Ferragosto: Italy's Summer Festival at La Spiga

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In other countries, in other cultures, it's known as the Feast of the Assumption, Maria Himmelfahrt, Fête de l'Assomption. In Italy, a country no less religious than France, it's known simply as Ferragosto--a nationwide summertime fair (think Fourth of July plus Labor Day) originally under the patronage of the Roman Emperor Augustus. All over Italy, life stops. Not just for a day or two, but for a week at the very least.

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This year, Osteria La Spiga. staked its claim to the leadership of Seattle's Italian restaurant community by turning itself into a Ferragosta village. It's a big restaurant (6,000 square feet, seating for 174), and they set up a dozen food stations, starting with antipasti at the bar, ending with grilled skewers of meat on the patio out back. In between, prosciutto and mortadella, pasta with truffles, a seafood frito misto,, roast suckling pig, assorted cheeses, and, for dessert, deepfried bomboloni (donuts filled with pastry cream).

Running a restaurant as big as La Spiga is no mean task, and it's not being mean-spirited to say that it hasn't always been a total success. A staff of close to 50, multiple spaces (bar, main dining room, upstairs private dining, patio). On paper, a place that size should gross well over $1 million a year, but training servers to sell and deliver (and kitchen staff to execute) at that level often stumps the best of them. Complaints about La Spiga's inability to keep up boiled over earlier this year in The Stranger, with Bethany Jean Clement basically retracting her original, gushing review, and La Spiga's chef and co-owner Sabrina Tinsley responding, basically, that the critics misunderstood the nature of Italian food.

But restaurants are more than just public kitchens, they're public living rooms; it's not (just) about their food, it's (mostly) about their hospitality. So it's a pleasure to report that La Spiga's hospitality, for Ferragosto, was as warm as can be. And, relieved of the demands of a regular crowd of fussy, impatient diners, the kitchen was able to concentrate on a dozen or so perfect dishes that showcased the delicious simplicity of northern Italy's Romagna region.

Maybe that's the way to go: dump the menu, just let your guests wander through the house, plate in hand, and help themselves. Certainly, anyone who's ever put on a backyard barbecue knows the drill.

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Osteria La Spiga, 1429 12th Avenue, 206-323-8881 Osteria la Spiga on Urbanspoon

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on August 25, 2008 12:00 PM.

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