Forget location, location, location. At Barolo, the new Northern Italian looker in the Metropolitan Tower, it's all about lighting, lighting...
Forget location, location, location. At Barolo, the new Northern Italian looker in the Metropolitan Tower, it’s all about lighting, lighting, lighting. Show up on a dark and stormy night (like there’s another kind, these days?), and you’ll see what I mean.
Elegant Italian-crystal chandeliers hang over a communal table where, on my evening visits, large parties held court, wine glasses aloft, loudmouth gents sounding off, blondes laughing languorously, all looking like a Seattle-urban version of a Merchant Ivory production.
Throughout this seductive setting, candelabra and tabletop tapers flagrantly drip wax, their thousand points of light sparkling off mirrored walls. Catch your sexy reflection and feel free to say, “Hello, Gorgeous!”
Interior designer Denise Corso’s expertise bought this place its softness and sophistication — along with spacious tables, comfortable booths and a semi-private nook draped in flowing white sheers.
1940 Westlake Ave.
Prices: Lunch starters $4-$12, burger/sandwiches $10, pasta $11-$14, meats/seafood $14-$25; dinner starters $6.50-$13, pasta $16-$29, meat/seafood $18.50-$29.50, desserts $7.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, dinner 4:30-10:30 nightly, bar 11:30 a.m.-close daily (happy hour 3-6:30 p.m., 10 p.m.-close daily).
Drinks: Long on labels from Piedmont and Tuscany, an extensive number of glass pours, impressive grappa selection, full bar.
Parking: Pay lots nearby; valet Friday-Saturday evenings $7.
Who should go: Grappa groupies, downtown dwellers, date-nighters, business lunchers, happy-hour hauntsters.
Credit cards: AE, DISC, MC, V.
Accessibility: No obstacles.
Or order a negroni and savor that Campari cocktail while nibbling complimentary focaccia smeared with olivada. And do say “ciao” to the brothers Varchetta — Leo and Salvio — who work the room, just as they’ve been doing at one or the other of their families’ restaurants (including the dearly departed Buongusto, and the long-lived Mamma Melina) for nearly 20 years.
Brother and business partner Roberto still presides in the kitchen at Mamma Melina in the U District, leaving the execution of the fussier Barolo fare to Italian chefs imported from the Venetian hotel and resort in Las Vegas. Which perhaps accounts for the fact that a meal at Barolo — consistent in its inconsistency — is pretty much a crapshoot.
Sometimes that dilemma plays out in a single dish, like tartara di tonno in salsa di zenzero e erbe. Arugula lends its Italian accent to this coy take on raw-tuna poke. While the tuna was first-rate — and gently treated to a ginger glaze — the melba toasts served with it fell somewhere between blah and blech.
Soaring shelves hold much of the wine collection, which includes a strong, earthy Italian component, with more than a dozen labels touting the ristorante’s namesake, Barolo. That pricey Piedmontese favorite may be a bit too rich for your blood. But given the generous glass pours, if you’ve never tried this noble nebbiolo (presently available at $18 a glass), here’s your chance.
Branzino in crosta di patate all’acqua pazza (“potato-crusted” fillet of Chilean sea bass) was oversalted and undersalted, all in the same preparation. This hunk of fish proved memorably moist under a drift of bland mashed potatoes (the “crust”). But its sauce, the classic tomato-stoked acqua pazza (translation, crazy water) was insanely salty — to the point of inedibility.
A salty overdose marred another seafood entree: pan-seared sea scallops wearing prosciutto like a second skin. This was served with a bunch of baby carrots so hard they could have chipped Pietro Rabbit’s front tooth. At lunch, though, those big fresh scallops came sliced and silky, tossed with yolk-colored ribbons of housemade tagliatelle, showing, once again, that the kitchen can rise to the standards this setting suggests.
Nancy Leson on KPLU
Catch Nancy Leson’s commentaries on food and restaurants every Wednesday on KPLU (88.5 FM) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m, and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Listen to “Cooking tips and tricks,” her latest commentary.
One windswept afternoon, friends and I practically had the place to ourselves for a lunch that brought wows! and waaahs! in equal measure. Slices of melting beef carpaccio showered with Parmesan, capers and arugula had us sighing — and reaching for another forkful. But a “tower” of grilled eggplant, pallid tomatoes and rubbery “fresh” mozzarella left us cold.
Our buffalo burger was a big, beautiful, juicy mess as it fell out of its ciabatta-style bun. Wild mushroom risotto with wild boar sausage was also a mess: a miserable one. Its homely housemade patty came carelessly cooked, sinewy and rare, detracting mightily from the rich risotto that lay beneath it, prepared “al dente only” — as the menu insisted.
Got a nose for truffles? At Barolo, you can enjoy a mix of fresh fennel and salad greens tossed with a touch of white truffle oil.
But stay away from the porcini flan with white-truffle panna. They take liberties here with the word “flan,” and this grim puck of pulverized porcinis draped in truffle-scented cream grew tedious after two bites.
Why order crème brûlée in an Italian restaurant? Because that creamy custard could hold its own in the best of the French bistros. And it’s a far happier ending than the sludgelike hazelnut panna cotta, whose gelatinous espresso-infused custard could have supported an upright dessert spoon.
A sucker for costoletta di vitello alla Milanese, I couldn’t resist ordering it here. Too bad that bounteous veal chop, pounded, dressed in fine bread crumbs and pan-fried, was seriously underseasoned, wanting for salt, butter, capers — something in addition to the squeeze of lemon provided.
But oh, man! What about that strozzapreti, the hand-rolled pasta whose name translates as “priest stranglers”? I confess: I’d go to hell and back for another helping of those glorious garrotes, dripping in a tomato ragu studded with chewy little lamb bites.
And if you think I’m being overly dramatic, well, at least I’m in the right place.
Carne cruda (dinner) $12.50
Branzino in crosta di patate (dinner )$26
Strozzapreti al ragu d’agnello (dinner) $16.75
Risotto ai fungi con salsiccia di cinghiale (lunch) $14
Costoletta di vitello alla Milanese (dinner) $29
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