Bizzarro Italian Cafe Italian
If it were a stock film character, Bizzarro would be the quirky best friend with the zany personality and the novelty hair. And for these last 20-some years, that’s exactly how most serious food people have regarded the giddily alternative Wallingford ristorante, home of the red brick walls and flea market chandeliers and ceiling-suspended furniture and gilt-framed everything. But a recent revisit revealed a more serious culinary enterprise than we’d remembered: excellent handmade pappardelle pasta in a gutsy elk Bolognese; Yukon Gold gnocchi in a moist, porky sugo di maiale, exotically cinnamoned; a lamb shank, famous across Wallingford, served in a figgy demi-glace atop a polenta cake and braised kale. The food was serious and intentional—most derived, admirably, from within 300 miles—and delivered by the friendliest crew of pierced people in town. No wonder it’s so bloody hard to get a Saturday-night table.
1307 N 46th St, Wallingford, 206-632-7277; bizzarroitaliancafe.com $$
One of the last serious dinner houses in Belltown is this square room with high-backed booths and cozy spaces, swathed in autumnal hues—a bona fide warm restaurant in a city smitten with the stark and minimal. Here the friendly welcome, rustic fare, and affordable price tags (most entrees under $20) all
lack pretension. The chef’s hand stays firmly on the Italian tiller, turning out a housemade pappardelle Bolognese, a panzanella starring handmade mozzarella, branzino with frisee salad, and a perfect pizza crust.
2429 Second Ave, Belltown, 206-728-5181; branzinoseattle.com $$$
Cascina Spinasse Italian
Here in Pike/Pine’s rustic Piedmontese farmstead (trestle tables, wood beams, wrought-iron chandeliers, lace curtains) diners feast on robust platters of slow-stewed venison with currants and buckwheat polenta, or heirloom chicory salad with chunks of marinated rabbit and extraordinary aged balsamic vinegar—all lovingly oiled and seasoned. The pasta achieves density and delicacy at once, in ravioli of rapini with pine nuts or hearty cavatelli lavished with chanterelles. A plain ragù featuring rich rolled Piedmontese egg-yolk noodles called tajarin is a masterpiece, giving Seattleites their first taste of pasta the way it’s done in Italy. A neighboring bar, Artusi, lets us drink like Italians too, in a room adorned with chef Jason Stratton’s art and featuring a separate menu of sophisticated Italian noshes and aperitifs.
1531 14th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-251-7673; spinasse.com Closed Tue. $$$
Nobody spins sexy ambience out of four walls and a kitchen like Susan Kaufman, whose Italian Serafina has played stage set now to two decades of pasta-twirling foreplay. She’s done it again, in a George Suyama–designed building just across the leafy courtyard from Serafina’s back door. It’s called Cicchetti (chi-KET-tee), after the social style of small-plate dining in Venice. With the exception of the show-stopping Venetian chandelier commissioned for the entryway, Cicchetti plays modern, angular sophisticate to Serafina’s older-world rusticity. And from upstairs, the sweep of the Seattle skyline will send a Manhattanesque shiver down the spine of any urbanite. Look for stunning cocktails and noshes reflecting the myriad Mediterranean influences the Moors hauled with them to Venice, from clams in fennel-saffron broth and prosciutto–goat cheese pizza to flatbread dips and crispy polenta cakes.
121 E Boston St, Eastlake, 206-859-4155; serafinaseattle.com/cicchetti Closed Mon. $$
Eva Restaurant New American
One of the enchantments of Seattle’s restaurant scene is finding underheralded gems like Eva scattered deep in the neighborhoods. In this sunny homespun corner of Wallingford, lined with windows and filled with folks who come as they are, pristine seasonal ingredients are whipped into smart, deeply flavorful preparations, crafted with a sly streak: perhaps Cabrales flan with pear relish, mussels steamed with garam masala–kissed coconut milk, or roasted quail with chorizo bread pudding. Almost nothing misses. An adjoining wine bar and toe-curling desserts enhance the versatile user-friendliness of this find.
2227 N 56th St, Wallingford, 206-633-3538; evarestaurant.com $$
Four Swallows Northwest
It’s a looker all right—once somebody’s cozy early-twentieth-century home, where each room is fitted with elegant fixtures and intimate nooks (just right for wedding anniversary season) and, in the case of the bar, big booths suffused in light the very color of brown butter. Four Swallows is just the sort of place you want to eat Penn Cove mussels in a garlicky broth breathing Spanish sherry and smoked paprika, so you won’t believe your good luck when that very dish comes to your table and tastes as fine as mussels can taste. It’s one preparation that never leaves the innovative Italian-inspired Northwest menu of co-owner and chef Geraldine Ferraro; a menu that, if your luck is holding, may also include a beautiful plate of seared sea scallops or a terrific duck breast, sliced thin and drizzled with cherry gastrique. For 20 years now this gleaming jewel has been the place on Bainbridge for a classy evening out.
