Was turned away (under strange circumstances) from an impulse try at Rione XIII tonight, so ended up an Branzino, a spot I've been wanting to try for quite a while.
I found the space really welcoming, the ample low-walled booths on the house's resto side being especially welcome. The tops in the bar have a similar feel to them--intimate. This is a contrast with XIII, whose open, minimalist buildout conveys (to me) a "nothing-gets-in-the-way-of-our-predcious-food" hubris.
Wahine and I had the grilled octopus, the tagliatelle carbonara, and tonight's special pizza, an olive oil based Neapolitan-style pie with pepperoni, shaved red onion and smoked moz.
The octopus was excellent. It was an overgenerous portion, a small enough animal to have the whole tentacles curled and lightly charred. The critter was sectioned 2 arms to a piece, served drizzled with a pesto on a large crostini, on a bed of thick, warm tomato/olive tapenade. Looked a little strange, but it was so good Wahine entirely forgot her aversion to he'e.
The carbonara was also a bit strange, but succeeded with some odd touches. There was zero yolkiness to the sauce, but it was rich. Minced scallions and whole green peppercorns were unexpected, but it all fell together rwally well.
The pie, though was straight down the middle, and astoundingly good. Bambino's pies are my Coin of the Realm these days, and this Branzino pie was every bit as good. In a way I can't fully explain, when a full-service resto can park one like this, it just impresses me. Maybe it's the obverse of when a high-rep pizzaria (e.g., Delancy or Queen Margherita) makes a very god pie, but it's a stand-up double. In the former case you're amazed, and with the 'ria, you wonder why they can't do their one and only thing better...
The wine list was balanced an well-thought-out, though maybe 1-2 notches overpriced.
Service was excellent, earning a perfect zero in passive-agressiveness and unctuousness.
Overall, I though Branzino was a real, relaxing hit, and a value. I will be back.
On the down side, there are two *terribly*-configured booths, almost laughably so. And why is there an ottoman and a chair in the men's room?
Thanks for visiting this topic. I have long felt Branzino was a very good, under the radar option for Belltown. It's fare is sort of like Stowell's cuisine, but less simplified, with, as you noticed, a surprise element or two in the works.
I do want to try some of the classic Roman dishes at Rione XII--have been in a Roman phase of home cooking lately.