Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dinner at the pasta bar. Spinasse.

I heard about Spinasse through another food blog. The writers are serious foodies who make me look like a rank amateur, and when they write about something, I sit up and take notice. This place promised handmade pasta and authentically rustic appetizers and when I realized it was merely around the corner from work instead of Fremont or Ballard or Ravenna or Belltown (nearly impenetrable far-flung foreign places to me) I knew I had to haul ass there posthaste. I was slightly delayed by a) the long weekend and b) the fact that the restaurant closes on Tuesdays. It used to be a funky vegan café called The Globe, which served great vegan biscuits with mushroom gravy, with a side helping of scorn. I have been meaning to duplicate their mushroom gravy, but have never actually gotten around to trying, given that I am not vegan, and enjoy sausage gravy like nobody's business. But I digress.

Now there are lace curtains, dark painted wainscoting, and rustically mis-matched chairs. Shelves are lined with bottles of wine and glassware; pasta-making tools of all shapes and sizes hang from the wall. They are not for show; someone is making ravioli by hand at the bar, which is actually half bar (with all the usual bottles and faucets and half-zested lemons and limes) and half pasta-making station. (When I leave and grab a few business cards from a bowl on the bar, they are gritty with flour). The tables are all communal: one very long table that seats about twenty people, and two shorter tables that seat six or seven, and one small table for four. There are another eight seats at the bar, and this is where I pull up a wicker-seated stool and settle in for dinner.

While I look over the menu a tiny plate arrives with two crostini, one topped with fresh ricotta, the other with a rabbit pâté, both drizzled with the darkly tart-sweet intensity of balsamic vinegar. I order the chicory salad, a roughly chopped confetti of heirloom (meaning variously-colored) chicory and slices of rabbit, all topped with shavings of cheese. The chicory is only just slightly bitter, slicked with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Meanwhile the man in front of me (later, I find out that he is the chef/owner) continues making ravioli by hand, arranging blobs of some golden cheese filling on a long sheet of homemade pasta dough, laying another sheet of dough over the top, pressing around each blob of filling to ensure that no air bubbles are remaining, then trimming and slicing the ravioli with a ruffle-edged cutter. His movements are quick and decisive, and at first glance it seems that each ravioli is identical; when I look closer, I can see that they are not, the way snowflakes make seem to be identical, but are only similar in size and shape.

The chef - who has been chatting politely to me all the while - leaves off making ravioli in front of me and goes back to the open kitchen beyond to cook my dinner. I can see him scooping pasta into boiling water, twirling it in a pan with some sauce, then plating it and handing it off to someone to sprinkle with grated cheese, before presenting it to me. This tajarin is nothing like the one we ate at Sitka & Spruce last week, which were like translucent narrow ribbons of pasta. These noodles are irregularly cut, some as fine as slivers, others about the width of a strand of spaghetti, with just enough hearty meat ragú, but not so hearty as to overwhelm the delicate pasta. It is delicious, and I tell the chef so, which seems to please him. It is his signature dish, and he has been making it for a long time.

For dessert I have some cheese, which I forget the name of, but described to me as the Italian (Piedmontese, rather) version of a Tomme de Savoie. What appears in front of me is a (rather large) wedge of semi-firm cheese with a lightly bubbled texture, salty and just a little sharp, which goes well with a scoop of grape mostarda on the side. I would have preferred honey, but this is very good all the same. I pay my bill, tell my waiter that I will come again, soon. I hope this will be true.

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