slices of medium rare veal was served with a sauce with local tuna, capers and lemon. These little heaps of things with the bread, and the buttocks of my neighbor made for a perfectly delightful beginning.
But Spinasse is pasta, remember? There are three on the menu, and we ordered two.
The raviolis stuffed with beet greens were fat, handmade things with warm sage butter and a few pine nuts and fried sage leaves scattered on the top. The greens were slightly bitter and not surprisingly earthy like beets are. I'm sick of beet greens by this time of year, but the ravs were a mouth-feel/flavor blast of buttery, bitter, and two different kinds of chewy: the pasta skin, not too soft or tough. The pasta was so thin you could see the beets inside cooked al dente with plenty of life and green.
(Pasta is mouth-feel. I hate these foodie terms, but the great pasta-makers -- the Italians, the Chinese -- made all those many shapes and sizes to entertain the inside of your mouth in a different way than just flavor -- a thoughtful added value, a sensate bonus like ribs on condoms, or gravy on fried chicken).
Maltagliati are scraps of pasta dough left after the pastaiolo has cut other shapes from his dough. Random remnants, as it were. Instead of balling them up, and rolling them out again which would make 'em tough, they just make them into another dish and call it maltagliati. They were served in a little pile that was unremarkable to look at but when eaten, redolent of the porcinis sliced and sauteed among them. These were the most memorable mouthsful of a memorable evening. The pasta seemed to assimilate itself into our mouths, guts and brains, a kind of buttery manna that demands more fevered adjectives, but I'll just shut up.
I've never had such a pasta.
We didn't go for the Secondi course, we were sated by then. But we were attracted to both items on that menu: roast quail with savoy cabbage and chanterelles, and roasted rabbit with pepperonnata. We'll be back.
While the food was inculcated with the wow factor for which we're always ransacking the city, there were a few crotchits: the aforementioned ones about the tight seating, and the kitchen is slow. Spinasse has set a new watermark in Seattle dining -- it gets to have a few warts.