True Italian

It's hard to beat Seattle's Osteria La Spiga

Stacee Sledge

Nov 7, 2002 Sometimes I fall so hard for a restaurant that it's nearly impossible to write about it.

I recently encountered this rare problem while trying to formulate my thoughts around Seattle's Osteria La Spiga.

I stared at the blank page, conjuring how best to compel you to make the drive to Seattle and experience this exceptional, traditional Italian osteria run by husband and wife Pietro and Sabrina Borghesi. The couple sold traditional Romagnan flatbread, or piadina, in Italy for several years before setting up shop in Capitol Hill's Harvard Square with Sabrina's sister Sachia Tinsley.

My friend Susan introduced my husband and me to Osteria La Spiga last year. She regularly visits friends in Italy and was taking a class to bone up on the language. The instructor of her class took the group to the restaurant to share with them truly authentic Italian food.

And authentic it is. Down-to-earth yet elegant, this eatery sparkles at every turn, serving specialties from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region.

Simple fare is often more difficult to capture than complicated cuisine, but La Spiga succeeds in serving straightforward specialties that shine at exceedingly affordable prices.

Osteria La Spiga

Location: 
1401 Broadway Seattle

Phone: (206) 323-8881

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Wednesday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday through Saturday

Serving: Traditional, authentic Italian like no one else. Simple Romagnan dishes done right.

Menu items sampled: Caprese con pomodori arrostiti $8
Lasagne verdi $9.50
Tagliatelle al ragu $8.50
Tortelli verdi ai formaggi $10.50
Gnocchi al pomodoro $9.50 
Il mascarp
one di Ida $4.50 
Panna cotta con caramello $4.50
Crostata alle albicocche e mandorle $5

I invited four friends to join my husband and me at La Spiga on a recent Saturday night. Capitol Hill is notorious for parking headaches, but the restaurant validates parking for the garage beneath Harvard Market, making arrival a breeze.

We met for the first dinner seating at 5:30 p.m. and enjoyed one of the spacious, long bench-like booths settled in among the rustic decor of bricked arches and wrought-iron touches in the cozy candle-lit dining room.

The eatery's menu is somewhat condensed: Choose from a handful of starters, four salads, six entrees and one soup of the day. But every single menu item is a winner, and nothing more is needed to make La Spiga a satisfying, memorable dining experience.

You won't find the over-abundance or excess that exists at so many restaurants these days, and that's just fine with me. At La Spiga, you're served just-right portions of food that is well thought-out and prepared with care. All pasta and sauces are made fresh in La Spiga's kitchen by well-practiced hands, and it shows in every beautiful bite.

Our meal began with a long, narrow basket of complimentary piadina cut into triangles, the same unleavened flat bread that the Borghesis used to peddle in Italy.

With a taste and consistency along the lines of a thicker matzo, each warm slice was crisp on the outside and soft and slightly moist inside.

Several of us shared an appetizer of caprese con pomodori arrostiti, fresh mozzarella layered beautifully on a simple white china plate between generous slices of ripe house-roasted tomatoes sprinkled with julienned basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

My friend Wes ordered my usual dish, tagliatelle al ragu, a whirl of flat noodles dressed in La Spiga's hearty ground meat and tomato sauce, then tossed with Parmigiano. This dish is so simple, yet so sublime.

This time I strayed from my usual tagliatelle al ragu and tried the tortelli verdi ai formaggi, green pillows of pasta filled with four cheeses and tossed lightly in its house tomato sauce.

Each pouch was filled with a tangy mixture of cheese that was balanced by an exceptional red sauce that doesn't rely on strong spice, just clean, bright flavor.

Another of my culinary cohorts, Tasha, ordered the lasagne verdi, very thin al dente layers of spinach pasta and La Spiga's ragu mingled with besciamella sauce. She found the dish more delicate than you usually think of with lasagne.

My remaining dining companions all settled on the gnocchi al pomodoro, potato dumplings encased in La Spiga's spectacular pasta and served in their fresh house sauce and tossed with Parmigiano.

Gnocchi is so often cooked incorrectly, but La Spiga's kitchen staff knows what it's doing. Every last round of potato dumpling hit the precarious balance between tender and firm.

A bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano was placed on the table for those who wanted to spoon a bit more on their already liberally dusted entrees fitting, since Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese originates from Emilia-Romagna.

We all agreed that the realistic portion sizes were compared well to the often-oversized dishes found in many American restaurants. This added to the authenticity of the meal and resulted in a meal where we all left feeling pleasantly full but not uncomfortable.

We left room for dessert, because to not do so would be a travesty at La Spiga.

You can't go wrong with any of the dessert selections. My favorite is its panna cotta con caramello, or cooked cream with caramel. Delicate and shimmering with a creamy texture, this custard-like dessert is lavish yet light, served on a chilled plate and swimming atop a divine caramel sauce.

Susan would disagree with me on this point, as La Spiga's il mascarpone di Ida is by far her favorite dessert on the menu. La Spiga's version of tiramisu is Pietro's mother's special recipe, luscious layers climbing to the top of a deep cup and dusted with cocoa powder.

Tasha chose the crostata alle albicocche e mandorle, an apricot almond tarte with thin layers of apricot on the bottom and ground almond filling on top, lightly crusted.

Served warm, it was robust enough to make a fitting fall dish but, like everything we'd sampled at La Spiga, not overly heavy.

Sadly, the crescione alla nutella La Spiga's crusty piadina dough enveloping a rich layer of warm chocolate hazelnut spread wasn't available the night of our visit. Patrice and Wes instead shared a serving of warm chocolate sponge cake drizzled with raspberry sauce. The heat gave the middle a near fudge-like consistency and taste.

We finished up the meal with cups of exceptional caffe espresso and caffe della moka (made in an Italian coffee pot), then made way for the waiting diners who had crowded on the sidewalk outside over the course of our meal.

Word has certainly spread about this sensational restaurant it was rated one of Seattle's 100 best restaurants in a recent Seattle Weekly poll so call ahead for a reservation. And then let me know if you've fallen as hard for Osteria La Spiga as I have.

The Fine Print: I dine on my own dime. The opinions herein are mine alone, not The Bellingham Herald's. Agree? Disagree? Please drop me a line at StaceeSledge@hotmail.com.

 

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