Seattle is a funny place. Despite having a non-trivial Chinese population and an actual Chinatown (with an arch and everything) it’s got almost no superlative Chinese food. You may think that the odds of a town having good Italian food are greater than it having good Chinese food, but we come up mostly empty on both fronts. I suppose at least with Italian food we could argue that the east coast is the place to go for that. But, I would have imagined that Italian food has ingrained itself more deeply (or at least earlier) in the American culinary psyche.
While Lampreia’s food is from the Alto-Adige region of Italy, and I love every bit of it, I wouldn’t say that going there scratches my itch for Italian food. Tavolata opened recently and I still haven’t made up my mind about it. Beyond that the place I rely on the most for high quality hyper simple Italian dishes is Da Pino’s. Pino cures his own meat, and serves simple, flavorful fresh dishes. But refined AND traditional Italian food? It still escapes Seattle, until that is Spinasse arrived.
Spinasse talks the talk. The window declares “Trattoria Pastificio Artigianale”. I don’t speak Italian but I’m guessing that’s some variation on artisanal pasta restaurant. And honestly, that’s one word more than you need to get me to show up. Spinasse is adorable of course. Small, and homey and instantly comfortable. I really don’t care much about decor (or all that much beyond the service) but the atmosphere at Spinasse is notable in how ably it projects the image of the small authentic artisanal pasta restaurant.
I’m always in a quandary in terms of how excited I should get about a plate of prosciutto as it relates to the restaurant itself. On the one hand, you could serve me some good prosciutto at Burger King and I’d be in love. But, it does take some expertise to make sure to get quality product and serve it well. Regardless of how much credit accrues to the establishment, I find it difficult to complain about a plate covered in delicious cured ham.
Next up is the pasta but I want to talk about that last as it’s clearly the center of attention at Spinasse. The meat dishes, notably the succulent and juicy braised duck leg, the bursting savory handmade sausage, and the absolutely melting squab were all excellent. Juicy, savory, warm, and deep. We did have a some rabbit on our most recent visit that came out dry. That was disappointing but definitely the exception.
The pasta though is really the signature of the restaurant. I’ve been to Spinasse three separate times and think I finally know how I feel. The single best pasta dish on the menu is the artichoke ravioli with sage butter and pine nuts. I have it every time. It’s gentle and warm. Like a quartet of french horns. Buttery, nutty, with a slight tanginess from the cheese. I love and hate finding a favorite dish. Only because I worry that by ordering it I will limit myself from trying other exciting dishes. Luckily, on our last trip we ordered Spinasse’s entire menu. No chance of missing anything that way. The other pasta dishes are good as well, the ragu, etc. The first time I was there I ordered one of the pasta dishes with truffles, and honestly the truffles were not super flavorful. I have a hard time faulting the restaurant for this too badly. A lot of times to get the best truffles you have to get them via mail from Italy. Once the thing shows up, if its not as pungent as it should be it’s not like a small restaurant can eat the cost. The best they can do is tell their supplier to do a better job next time or switch suppliers. But I’m not expert so I’m speculating.
The real issue is the other pasta dishes. They’re good, but they don’t leave the warm tonal range set by the ravioli. It’s not that they all taste like butter and nuts. But they are all in the subtler part of the range with a warm gentle savory quality. This of course is not a bad thing. But it can get a little repetitive. I’m not savvy enough about the region the food comes from to know if I’m longing for flavors that are just not at home for this restaurant, but for me I find the range a touch more narrow than I’d like. It’s not that it would stop me from coming to Spinasse, but it might make me come less often.
One other note, Spinasse has communal seating, which isn’t my favorite, but is absolutely unloved by many of my regular dinner companions. You have to request in advance the one table for four that doesn’t involve listening in on anyone else’s dinner blather. I understand why they do communal sitting. It’s a small restaurant, and the rent ain’t cheap. But it’s not for everyone.
Bottom line, Spinasse is lovely. They’re trying hard, and Seattle is lucky to have them. That said, I know they have a talented new chef transitioning into the lead role. My last visit was likely too early to experience him putting his mark on the menu. But I do hope that while he preserves everything that’s good about Spinasse, he expands on those basic values of authentic/simple/subtle/fresh to a broader range of flavors. I’m sure I’ll be back.