Top Chefs Dish 'Al Dente' on Seattle's Italian Cuisine

Like Sofia Loren, Seattle’s Italian cuisine scene owes ‘everything to pasta.’  And a bit more. With over 2,300 restaurants in the city, Italian eateries with staying power offer far more than just spaghetti and meatballs.

Here, some top chefs dish ‘al dente’ on their secrets to staying relevant in the Seattle Italian cuisine scene.

Cafe Juanita | Kirkland | Seattle - Capitol Hill

Nominated for the James Beard Outstanding Chef in 2012 and 2015, James Beard Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Restaurant in the United States in 2011, and a 2009 Iron Chef participant, Chef Holly Smith holds a special place in the Seattle Italian cuisine scene since opening Cafe Juanita in 2000.

Chef Holly explains: “We try every day to be the best we can be and to improve...that hasn't changed, but I think it has deepened as the restaurant has matured.”

Her Northern Italian-inspired menus rotate frequently, with a focus on local, organic, sustainably farmed fare paired with an equally eclectic wine menu.  

On her list of must-have ingredients?  “Great extra virgin olive oil, salt, eggs, and raw ingredients.” Her ‘cannot live without ingredients’ include cayenne pepper, crème fraiche, lemon zest, and anchovies.

Cafe Juanita’s cult customer favorites include braised rabbit with pancetta and porcini, octopus with chickpea crema, salsa verde, fennel and smoked bone marrow, and risotto nero with Alaska spot prawns.

Always the innovator, Chef Holly likes to tweak things, including her restaurant’s space. As Cafe Juanita undergoes renovations through May 2015, she has introduced a ‘pop-up’ site on Capitol Hill, featuring a prix-fixe menu with optional wine pairings.

Ethan Stowell Restaurants (ESR)  | Tavolàta - Belltown | Anchovies & Olives - Capitol Hill  |  Rione XIII - Capitol Hill

Home-grown Ethan Stowell spearheads a stable of Seattle restaurants, including the Italian-themed Tavolàta, Anchovies and Olives, and Rione XIII.  Stowell believes in building friendships. providing value, and giving back to the community. Each of his Italian venues offers a unique twist on the same cuisine.

Tavolàta, in Seattle’s Belltown, serves up family-style pasta-centric eatables to large parties girding for a night on the town. Menu favorites include a tasty chickpea salad, house-made rigatoni, and a hearty pork chop. 

Anchovies and Olives, located on Capitol Hill, offers more refined fare spotlighting seafood. Guest go-to dishes include the crudo and oyster offerings, grilled branzino, and savory bigoli pasta. 

Rione XIII combines the best of the other two restaurants, with a sleek downtown vibe set in a cozy corner of Capitol Hill. Named for an ancient quarter of Rome, regulars here savor traditional Roman classics, including fresh mozzarella, Cacio e Pepe pasta, fried artichoke, and oxtails.  

Ristorante Paradiso | Kirkland 

Kirkland cult-favorite Ristorante Paradiso attributes twenty-five years of success to consistency in products, execution, and service. 

Sardinian-born owner Fabrizio Lio follows traditional recipes using a handful of locally procured ingredients, butter and garlic in moderation, and a few choice spices, all served up with his legendary addictive, pillow-soft, hand-made rolls.

Many of Chef Fabrizio’s customers return nightly, some spanning entire generations. Recently, he opened Blu Sardinia in Redmond’s Bella Bottega, which pays homage to the Mediterranean “Blue Zone” life-prolonging lifestyle of his native Sardinia. The diet includes little meat, pecorino cheese, seasonal produce, extra virgin olive oil, robust native red wines, and breads from durum, semolina, and unprocessed flour.

Chef Fabrizio’s philosophy is simple: believe in what you serve, do it right, and don’t show off. He considers his time-tested recipes like steamed mussels and braised halibut similar to musical compositions - the notes written, each composition containing similar motifs, executed daily - always with an eye for improvement and little need for improvisation.

Serafina Osteria and Enoteca | Seattle - Eastlake

Eastlake neighborhood gem Serafina Osteria and Enoteca serves up a soulful selection of Tuscan-themed cuisine, craft cocktails, and unconventional wines. Founded in 1991 by New York native proprietress Susan Kaufman, her famiglia of top-notch staff embrace visitors with genuine warmth, inviting ambiance, and superbly sourced, artfully prepared provisions.

Favorites included warm beet salad Barbabietole, hand-crafted Pappardelle con Verdure with Morel mushrooms and spring herbs, and Involtini di Coniglio, a rabbit roulade featuring Prosciutto di Parma and spring nettle purée.  

Serafina’s little sister Cichetti, a Venetian-inspired tapas-style eatery and bar, shares an outdoor seating courtyard. 

As Luigi Barzini once observed:  “The definitive recipe for any Italian dish has not yet appeared. We are still creating.” The same holds true for Seattle’s Italian cuisine scene. Buon appetito!