Lunch with Gina Batali, mistress of meat
In her ongoing Noshing with Nancy series, Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson does lunch with Gina Batali, member of Seattle’s famous food family and the constantly moving force behind the landmark lunch spot Salumi.
Seattle Times food writer
Editor’s note: In this monthly series, Nancy Leson introduces you to food folks you should know. They eat lunch (at one of her subject’s favorite restaurants). They talk (sometimes with their mouths full). No one leaves hungry.
Say hello to: Gina Batali.
Why should you know her?: She’s the meat-and-greeter with the cure for what ails you at Pioneer Square’s landmark lunch joint, Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (309 Third Ave. S., Seattle, 206-621-7882, salumicuredmeats.com). Though her dad founded the family biz, she owns the joint with her husband, Brian D’Amato — and has for a decade. You’ll find Brian running the adjacent production facility, hanging with the finocchiona, sopressata and mole salumi, among the house cures sold to restaurants and specialty shops nationwide.
Hail to the chief: As company president and resident ball o’ fire, Gina arrives (via ferry from Bainbridge) at 8:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. A (cough!) normal workday might go like this: Help with prep for the deli. Set up the grab-n-go baskets. Confab with her cook about menus. Call the cops re: meth-heads in the alley. Answer the phone. Take orders. Run back to the production room to meet with the USDA. Then back to the deli to wrangle the lunchtime line. Bounce a pal to cadge an extra seat for a customer at the communal table. Pour a glass of vino. And, oh — she shops, too: picking up Coke from Costco because her mother, Marilyn, insists everyone deserves a good deal, which is why Salumi’s honkin’ meatball sandwich is only $7 (plus 50 cents for that Coke).
Tip on timing: Hours are brief (Tuesdays through Fridays 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Come to Salumi in summer and it’s Tourist Central, Gina says. January and February? No problem, but “there’s always a line because we are so narrow.” Blame the designer: her dad, Armandino. “He modeled the place after an Italian deli. If there are 15 people in here, they’re in line. If there are 15 people at Wild Ginger, they’re in one teeny-weenie corner taking up two tables.”
Why, yes, she has a famous brother: Dana Batali — head of Pixar’s RenderMan software team. (Explains his proud sister: “It’s the software used in movies to make the water shimmer in ‘Finding Nemo.’ ”) Like all the Batali kids, Gina and Dana learned to cook while growing up in Federal Way — where their dad worked for Boeing and their mom was a nurse. “Each of us had to cook dinner one night a week.” Their folks, both great cooks, were an inspiration. So was their Italian grandmother. “She was the ravioli-maker and a big influence” — on Gina, Dana and their big brother Mario.
Speaking of: Nearly every day, people show up at Salumi looking for you-know-who. “We tell them, ‘He lives in New York — and he’s one of our best customers!’ ” Once, she recalls, “This guy was on his cellphone boasting, ‘I’m in Mario Batali’s son’s restaurant!’ ” (She tried not to roll her eyes. Mario’s sons, their aunt says, have “big, orange Crocs to fill.”)
Ladies who (don’t) lunch: “I simply do not go out to lunch,” Gina insists. After serving it, she heads home, does housework, makes dinner and for fun, “I watch my kids do sports.” Unless I insist we become the ladies-who. In which case, she says, “Let’s go to Mike’s Noodle House!” Twist my arm!
Why Mike’s Noodle House?: Because whatever culture you’re raised in, noodles are cheap comfort food, and few foods are as comforting as the lineup at this Chinatown International District hot spot (418 Maynard Ave. S., 206-389-7099) where — payback! — Gina gets to stand in line and wait for one of only a dozen tables. Also “because it’s great fun, casual and unpretentious” — just like her.
Eat it and beat it!: Gina’s pick: Beef Brisket Noodle Soup with wontons ($5.99). Mine? A deconstructed platter of Sui-Kau Noodle with Vegetable ($6.20), plus a side of Chinese broccoli ($4.70), a Chinese “doughnut” (for dipping in our broth, $1.70). Plus a big bowlful of rock cod congee ($5.80) — because our waitress insisted, and because it’s some of the best rice porridge in town.
Soccer-mom eatery?: So, you’re freezing your tush off watching soccer in the rain, and you realize, “Hey! I forgot to make Bolognese!” Where to? “Bella Luna Pizzeria on the Suquamish reservation” (18408 Angeline Ave. N.E., Suquamish, 360-598-5398, bellalunapizza.com), where Tuesday night from 8 p.m. to midnight is Industry Night (not that Gina can stay up to take advantage of the discount).
OK, enough with the cheap eats. Special occasion?: The Four Swallows (481 Madison Ave. N. Bainbridge Island, 206-842-3397, fourswallows.com): “That’s a great date-night place. They now have a full bar. It’s in an intimate little house, and their servers have been there a long time — they’re pros.”
Her most stained cookbook?: “The Barefoot Contessa.” And though he’s got a stack of cookbooks, Gina stands by her brother’s first. “I also love Mario’s ‘Simple Italian Food: My Two Villages.’ It was the original Mario — all him — when he was just bursting out of his shell. It also has some heinous family photos. My mom picked the ugliest pictures, on the worst hair days. She thinks that’s funny!”
Nancy Leson: firstname.lastname@example.org