Italian renaissance: Spazzo is alive and very well
Depending on your interests, there are plenty of reasons you might find your heart thumping and your blood racing as you approach the hostess...
Special to The Seattle Times
Spazzo Italian Grill & Wine Bar
16499 N.E. 74th St., Redmond Town Center; 425-881-4400,www.spazzo.com.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. daily; dinner 4-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 4-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; happy hours 3-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and after 9 p.m. daily.
Prices: Antipasti $7.95-$18.95; salads, sandwiches, pizza $5.95-$14.95; lunch entrees $12.95-$17.95; dinner entrees $12.95-$29.95.
Drinks: The 250-bottle wine list is evenly divided between Northwest and Italian, 50 wines by the glass, wine flights, cocktails.
Parking: Free in lot.
Sound: Loud, but not overbearing.
Who should go: Great for all ages; grab a quick lunch or happy-hour bite, enjoy a respite from the rigors of retail therapy or settle in for a leisurely dinner.
Credit cards: All major ones accepted.
Access: No obstacles.
Tagliato chopped salad $7.95/$14.95
Chicken panini with fries $11.95
Seafood Fritto $11.95
Primavera Risotto $16.95
Manzo Steak $21.95
Depending on your interests, there are plenty of reasons you might find your heart thumping and your blood racing as you approach the hostess stand at Spazzo.
It could be the smiles on the pretty blond hostesses. Or maybe it's the wall of wine bottles looming above the bar — extra heart thumps if it's happy hour, when all 50 offered by the glass are half price.
Or it might be the drama of it all: the fire and hiss of the open kitchen zigzagging off to the right, the undulating river of color that runs through the wine bar and lounge on your left. Those splashes of red, blue and gold trimmed with metal, glass and stone are a bold prelude to the subdued dining room beyond, a tranquil dais where massive gilt-edge mirrors reflect bare wood floors and white-clothed tables.
What does it for me? The aroma of melting cheese, no mere whiff but a tidal wave of pungent perfume that grabs you by the shoulders and kisses you on both cheeks like a long-lost cousin as you walk in the door.
How could that not get your stomach growling for antipasti, pizza, pasta, panini and secondi? And how could you not begin with the source of that delicious smell — at least one of them — a sizzling skillet of asiago flamed tableside with brandy? Grab a slice of crusty bread from the bread basket while the cheese is still gooey enough to spread, and don't neglect to mop up the boozy, better-than-butter pan slick.
Cheese and bread come together even more felicitously on pizza, authentically blistered and burnished with first-rate toppings. Plain cheese will be a hit with the younger set — a group much in evidence in this suburban venue, dining with Mom and Dad, and often Grandma and Grandpa. More experienced palates might go for sausage and pepperoni; grilled chicken and asparagus with alfredo sauce; or prosciutto, fontina and arugula.
Those pizzas are sizable enough to share, as are many of the antipasti. During an early-evening happy-hour graze in the wine bar, several of those small plates, followed by gnocchi, made a satisfying meal for three.
Pale-green basil aioli complemented petite artichoke hearts, deep fried and dusted with Parmesan. Assorted seafood, encased in the same batter, came with lemony aioli, each scallop, shrimp, calamari ring and salt-cod fritter carefully fried to a fine crackle.
Sautéed shrimp lolled in a sherry-spiked garlic and chili sauce enriched with butter, providing further excuse to empty the bread basket and wipe another skillet clean. Spicy grilled sausages played well against the sweetness of pepperonata, roasted red and yellow peppers mixed with capers and basil oil.
The fingerling-size gnocchi were pleasingly soft, though a bit floury, a defect disguised by their disarmingly simple sauce: a brothy mix of fresh tomato, garlic, Parmesan and basil.
Risotto Primavera is an even better choice from the pasta and grain category. Peas, fava beans and roasted tomatoes tip this alluring rice dish toward sweet; onions, garlic and parmigiano nudge it back into savory.
Tagliato proved equally provocative, unusual for a salad. Burrow into the crunchy vinaigrette-dressed romaine leaves and you'll uncover garlicky diced salami, tender chicken, sturdy garbanzos, scallions, tomato, ribbons of fresh basil and shredded mozzarella imparting a hint of smoke. The smaller version served nicely as a lunch starter for two.
Lunch and dinner menus look very much alike. You'll find sandwiches during the day, including a grilled chicken panini perky with pepperoni and remarkable for the moistness of the meat, the freshness of the ciabatta bun and the sumptuously applied basil aioli.
Dinner offers a longer list of meat and seafood entrees; among them is a "pork pot roast" that's more like pulled pork, Italian style. Rosemary and tomato flavor the succulent shredded meat, which has an elusive sweetness. Lacinato kale and roasted Yukon gold potatoes are ideal sidekicks.
There were some sorry moments at the table: limp sautéed spinach drowning in oil and lemon juice, exquisite tuna tartare with fennel trounced by a burly black-olive tapenade, tough carpaccio further undermined by soggy fried capers and rubbery hard-cooked egg.
The nadir was surely Manzo, described on the menu as "thinly sliced steak alla Veneziana." My dismay on beholding what looked to me like lumps of charcoal was difficult to hide. A manager chose that moment to ask, "Is everything fabulous?" I felt compelled to admit they were not.
"I can have another one for you in six minutes," he promised, and was true to his word, returning with an expertly grilled chuck tender steak. Rosy and running with juices, it was seasoned with gusto and sauced with a tangy-sweet balsamic must. That's the kind of course correction you like to see when things go wrong in a well-run restaurant.
Spazzo opened in April, the reprise of a long-running Bellevue restaurant that closed two years ago when it lost its lease. Part of Schwartz Brothers Restaurants, Spazzo shares a corporate umbrella with Daniel's Broiler and Chandler's Crabhouse.
Its pedigree shows. It may be tucked away on the second floor of a shopping center, but it's got enough moxie to attract a clientele all on its own.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.