A friend of mine at work constantly laments over the lack of good italian restaurants in the Seattle area. And I was inclined to agree--until our dinner last night at Justin Neidermeyer's gem of a trattoria, Spinasse.
Economic uncertainty may be slowing down restaurant traffic, but you wouldn't know it by the bustle of euphoric diners in the confines of the cozy dining space--perfect for a typically rainy fall evening in Seattle.
(Pardon the crude mobile phone pictures... I've decided to avoid bringing a camera when dining out... it's just too obtrusive). Once you're seated and salivating over the menu's rustic offerings, you're provided with a few tiny bruschetta (this night, we had one with marinated chanterelles and another with rabbit liver pate and balsamico) whose robust flavors emerge from the simplicity of the approach... foreshadowing the meal to come.
We opted for a four course meal, comprised of two antipasti, a primo and a secondi... not realizing how much food we were ordering.
Our first antipasti was a chicory salad with poached rabbit, porcini mushrooms and parmesan... a beautiful dish. The slightly bitter edge of the chicory balanced perfectly with the simply seasoned rabbit, the almost sweet porcini and the rich parmesan shavings, drizzled with just a touch of balsamico to tie it all together. The second antipasti was the special of the night: roasted romanesco cauliflower with bagna couda, the classic piemontese accompaniment made of crushed anchovies, garlic, olive oil and sometimes chili peppers... a soulful, robust addition to the caramelized goodness of the cauliflower. The dish was showered with shavings of local black truffles as well, but truffles from the northwest tend to have an incredibly mild, faint flavor--here, they afforded just the faintest whiff of musky richness to the dish.
Ah... then the pasta. There was no doubt on what to order here: the tajarin with a ragu of pork, beef and veal. The first time I ever had hand-shaven tajarin was at Perbacco in San Francisco--their insanely delicious rendition is served with a velvety-rich five-hour pork sugo. One bite and you'll be forever addicted. Spinasse's tajarin is fantastic in a simpler way. Phenomenal pasta texture--impossibly thin and delicate, but with enough structural integrity so you can sense every strand in each mouthful--with a ragu that aims only to be the most unobtrusive of accompaniments, adding flavor only as an accent to turn attention back to the pasta. I could eat this endlessly.
Our final course was the pan roasted quail with lentils and kale. Sadly, our appetites had already hit the wall by the end of the generous portion of tajarin... the moist quail was dressed perfectly with the pan jus over the earthly lentils and kale... but we barely made a dent before we had to call it quits. No loss--just a great lunch for today.
Justin Neidermeyer is a magician with pasta... He easily deserves all of the accolades and recognition for his abilities as a pastaiolo. But even more, he deserves enormous thanks for creating the heart of simple, amazing italian food in Seattle. He's put together a restaurant whose food deeply satisfies from beginning to end. Service was the right combination of casual, friendly and professional, and the atmosphere of the space strikes just the right vibe for a sense of shared experience. We'll be back. Often.