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Looking for fun, un-stuffy, Italian style Trattoria in SEA

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Why is it that most Italian restaurants in Seattle seem to fit into two camps. Either a) stuffy, pricey and over-rated. Or b) glorified Spaghetti Factory.

I am dying to find a lively Italian restaurant, that serves Italian food (not just spaghetti and meatballs and calls itself Italian), like you'd find in Bologna or Roma. Simple pastas, maybe a pizza or two, Italian wine, real tiramisu...is this too much to ask?

Am I the only one who thinks there has to be middle ground between our typical Seattle Italian options?

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  1. The only place that reminds me of something you might find in Bologna or really Italy (food wise--not really atmosphere wise in the current space) is La Spiga.

    I like La Medusa an awful lot, though, and it's not stuffy, expensive or Spaghetti Factory-like.

    7 Replies
    1. re: christy319

      I gotta say, i feel like La Spiga fits in to the "pricey and over-rated" part of the A) category...

      I'd say my fav spot for something like this is Rialto on Fremont Ave.
      (i've never been to Rome or Bologna, but it reminds me a bit of some of the places I went to in Boston) Good red sauce, reasonable priced wines and a usually a couple of interesting entree options.
      (Don't get the olive pasta dish there though)

      Nearby Cantinetta's been getting some nice reviews as well, it's one of my next to visit places.

      1. re: GreenYoshi

        Second Rialto. Love their pastas. No pizza, though. I also love Machiavelli, but the wait can be a bit much at times.

        1. re: akq

          See, I think Rialto and Bizzarro are the kind of Americanized Italian that it sounds like the OP is trying to avoid. They sure don't remind me of anything you'd find in Bologna (Boston, sure)! Do you think La Spiga is pricey? I don't. I haven't been in a while, and I do think they were better in their old space, but I've heard very good recent reports.

          1. re: christy319

            Agree on Bizzarro, but I still like Rialto a lot. Not a big fan of La Spiga, although I would give them another go eventually.

            1. re: akq

              Here are my 3 favorite Italian restaurants in the Seattle area (in no particular order); Enza, Rialto, and Mondello. All have wonderful real Italian menus, great ambiance and a good family feel to them. My husband and I are huge Italian fans and have tried damn near every Italian restaurant in the greater Seattle/Bellevue area, and these are the only 3 restaurants that we have left happy and satisfied each and every time :) Give 'em a try and see for your self!

              -----
              Mondello
              2425 33rd Ave W Ste C, Seattle, WA 98199

          2. re: akq

            Went to Machiavelli this weekend. Waited about an hour, had a good manhattan in their loungue. We tried the caesar salad, the veal parm and the spinach lasagne. The caesar was good, not amazing, with bright citrus but lacking a little of the egg viscosity I favor (it might be hard for many places to risk that). I think they charged extra for a few achovies, which is pretty lame. The lasagne was pretty good, though I could not detect the spinach much, the server said it was part of the pasta sheets. The veal parm was very good for SEA (but not a Northeastern city), but I wouldn't say head and shoulder above Pizzutto's.

            Obviously, the place is mad packed because it offers Italian trattoria-quality food at cheap prices. The servers were cool about moving us from a traffic area to a window seat once it turned over. Personally, before returning to Machiavelli, I'd pay a little extra for the ingenuity of, say, Barolo or La Medusa (or maybe Branzino), or pay a little less for the homely Pizzutto's. But I might look at it differently if I lived in Capitol Hill.

        2. re: christy319

          I second la medusa. They have an awesome wednesday farmers market dinner. http://www.lamedusarestaurant.com/men...

        3. bizarro (46th/stone way) is as unstuffy as a sports bar with food in the upper reaches of seattle italian (p.s.- a "real" tiramisu is served as an afternoon snack rather than as a dessert which tends to be fruit and vin santo...)

          5 Replies
          1. re: howard 1st

            This is sort of a tough not to crack. I generally try to distinguish between Italian and Italian-American, and for the former, considering the price point and atmosphere you seek, there aren't many. La Medusa fits the bill though its more sicilian-oriented as opposed to emilia-romagna. There is great piedmontese fare at Spinasse, but it costs you well beyond what a trattoria in the old country does, at least relatively speaking.

            If red-sauce, checkered-table-cloth fare is acceptable, it is ubiquitous in the cities back east, but actually fairly rare here. Pizzuto's in Seward Park satisfies most of the criteria.

            1. re: equinoise

              In that vein, too, is Salvatore, which surprised the heck out of us with the best presentation of halibut, ever...

              1. re: mrnelso

                I second Salvatore in the U-District. Unpretentious, very good service, food is delicious, moderately priced. Also, Tidbit Bistro on Capital Hill. It's kind of a combination of Italian and Spanish tapas, but I rather enjoyed it.

