I am a few months into my hiatus from my adopted home that is Florence. Unquestionably, one of my top activities while “home” is to go out to eat and catch up with friends. I have no idea why, but they usually shy away from suggesting we go out for Italian food. This is pretty ironic considering that I obviously love Italian food but also that I am a food blogger- there has to be the good stuff out there! Besides that, they are right but for different reason.
The reason I initially couldn’t stomach a visit to an Italian restaurant was out of nostalgia. Like I had to break up with an awesome boyfriend who eventually I would plan on being friends with again. It was just too soon to go out to Italian food as soon as I got into Seattle. Just like you need to give yourself some time from an old flame before you can realistically meet again.
After 3 months- that time had come. And I chose Cantinetta.
This restaurant has been around for a good while but I just never had reason to go. And I am so glad that I waited until now, especially after having lived in Italy for a couple years and can fully appreciate regional Italian dishes and stellar wines.
I must say, I was slightly disappointed with the first impression. I made reservations a couple days in advance and because it was restaurant week and the fact it’s a damn good restaurant, we had to wait an hour after our reservation time to be seated. They did their best to offer a drink and bread but it was not ideal. An hour to wait (standing) for a table you already reserved is a little inconvenient. Especially since it was my first time there.
Moving on, lucky for them I did just get back from Italy so “waiting” is one of my new skills. And also the art of “tranquilla” and “pazienza.” If this had happened to my former more entitled American self, I would have walked out after 15 minutes.
Upon sitting, we cut right to the chase and so will I.
Fried buffalo milk mozzarella with truffled honey drizzled on top just lounging on a bed of peppery arugula (or “rocket” for you Queen’s English speakers out there). Breadcrumby crispy fatty gooey mozzarella with sweet sticky truffle savor umami silky honey- this was an ideal start to our quest. The sadness started to sink in after the cheese was gobbled to a neat finish, but luckily that palate cleansing arugula was there to wipe our memories and remorse clean.
Grilled treviso radicchio. Drenched lightly in a buttermilky gorgonzola wash. Not wilted, not over cooked. A fine contrast of bitter and sweet. Salty and savory. Crunchy and creamy enough for a round 2 of light appetite wetness.
The mains came out and almost made me want to cry. I considered doing the Restaurant week menu’ path but as soon as I saw this Scarpinocc listed on the normal menu’, I was adamant about going off the grid. It was described as “braised duck, foie gras and 50 year balsamic.”
What arrived were filled pasta of which looked like wrapped butterscotch with little indented pools for this balsamic. Shaved parmesan on top and an explosion of sensory overload on the inside.
What. just. happened. was heaven. The pasta, I couldn’t believe my palate or my teeth. Its density and “toothness” was absolutely perfect. It was the most perfect fresh pasta I had ever set jaws on in Seattle. I felt like I was in a dream. The filling of braised duck and foie gras was a gradual rollercoaster of flavors. At first you roll through the duck, juicy notes of dark meat hit you and then BAM an explosion of liver fat bliss with just a touch of what seemed like sage and herbs. Then to finish was the ever so balanced, light balsamic pools to then further echo all the perfection your taste buds had just been blessed with. I cannot remember the last time I ate something that felt like a euphoric acid trip.
Accompanying these Scarpinocc was a braised short rib with spaghetti squash and parsnip puree. The salty buttery almost with a touch of soy like braised short rib not only seem melted in tenderness, but it contrasted beautifully with these more humble, earthy vegetable accompaniments.
I had to look up what Scarpinocc was, but I left my phone in my jacket. This entire meal was consumed with pure joy without the aid of my trusty iphone. Hence, the photos you see were taken by my partner in eating crime. Who also, is Italy obsessed and chose a Valpolicella Ripasso to pair with the night’s scene. New rule: only eat Italian food in Seattle out with people who are just as obsessed with the place as you are. Only they can understand why you prefer not to speak during a meal and why you must overanalyze a plate and its flavors to death. Not to mention, will have a pretty solid appreciation for wine pairing.
Cantinetta wooed me. Scarpinocc is a special regional pasta of Parre, located in Bergamo which is located in Lombardy, which is one of the lesser known gastronomic hotspots of Italy. It is a shame that Bergamo and Lombardy as a region get glossed over to Emilia and Tuscany since in general have so much to offer in terms of regional food richness and gourmet spectacularity. <- That is not a word.
In fact, when I went to research this pasta, the majority of the publications were in Italian. Which means, the chef who put it on the menu’ knows their stuff. And to me, Cantinetta should be the go-to for Michelin-quality Italian food in Seattle. And Ethan Stowell should please go away with his chainy Italian food eateries. By the way Seattle, I am back on my critiques of Ethan Stowell. Tip: Chorizo is not Italian, Ethan. And please educate your staff about what you have on the menu’.
Back to Scarpinocc. What I found very intriguing and curious about this pasta is also the etymology in its name. “Scarpe” means shoes and apparently this pasta’s traditional shape serves to the regional memories of artisan cloth shoes which were worn in the Bergamo area decades ago. Moreover, the pasta is of course essentially a peasant, poor food and was mainly intended to be filled with grana padana, breadcrumbs, herbs and butter. Cantinetta fused this particular regional delicacy to a more richer cuisine with 50 year balsamic and foie gras.
Desserts- I should not have bothered. My palate was so overly taxed and stimulated by this point that dessert was more like licking my wounds for having finished quite possibly the best meal I’ve had in Seattle since I’ve returned. 2 scoops of rather tasty albeit mediocre house made chocolate and banana gelato. Usually I am not a fan of banana gelato but this stuff was pretty mellow.
There you have it, Seattle. For more on Cantinetta, read up on Eater. I say Cantinetta is Michelin worthy because of the artistry that goes into the plates here. The price tag slightly reflects that as well (not Michelin-star priced but Michelin approved priced) so my suggestion is to hop over during Seattle Restaurant Week or for an exquisite occasion. Or to really impress a date on. If a gentleman ever took me here, I’d never let him go.
In your curious love for Italian food,
For more tips on where to get proper Italian fare in Seattle, leave a comment. If you’re interested in discovering the enogastronomy of Lombardy on your next trip to Italy- contact me.