Artusi: a bar-centric eatery with historic roots
Artusi is a bar/eatery featuring a contemporary Italian menu rooted in historical context.
Special to The Seattle Times
Sample menuHouse-made ricotta
|on semolina wafer||$6|
|Zucchini alla parmigiana||$10|
|Black polenta with roasted goat||$11|
1535 14th Ave.
Hours: Open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Prices: $$ (Snacks and small plates $2-$10; larger plates $7-$16.)
Drinks: Full bar; fine cocktails; Italian wines, spirits and liqueurs.
Parking: On street or in nearby lots.
Who should go: Aspiring cognoscenti of Italian food and culture.
Credit cards: All major.
Access: No obstacles.
Pellegrino Artusi was a well-to-do Florentine who revered progress and the scientific method, but cooking was his passion. In 1891, at age 71, he self-published a cookbook (no publisher would take it on) called "Science in the Kitchen and The Art of Eating Well." Rife with amusing anecdotes, the fat tome codified traditional Italian cooking and remains an essential kitchen reference in Italy today.
Jason Stratton, chef of the Piemontese gem Spinasse, scored an English-language edition years ago at Powell's Books. When Spinasse's recent expansion allowed room for a 50-seat annex, he named it in honor of that Italian culinary icon.
Artusi is a convivial, bar-centric eatery in a neighborhood (Pike-Pine) loaded with such places. But Artusi stands out for the quality of its food and drink, and for an original, contemporary Italian menu rooted in historical context.
It's the high-styled modern flip-side to Spinasse's sepia old-world charm. Visually stimulating, the décor mixes Stratton's own primary-colored paintings with pale, ceramic-tile surfaces. Charred plywood paneling mimics tiger stripes. Light fixtures with long cylindrical paper shades suggest giant noodles dangling from the ceiling.
Tables augment seating at two bars. One dispenses spirits, including an array of Amari, Digestivi and Italian vermouths and liqueurs, along with Italian wines by the glass, quartino and bottle. The other bar brackets a kitchen equipped with two induction burners and a hot plate.
Artusi works best for an aperitivo or a casual meal; customers who while away an evening with many courses may find service sputters when the house fills up. The very brief menu opens with stuzzichini (snacks such as pickled vegetables and addictive fried capers) and antipasti. More substantial primi and piatti are prepped in Spinasse's expansive kitchen and finished by Artusi's cooks.
One thing you won't find here is Spinasse's claim to fame: pasta. Instead, starch comes in the form of toasted bread soup or black rice polenta. The dense soup was somewhat dull; it gets a boost from tiny clams, lovage leaves and saffron, but not a big enough one. Polenta is more nuanced. Roasted goat crowns fine-grained black rice cooked like creamy polenta. The moist, aromatic meat is shredded and sprinkled with finely chopped summer herbs and greens.
If you haven't tried tripe before, consider surrendering your virginity here. "It's amazing," promised the server, describing the soup's three-day gestation. The process tames and tenderizes the offal, which becomes something very like hand-cut noodles. The meaty intensity of the bone-brewed stock, earthy with black truffle and rich with marrow, is leavened with carrots, tomato, pepper and herbs.
Midway through my rapture, the server acknowledged she had yet to actually taste the tripe herself; it was just her second week on the job. I insisted she grab a spoon.
I shared my zucchini alla parmigiana, too. Lighter than anything dipped in béchamel has a right to be, this delicate construction is kissed with tomato sauce, laced with whole basil leaves, crunchy with cocoa nibs and covered with sheets of shaved cheese.
If you've only come for a bite, make it fresh ricotta on a golden semolina cracker color-matched to the bold, fruity olive oil lavished on the cheese. Or savor raw green olives paired with a warm quadrangle of hazelnut-oiled Quadrello di bufala, a pungent cheese for Taleggio-lovers made from buffalo milk.
Roasting mellowed the bite of pale pink Shunkyo radishes that managed to taste bland despite visible signs of pancetta, sage and garlic. Meyer lemon mostarda, lacking that condiment's essential sweet-sharp tension, does little to enhance coins of excellent Fra'Mani salametto (dry garlic salami).
But "salsa Apicius," a peppery, vinegary mashup of fish sauce, pine nuts, lovage and caramelized honey embellishes a cold salad of shaved button mushrooms and crumbled hard-cooked egg in much the same way Michelangelo embellished the Sistine ceiling.
The sauce was inspired by an ancient Roman cookery text called "Apicius," a name that originated with a legendary gastronome of the era. Over the centuries it's become a moniker for a person excessively enamored with food. If you are one, give Artusi a try.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
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