                1. re: Square Business

                  Here is a third for Salvatore's. We live near there and eat there often. It is non-pretentious and a bargain for the quality of the food. Order absolutely anything off the specials menu and you will be delighted. The service is great - the wait staff has barely turned over in the 12 years we've been going there. They are usually closed on Sunday but they have a sign up now saying they will be open this Sunday for Valentine's Day.

                  1. re: bourbongal

                    Went to Salvatore after nearly a decade after my last visit, and was very impressed. We had a wild boar spinach tagliatelle, and also a penne puttanesca. The latter was particularly excellent, the bite of the capers and the anchovy funk forward and very present, with considerable chile heat. (I suspected this classic dish would be capably wrought given that that chef is from Puglia, where I belive there is a propensity for hot food). We also had a hearts of palm salad that was quite good. The server recommended a bottle of Barbera that worked out well and was fairly priced.

                    I don't think the printed menu has changed since the mid-late 90's; and Salvatore clearly intends to sell its specials. It is alot to ask the server to recite 10 or so special items from memory--why not spring for some copying costs and run off an insert?

          2. I guess when I think of Bologna or Roma true Italian, I am thinking of that simple rustic preparation that Italians do so well. It doesn't have to have a mound of cheese, or a huge pile of stuffed ravioli...just quality ingredients that shine in the simple preparation. Now, if I could have that, with that incomparable Italian energy buzz that happens in the neighborhood eateries, I would be in heaven.

            Now, unfortunately if I don't find that here, I might be forced to visit Italy again. And wouldn't that be a shame? :-)

            1 Reply
            1. re: kgreig

              Cafe Bizarro, Cafe Lago, Salvatore's are the 3 I recommend.
              Cantinetta fits into the 'pretentious' category from my experiences there.

            2. Da Pino on (65th in Roosevelt) is pretty neat. It's open for about 20 minutes (they close at 7:30!) and there's zero atmosphere, but the sandwiches and pasta dishes are flavorful and relatively inexpensive. Pino Rogano supplies cured meats to a lot of Seattle's high-end restaurants (disclaimer: he's from Calabria, not Rome or Bologna).

              4 Replies
              1. re: lavaca

                Are they doing pasta dishes there now?
                It used to just be sandwiches and cold cuts down at the Rainier Valley location.

                1. re: GreenYoshi

                  They have always had a pasta dish or two on the menu.

                  1. re: GreenYoshi

                    There's a whiteboard with three to five pasta dishes written on it. It's nothing too wild, but occasionally I've seen wild boar on the menu.

                  2. re: lavaca

                    Calabria will do just fine. :-) Love the spicy red sauces with those calabrese peppers. Pino Rogano sounds great!

                  3. Here's one more vote for Rilato. Rudy has been at it for a long time and his menu goes beyond simple red sauce, which is also very good in my opinion.

                    Another great choice is Ristorante Picolinos at 65th St and 32nd Ave in Ballard. It's a neighborhood spot with great entrees and desserts made in house.

                    1. machiavelli! good price and great food.

                      1. mmm, I hear linguini con vongole calling my name! These are all great suggestions, who knew?!

                        1. Try Bizzarro. Funky but fun and the food isn't half bad either.

                          1. Does anyone have an opinion about where La Rustica in west seattle falls in the spectrum?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: babette feasts

                              I'm surprised no one has mentioned Serafina in Eastlake. It might be a tad pricier than you want, but I don't find it to be stuffy in any form. I love the food here, and the atmosphere is almost better. It's loud, the staff is amazing and on Saturday nights they usually have live music. I've never had a bad meal here.

                              I also like Bizarro for a more laid back, quirky atmosphere. Simple, but not Spaghetti Factory in any form, Italian food.

                              1. re: babette feasts

                                I have loved La Rustica. It can be a logn wait for a table.

                              2. Cafe Vignole might be what you're looking for. It's at the south end of Lake Washington (technically Renton, I think, but in the Rainier Beach neighborhood) and makes a lovely sunset drive down LW Blvd.

                                We've only eaten there once because it was pricey for us (I think we spent $100 for three courses including wine for two people) but the food was fabulous in a "this guy knows what he's doing" kind of way. The feel of the place was intimate, welcoming and neighborhoody. I don't remember exactly what we ate, but it was immediately on the list for places to go when our parents are paying.

                                1. No pizza but we have always had great food and service at Brad's Swingside in Fremont. More or less across the street from the Buckaroo. We have been going there for over a decade now and have never had a bad meal. Super nice folks to boot.

                                  Creo

                                  1. What about Machivelli's in Capitol Hiil? Never been, but have been considering it. Thoughts?

                                    1. When I'm in the mood for "comfort" Italian food I go to Pasta Bella on top of Quenn Anne. Been going there for 8 years and have never been let down.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Lost

                                        The Pasta Bella in Ballard has a cooler vibe. PB is great, love it.

                                      2. Pasta Freska on Westlake offers up a pretty unique experience. They seat you, ask you if you have any food allergies or serious food aversions, and then whip up a meal for you and yours. It is a funky little spot that has always left me feeling well taken care of. Oh, and it is incredibly reasonable.