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Cantinetta Comforts and Charms


In reading some of the consumer reviews for this new restaurant in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood, one might think that this area of the city had just been introduced to decent Italian food or that these folks hadn't eaten well in some time. "God's Table", "Best in the City", and "Rulezzz" are just a sampling of the headlines some have given in their reviews.

After dining at Cantinetta last Friday night, I came away pleased with the overall experience, but would be hard pressed to assert that this restaurant offers the very best in Italian dining in Seattle. Furthermore, there were a few oversights in both preparation and service that need attention, but these are easily forgivable considering the place has only been open for two months.

Cantinetta succeeds on several levels, the most obvious filling a long standing void in this area for Italian fine dining. The corner setting with big windows offers an inviting atmosphere to celebrate a meal. Inside, the minimal decor and simple design give the place a certain charm. The high ceilings, spacious dining room, and wooden bench seating with pillows offer a comfortable, open environment.

Besides the setting, I really liked the simplicity of the food menu and wine list. The menu is organized around courses, with several options for the antipasti, primi, and secondi, including a diverse array of contorno dishes. Even better was the wine simple wine list, which on one page offered a decent cross-section of Italian wines, while on the other a wonderful variety of Washington wines. Now that's celebrating local food and local wine.

My only complaint was the lack of Washington wines by the glass, with only a single white and red wine available. This is an area where Cantinetta will hopefully invest more time building out, for there are some decent wines, especially those of the Italian variety (e.g., sangiovese, barbera, dolcetta) being produced in our state.

After settling in with two glasses of Prosecco, we chose the avocado, grapefruit and olives salad and the duck polpettoni, both incredibly delicious dishes that for me where the highlight of the evening. We then ordered the hanger steak, squab, and fingerling potatoes for our secondi course, opting to skip pasta this time around. With both dishes, we ordered a couple of glasses of sangiovese from the Toscana region.

My wife really liked her hanger steak, but I was disappointed in my squab, which arrived undercooked, with my serrated knife bouncing off of it like it was a piece of rubber.

Our server's initial reaction went something like, "it's supposed to be rare, like duck". I love my duck rare, and for that matter my squab too, but I don't like it raw. This was raw squab. Unfortunately, after firing it again, the breast portion was cooked to a nice rare consistency, yet the leg was still raw. After the previous exchange, I decided to avoid our server's lecture on how squab is properly cooked, leaving the remainder of the bird on my plate.

In all fairness, they had just started offering this dish with their new spring menu, therefore one hopes that with a few more tries, the cook will get it right. It's a challenge grilling such a small bird, trying to get the leg cooked enough without charring the breast meat. And to be even more fair, our server was very polite about it all, handling the situation very well, her quick reaction to how squab should be cooked notwithstanding.

For the dolce course, we ordered a zoboline and the pear tart with salted caramel gelato. I was underwhelmed with both (which is always the case with zoboline anywhere), but I had higher expectations with the pear tart. Like the squab, the pears seemed under-cooked to me, their consistency being hard and tough. And I think the salted gelato was well, overwhelmingly salty. Even my wife, who has a fairly heavy hand in the kitchen when it comes to salt, felt the "salted" part in this dessert was overplayed.

Regardless, we are intent on coming back to Cantinetta for another meal soon. There are more dishes to try, especially the various pastas, and more meals to celebrate at this comfortable and charming restaurant. I recommend you visit as well, but get there early, as the word is out in Wallingford and beyond.

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