Tuscan Tea Room Bistro in West Seattle offers tea and meals in a setting conducive to conversation.
The sound of cheering, chicken-chomping football fans wafted through the open door of the Tuscan Tea Room Bistro, a gilded, aqua- tinted paean to 18th-century European luxury. At a spinet next to the bar, a pianist pluckily worked his way through an American pop playlist, doing his best to override the rowdies next door.
Meanwhile patrons at linen-dressed tables amid the mirrored-and-marbled elegance were doing something impossible at most contemporary restaurants: conversing over dinner in tones that would lull a child to sleep.
Here, readers, is that serene and civilized dining room so many of you pine for: in a West Seattle storefront sharing an entrance with the Wing Dome, surely the oddest juxtaposition at the Junction.
Three nights a week Aimee Pellegrini’s baroque jewel box becomes a romantic, candlelit Italian bistro complete with cocktails, wines, and a menu spanning shrimp scampi, fresh pasta and short ribs. Six days a week it serves Italianate lunches, brunches and high tea.
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The unique hybrid has great charm but a range so far-reaching the kitchen stretches to reach the high notes.
Hats and gloves are optional. (It’s Seattle, after all — even the staff wears jeans.) On weekends, school-age girly-girls flaunt pretty pink dresses and party manners while nibbling scones and tramezzini, crustless sandwiches made for the younger set with peanut butter and jelly, jam and cream cheese.
High tea for grown-ups comes in two sizes. La Patronessa ($29) and La Fenice ($15). The tea selection is vast, the beverage itself carefully brewed. The stout floral teapots are fit for a queen; each delicate cup and saucer is different.
The tiered caddies hold an array of nibbles. Sampling them on separate visits (a weekday and a Sunday), I found them long on fruit, short on sweets, with savory items that varied in quality and in the care with which they were made.
Tramezzini (variously filled with chicken, herbed cream cheese and cucumber, and pesto-painted mozzarella bocconcini) as well as crostini (toast topped with fresh tomato and basil, or with goat cheese and marinated mushrooms) tasted fresher and were made with better ingredients on the weekend. For La Patronessa, several undistinguished meats and cheeses were added to the mix, plus a square of quiche, none of which were compelling enough to me to merit paying twice the price.
Pellegrini is a talented baker, yet both teas incorporated a single sweet: tiramisu with the larger tea; a voluptuously frosted wedge of chocolate layer cake with the smaller. A pedestal stacked with fresh scones on the marble bar caught my eye, so I asked for one. It was first rate, paired with raspberry jam and a pot of sweetened mascarpone whipped with cream.
From my perch on a cushioned settee, I noted several gentlemen among the ladies lunching on crespelle (crepes), frittatas and quiche, hearty portions sided with fresh fruit and herbed roasted potatoes. The two crespelle I tried — sweet, rum-spiked apple-pecan, and crabmeat with artichoke hearts enrobed in a rich fontina cheese sauce — were made with considerable finesse. So was the asparagus and prosciutto frittata, though sharp Gorgonzola melted on top muted the flavors inside.
A lively arugula salad accompanies dinner entrees. After demolishing a starter of scampi fra diavolo, soaking up the last of its devilish marinara with bruschetta, we could hardly do justice to roast chicken. The flattened bird straddled not only a garlicky, sage stuffing of celery, carrot and prosciutto, but also fluffy mashed potatoes and bread soaked with pan juices. Half went home for lunch the next day, as did two of four minty lamb meatballs and the remains of pappardelle cloaked in meaty, rosemary-flecked tomato ragu. Only the tough, flanken-cut short ribs were left behind.
Pellegrini, whose parents own West Seattle’s beloved La Rustica, never thought she’d own a restaurant. A wedding florist for nine years, she only recently discontinued that pursuit to focus on this year-old venture. She has clearly learned a few things at her dad’s apron strings and has the energy and ardor she will need to succeed.
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