After more than three decades, smart service and able Italian cuisine make this Seattle classic worth revisiting.
Thirty-four years ago, a Bohemian circus came to town, in the guise of an Italian restaurant. And it’s still going strong.
Long before Teatro ZinZanni was a gleam in anyone’s eye, The Pink Door opened on Post Alley. To this day its unmarked entry, painted the sort of dusty rose you see in Renaissance frescos, serves as its only signage.
A steep flight of stairs descends into a room whose theatrical décor evokes an artist’s atelier or a courtesan’s boudoir, depending on your imagination. Curtains drape from the high ceiling. Tall candles drip on candelabra already wax encrusted. The cream-and-gold stripe of the banquettes and the shadowy diamond pattern stenciled on the masonry walls recall the harlequin of commedia dell’arte, no doubt intentionally. Dinner at The Pink Door is all about entertainment.
The Pink Door ★★★
1919 Post Alley, Seattle
Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4-10 p.m. Sunday
Prices: $$$ (antipasti $10-$16, lunch entrees $11-$25, $18-$28)
Drinks: full bar; Italian and Northwest wines
Service: thoughtful and smart
Parking: on street and nearby lots
Who should go: romantic free-spirits
Credit cards: all major
Access: stairway at entrance
In the dining room, sequined aerialists regularly gyrate on hammocks, hoops and a large wooden swing. A tarot-card reader entertains early birds. Later, the bar and lounge becomes a cabaret where bands and burlesque queens take the stage.
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It could be mayhem but for “Jacquelina de Roberto,” aka Jackie Roberts. She calls herself “La Padrona,” but she is more like a ringmaster, metaphorically cracking her whip over the front and back-of-the-house staff who are the real stars of the show.
The kitchen has stepped up a notch since chef Steve Smrstik returned in 2007. The Seattle-grown CIA grad had worked there nearly two decades earlier before moving on to other restaurants, including Chris Keff’s Flying Fish. But it’s not just the food that earns The Pink Door a three-star rating, up from the two-and-a-half stars it received when it was last reviewed in 1999.
Service is thoughtful and smart. (The exception was at the door, where each time the welcome was perfunctory.) Servers I encountered were attuned to diners’ needs, whether they were seated inside or outside on the flower-festooned, midsummer-night’s-dream of a deck, where everyone wants to be in fair weather.
One glorious afternoon I watched waiters weave expertly among the deck’s oilcloth-covered tables. They tended to tourists, in a rush to see the next sights, who twirled pappardelle cloaked in pale pink Bolognese, tore into meatball-stuffed sandwiches and devoured Caesar salads heaped with Dungeness crab. They also indulged locals who preferred a more leisurely lunch, savoring a favorite Seattle summer ritual.
Our server demonstrated her trick of turning a wine bottle’s foil cap into a cork holder, after opening a $32 bottle of Kerner, a crisp, fruity white from Italy’s Alto Adige. (I’d have preferred a rosé but, ironically, pink wines were scarce on The Pink Door’s list.)
We dallied over the house antipasto, colorful and abundant with prosciutto, salami, fresh mozzarella and black olive tapenade, plus pickled and marinated vegetables. When the next course arrived, the waiter condensed the little that remained to a smaller plate, making room for the “everything green” salad, a tarragon-kissed tribute to spring with fresh English peas, shaved asparagus and pistachios cradled in tender bibb lettuce.
Fresh peas roughly puréed with mint also filled delicate house-made ravioli served with pea shoots in a simple butter and Parmesan sauce. Lasagna was constructed of similarly sheer pasta sheets, stacked five or six layers deep, bonded with bold pesto and creamy béchamel. Basil-flecked tomato sauce blanketed the top tier. It’s been on the menu forever, and deservedly so.
Lemony nettle purée, another emblem of spring, vividly accented chicken cooked “al mattone” (under a brick). Soft, crisp-edged potatoes roasted with herbs and artichoke hearts accompanied the wonderfully moist, flattened bird. (Chicken cacciatore just replaced it on the summer menu that debuted this week.)
House antipasto $13/$16
Smoked tuna carpaccio $12
Summer chicken cacciatore $26
The chicken pleased far more than a lamb duo, the kitchen’s one flub. The ribs were sadly overcooked, the sausage dry, the whole thing made worse by greasy-tasting polenta and a harshly acidic cabbage slaw. I was grateful for beautiful sautéed rapini, zesty with garlic and red pepper, chosen from among the contorni.
Both meats were served in rustic style, on wooden boards that facilitate sharing. Communal dishes never failed to come with appropriate serving utensils and fresh plates. For Cioppino, a large bowl of piquant tomato broth, hinting of citrus and anise, chock-full of prawns, mussels, clams and calamari, we were given a ladle, individual bowls and seafood forks.
Tuna carpaccio made the loveliest spectacle of all. Gossamer slices of pale pink house-smoked albacore were drizzled with golden olive oil and crisscrossed with long, slender crostini seasoned with salt and fennel. Pinned to this rosy carpet like a corsage was a pink-and-green salad of frisée, pickled onion and watermelon radishes. It was fanciful, free-spirited, delightful — words that sum up The Pink Door as well.