artusi italian mashup
Image: Olivia Brent
Artusi is among the nation's best new restaurants, says Bon Appétit.

THE NEGRONI IS ONE OF THE PERFECT achievements of mankind,” sighs Jason Stratton. His reverence for Italian aperitifs and the bars that serve them inspired him to launch Artusi last summer next door to Cascina Spinasse, his heralded Piedmontese pasta house on Capitol Hill.

So yes: The grappas, amari (including fine artisan versions from Seattle), vermouths, brews, and well-chosen Italian wines are central to the identity of this fizzy enoteca—as central as Artusi’s minimalist decor. The stark white-on-whites, repeating hexagonal motifs (on the tiled bar top, in the light cylinders), and a wraparound wall mural that looks like the work of finger-painting children but was done by Stratton himself reflect his philosophies about the disorderly order of the Italian culinary sensibility. Or something.

But Stratton’s other passions don’t short the culinary program. He named the joint after the nineteenth-century Italian gastronome Pellegrino Artusi, famous for compiling recipes from all regions of Italy into a single, seminal cookbook. This kitchen allows Stratton to stray from Piedmont to incorporate the ribollitas of Tuscany or the anchovy-kissed preparations of Liguria for diners to mix and match at will.

So one might order a plate of baby beets, quartered with herbs, over thick swirls of the lush tuna mayonnaise, salsa tonnata. (Correction: If this is on the menu, one should order it—what a swooner.) A dish of black rice polenta is topped with greens and piquant slow-roasted goat. Tripe, braised to heartbreaking tenderness pricked at our associations of the offal either as cross-cultural workingman’s fare (it’s in pho, it’s at taco trucks, it’s chitlins) or as, well, awful. In this signature dish, neither is true.

Stratton thus toys with highbrow-lowbrow expectations—slipping cubes of saffron gelee into an otherwise rustic bread soup, that kind of thing—in a way that food sophisticates will find thrilling.