Cicchetti: A charming hangout with echoes of Venice
Cicchetti, a Venetian-inspired restaurant and bar in the Eastlake neighborhood, has a modest menu, affordable food and a wide range of drinks. It is tucked in the shadow of its sister restaurant Serafina.
Special to The Seattle Times
|"Oven floor" cheese||$6|
|Sausage with braised onion and grapes||$12|
|Whole roasted red snapper||$17|
121 E. Boston St., Seattle
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more.
Hours: Dinner 5 p.m.-midnight Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Bar open until 2 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.
Prices: $$ (Plates $4-$25.)
Drinks: Full bar; wines by the glass, quartino or bottle; local and imported beer.
Parking: On street; limited free parking available one block south on Newton Street, east of Eastlake; paid parking lot above Eastlake Market (Eastlake and Lynn Street).
Sound: Louder downstairs than up.
Who should go: Should appeal to the sophisticated cocktail crowd or anyone enamored with Venice.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, AmEx.
Access: Portable ramp at front door; no wheelchair access to upstairs; wheelchair accessible restroom across the courtyard at Serafina.
In Venice, cicchetti are snacks, specifically small bites served at a bacaro, an informal stand-up bar, often with a small glass of house wine dubbed ombra.
Ombra means shadow. Though the origin of the usage is obscure, some say the bacari of Venice evolved from the gondoliers' habit of gathering in shady spots along the canals to sip wine; others connect ombra to wine vendors in St. Mark's Square who shifted their carts to follow the shadow cast by the bell tower.
In Seattle, Cicchetti (chiKETtee) is the name of Susan Kaufman's new Venetian-inspired kitchen and bar in Eastlake. Appropriately tucked in the shadow of Serafina, her more formal Italian restaurant, Cicchetti has a modest menu that ranges from snacks to steak. Not only will you find ombra but cocktails, too.
A discrete sign and tiny white lights amid a wall of greenery mark Cicchetti's entrance around the corner on Boston Street. Inside, laid-back Northwest comfort meets casual, Italian-style. The tables are smooth dark wood. Utilitarian metal bar stools crowd the long, white marble bar. A Venetian glass chandelier hanging from the atrium looks as fragile as spun sugar. It injects a touch of frilly grandeur in the otherwise understated space.
For a quiet table with a skyline view, head upstairs to the softly lit dining room. If it is action you're after, grab a table or better yet a barstool downstairs, or one of the four counter seats facing the compact corner kitchen anchored by a wood-burning oven. Either way you'll enjoy the attention of an alert and efficient staff.
The bar gets more acreage than the kitchen because this is a drinks- driven place. The beverage list fills a booklet that could use a table of contents. Cocktails are sensibly grouped by the type of liquor they're based on, much like a wine list is organized by varietal.
Nimble bartenders craft cocktails using botanicals, house-made tinctures and unusual spirits such as Batavia arrack or Moldavian brandy. Feeling like you've just sacked Rome? Sip the smooth but fruity Visigoth — dry sherry, Punt e Mes and wolfberry-infused whiskey served on the rocks. It's just the sort of pick-me-up an exhausted warrior needs.
The food riffs on Mediterranean flavors. It's simple, uncomplicated fare and many of the two dozen hot and cold plates rank high on the bell curve of bar food.
Executive chef Dylan Giordan and his team don't just use the wood-fired oven for pizza. It's crowded with sizzling cast-iron pans and bubbling terra-cotta bowls. Manila clams bake next to cabbage, potato and fontina soup. Sausage, whole fish, leg of lamb and root vegetables are oven roasted; so is the New York strip; at $25, it's an outlier on an otherwise modestly priced menu.
"Oven floor cheese," a dreamy melt of pecorino both pliant and crisp, is a must for those partial to the browned, crusty corners of a mac and cheese casserole. Chermoula brushed over whole red snapper was a little tame, but the delicious moist fish was scored to facilitate easing the flesh from the bones.
Pork and fennel sausage bedded on a sweet, spicy braise of red wine, onion and red grapes had an intriguing complexity that eluded clams baked in a (not so) spicy sausage and tomato broth.
What's not cooked in the oven is assembled cold or deep-fried. Romesco sauce had plenty of character but was as thick as hummus and didn't quite work as a dip for floppy Basque fries steeped in smoked pimento.
Feta pressed between eggplant slices then breaded and fried made a clever "sandwich" that was more interesting for its texture than taste; ditto octopus and chickpea salad in a verve-less salsa verde.
Salt cod fritters paired with slivered onion and piquillo peppers were textbook perfect — as were two out of three of the sweet ricotta fritters injected with huckleberry syrup.
Unpretentious, convivial and affordable, Cicchetti attracts a broad swath of citizenry. I suggest you park your gondola in the shade and give it a try.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.