Handmade pasta, if done right, can make your eyes roll back in your head. Light, meltingly airy, the texture is an essential component of the flavor. Made, one dreams, by a doting Italian mother.
Deceptively simple ingredients (flour, water, salt and maybe eggs) require love, attention, time and lots of kneading and rolling with well-developed biceps (or a great pasta machine) to attain the exquisite, requisite texture and thinness to create the perfect pasta. The labor of love only a mother would undertake for a favorite child.
But if your mother is not Italian or if your mother is too busy, one of life's best secrets is to know where to order fresh pasta when you cannot find someone to make it for you at home.
When the call went out to the Schwabe team for volunteers to review pasta restaurants, the response was overwhelming and immediate. Everyone has a favorite. When you need your fresh pasta fix, check out the following.
Cuoco (310 Terry Ave. N., Seattle; 971-0710; cuoco-seattle.com) serves exceptional pastas - light and perfectly cooked. Pasta is handmade throughout the day at this Tom Douglas restaurant. It is mesmerizing to watch the pasta chef standing quietly behind glass, creating delicate, flower-shaped egg pasta or the pinched pasta for agnolotti dal plin (filled with rabbit, veal, pork and marjoram butter), this diner's favorite dish.
The entrees change monthly and the appetizers are at the chef's whim based upon what is in season and local: good excuses to visit Cuoco often. Pasta not to be missed (at least this month): potato gnocchi-basil, lasagna, tajarin, and for a non-pasta option the delightfully light and tasty - especially on a hot day - "Summer Melon Medley." Honestly, you can't go wrong regardless of what you order.
Procopio, a venerable purveyor of gelato on the Pike Place Market hill climb, is now home to Il Corvo (The Crow) (1501 Western Ave., Ste. 300; 622-4280; ilcorvopasta.com). Chef/ owner Mike Easton offers three handmade pasta dishes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday only.
Leave your credit cards and favorite electronic funds transfer device at home. Il Corvo only takes cash. Tender a mere $9 (including tax), and Mike and his three employees will transport you to a little corner trattoria in Tuscany.
If you subscribe to Mike's blog, each morning around 11 an email with the daily offerings will appear in your inbox and whet your appetite with mouth-watering photos and descriptions. On the day we visited, the choices were garganelle with kalamata-brined lamb; gnocchi with Beecher's whey reduction and chives; and fettuccine with sweet corn and garden-herb pesto.
The pasta, freshly made each day, has amazing texture and flavor. The accompanying ingredients are the result of Mike's morning stroll through the Market on his way to work. Be prepared to wait, though. If you arrive early or late, you can cut down or avoid the wait time, but the later you arrive the greater the risk a dish will be sold out. Il Corvo is worth virtually any wait.
For more of a neighborhood feel, we tried Mondello Ristorante in Magnolia (2435 33rd Ave. W.; 352-8700; mondelloristorante.com). Named after their hometown village in Sicily, chef-owners Giuseppe and Corino feature handcrafted pastas made fresh daily.
We started with an assortment of bruschette that went beyond Roma tomatoes (think Portobello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives) to complement a brunello. The gnocchi was cooked perfectly and came smothered in a gorgonzola sauce with walnuts. Another favorite was the tagliatelle con polpette, showcasing thick strands of fettuccine and house special veal meatballs. The ravioli was stuffed with porcini mushrooms and served with a sweet marsala sauce.
As if the pasta was not enough, we could not pass up two traditional favorites - tiramisu and cannoli. Our dessert arrived with homemade limoncello (not listed on the menu), which packed a punch and helped digest the evening's indulgences. The intimate atmosphere resembles dinner in a friend's home. Mondello has all the comforts of authentic Sicilian pasta without the fuss of the big city.
There are many great reasons to visit Spinasse (1531 14th Ave., Seattle; 251-7673; spinasse.com) - every item on the menu is a great reason. The pasta just happens to be the best reason. Our favorite is tajarin, the pasta of Piedmont, rolled close to paper thin and finely cut (made on site by chefs who hand-cut the thin strands at the pasta station). Silky, egg-rich with sumptuous taste and texture, it is perfection when served with butter and sage. Ragu is also offered with the tajarin and gets rave reviews; this reviewer has never been able to move on from the butter and sage.
The best part is, every time it is ordered, it is even better than remembered. A pasta dish with duck shavings is often recalled and the memory continues to pleasantly linger several months after a dinner with friends.
Spinasse has deservedly become the go-to place for our family celebrations - birthdays, anniversaries, going away and welcome home parties. Go, enjoy. Beware the grappa.
We had heard good things about the fresh pasta at Ethan Stowe's Tavolata (2323 Second Ave., Seattle; 838-8008; tavolata.com), so we paid a visit on a warm Saturday evening. Castelvetrano olives paired with a baguette were the perfect beginning. We ordered three pastas: whole-wheat bigoli with pecorino cheese; linguini with clams, bread crumbs and chili peppers; and agnolotti (basically ravioli) filled with ricotta cheese and served with pea vines and chanterelles.
Everything was excellent. The linguini and agnolotti were both served in a light and tasty broth perfect for dipping in what was left of our baguette. This was fresh, chewy homemade pasta at its awesome best. By the time we were finished with our second course (branzino), we were so stuffed that dessert would have been more duty than pleasure.
The high ceiling and the brick walls combined with music make this a place not to conduct business. On the other hand, it is a great place to entertain or for a fun-filled office party.
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a multiservice, Northwest regional law firm with offices in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Bend. For comments on this article or to share your favorite places to eat or drink with the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt attorneys, contact Mary Jo Newhouse at 206-407-1526 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; see also www.schwabe.com/dining_out.aspx.