481 Madison Ave N, Bainbridge Island, 206-842-3397; fourswallows.com $$$
It’s the enchanting North Capitol Hill space wrapped in stained glass and pastel wall murals of Pushkin fairy tales, in a cobbled stone building that looks like it came out of one. Here French-born chef Philippe Thomelin (Cascadia, Harvest Vine) brings us Andalusian fare, in the form of affordably priced tapas ($5-ish to $15-ish) and large plates ($15 to $20). Those plates may be uneven, from a stunning tart albacore ceviche crostini special to a stuffed, breaded pork loin tapas lackluster as a Hot Pocket. But the successes resound with an autumnal substance, and the crowd in here, threading their way through the close tables and cupping their ears to hear one another, doesn’t seem to have noticed.
806 E Roy St, Capitol Hill, 206-322-0409; olivarrestaurant.com Closed Mon. $$
Place Pigalle French
This hidden bistro behind the Pike Place Market fish tossers is français to the max—down to the black-and-white floor tiles and très cosmopolitan little bar boasting regulars who come for the hard-to-find aperitifs. But the little place with the charming ferry view has a Seattleite soul, lighting with particular fondness on Northwest seafood. The bacony steamed mussels are locally famous—they’re an appealing antidote to the ubiquitous wine-butter rendition, served in a tangy balsamic near-gravy you’ll want every last French roll to dispatch. Other dishes ply the regions between solid and pleasing, with the occasional foray into truly admirable—like the lush creme brulee for dessert. Not wheelchair accessible.
81 Pike St, Pike Place Market, 206-624-1756 placepigalle-seattle.com $$$
Ristorante Machiavelli Italian
Go to the frenetic corner of Pine and Melrose. Step inside the bustling wedge of a restaurant. Enter Brooklyn. With only 14 tables, you will wait, but Machiavelli’s shadowy little bar is a very appealing place to do it, over some people-watching par excellence—the whole spectrum of Capitol Hill’s monde and demimonde—and a terrific cocktail. Seasoned servers, who can turn a table without a whiff of a rush, can likewise turn a table on to some fine saucy classics—creamy Alfredos, kickin’ marinaras, and a fine carbonara. The veal is a house specialty and a guilty pleasure; the steak, known among cognoscenti, is a triumph.
1215 Pine St, Capitol Hill, 206-621-7941; machiavellis.com Closed Sun. $$
Serafina Osteria e Enoteca Italian
It’s rustic Italian cuisine, in a setting so unabashedly sexy it makes raging lust look just a little uptight.
To the strains of live jazz vocals, against a backdrop in all the sultry colors of a Tuscan twilight—or alfresco in a charming vine-entwined courtyard—lovers can feed one another lush forkfuls of dishes like pumpkin ravioli in brown butter-sage sauce or braised rabbit with Parmesan polenta or vermouth-simmered Penn Cove mussels. A vibrant bar and perhaps a velvety panna cotta bookend your evening in a way that altogether explains why it was so hard to get a table.
2043 Eastlake Ave E, Eastlake, 206-323-0807; serafinaseattle.com $$
The Tin Table New American
Tucked like a speakeasy into a brick-walled, high-ceilinged space on the second floor of the historic Oddfellows Building in Pike/Pine, the Tin Table was conceived as a joint to feed and water the swing and salsa dancers from the gilded Century Ballroom across the hall—but it’s every bit as much a candlelit destination, and underpriced to boot. The magical, Paris-in-the-’20s vibe befits the stiff cocktails, good champagne list, and sharable noshes, from salt cod fritters and fish tacos to an outstanding steak frites (truffle salt on the mountain of fries) and frisky tuna burger. Nibble enough from the long list of unfussy vegetable plates and robust, intentional salads and you’ll earn dessert—a good idea where the beignets are this light and beautifully sugared and the molten chocolate cake is this chili fired. The most unlikely down-to-earth place in town.
915 E Pine St, Capitol Hill, 206-320-8458; thetintable.com $$
Voilà! Bistrot French
From the arches of its windowpanes to its fir-plank floors, from the embrace of its diminutive dark-wood bar to the creamy unsalted butter on its bare-wood dining tables, Voilà! whispers all its sweet nothings in Gallic dialects. The menu sketches a portrait of the quintessential French bistro—coq au vin, French onion soup, boeuf bourguignonne—and then the kitchen colors it in, with solid renditions that don’t go messing with expectations. A fine salad mingled mild, firm cubes of Tomme de Savoie cheese with apples, walnuts, and the soft caress of butter lettuce; a dish of trout in a lemony butter-almond sauce was quietly right. Voilà! is less a big night out than a gentle night in; the perfect sort of come-as-you-are Sunday-night neighborhood haunt.
2805 E Madison St, Madison Valley, 206-322-5460; voilabistrot.com $$