Interestingly, it was Bob’s idea that we go for the menu degustazione on Saturday night. He’s definitely not a picky eater but for health reasons has to be a little selective about what’s on his plate. Maybe he was just feeling indecisive. Or adventurous. Or maybe this was just one of those rare occasions when literally everything sounded good.
I was surprised by the suggestion, but it only took a moment for me to agree. Usually when a marathon meal is in the cards, it’s something you plan ahead for (i.e. light lunch, long walk). In fact, we’d kind a pre-functioned a bit already, which I’d have skipped had I known. We had a few bites at Ethan Stowell’s brand-new Anchovies and Olives, opened the day before, just a block away. More report on that later, we need to go back for a broader menu tasting. But the raw mackerel with toasted pine nuts, sliced radish and tiny beet sprouts was outstanding.
So what the heck. We took a deep breath and got ready for a sampling of everything on the menu at Spinasse.
It was kind of a last-minute decision, this dinner out. I had, of course, been wanting to get there for months, soon as I began to hear friends try to find superlatives to describe their meals. One more pal raving last week got me to stop whining and get over there. A lucky Saturday afternoon call secured 2 spots at 7:00 that night. No recession signs here, the place was packed and bustling, loud in a convivial sort of way.
The communal table setting can make conversation with your partner across the way a little challenging, but it all works out. And no chance you won’t have at least some interaction with folks next to you. In fact, it was sometimes hard not to pipe up with our neighbors as if we were dining partners. The husband sitting next to me ordered a martini with Aviation gin and was telling his wife that he thought it was from Oregon. It was everything I could do to not lean over and confirm that indeed it’s from Portland and wax on about the great gin and my friend Ryan, who’s part of the team behind it. (I just noticed that on their new site, the story behind Aviation cites “a small tiki party in West Seattle” as part of the early history of this Northwest gin. That little party was at my house!)
Under “menu degustazione” on the menu, it says “everything – $75 per person.” And they do mean everything, aside from the contorni (vegetable sides), one of which was part of an entree anyway.
The seven antipasti selections came on three narrow oblong plates that sat like hash marks between us. Artisan salami with roasted leeks, simple as it was, was a favorite of us both. The salad with chicories, pheasant and walnuts was a winner too. And while I do not (typically) like beef tartare, the carne cruda Piemontese was heavenly: rich but mild, pure and simple. But the vitello tonnato, anchovies with green sauce and egg yolk, farro with yellow foot mushrooms….nothing was anywhere near a dud.
Then followed the three pastas of the night. I’ve never had a finer, more delicate pasta than the tajarin al ragù, whisper-thin strands tossed with a simple meat ragu. And the ravioli with nettles and ricotta, tossed with sage butter and toasted pine nuts–amazing. Not that the maltagliati with chickpeas and prosciutto was a slacker but the other two prevailed. In fact all three were delicious leftovers a couple days later. There was no way we could clean these plates and make it through the next and final round, our secondi.
The pork sausages with lentils and lacianato kale were–yet another–highlight of the evening. Simple, homemade sausages burst with unadulterated pork flavor, the earthy accompaniments an ideal foil for the sausages’ richness. And braised duck leg fell from the bone with the slightest touch, tender and delicious, served with juniper scented savoy cabbage.
Ok, so dessert actually isn’t included in the degustazione either. And it shocked me that I felt like a little bite of something sweet after such a grand parade of delicious Piemontese dishes. Spinasse deserves an extra gold star for having something as simple, and small, as brutti ma buoni (which I’m pretty sure translates as “ugly but wonderful”) available. The delicate hazelnut meringue cookie–which seemed mostly hazelnut, just enough meringue to give some structure–could not have been a more ideal finale for this wonderful meal.