A year ago, Cornichon ran a post about the ethereal pasta served at Jason Stratton's 30-seat Capitol Hill storefront, Cascina Spinasse. Since then he's doubled the size of the place and appended an entirely new venture, an Italian aperitivo bar called Artusi, where he continues to demonstrate levels of creativity and technical prowess unique in Seattle.
Artusi, on the quiet corner of 14th and Pine, has a high ceiling, a concrete floor, a neutral gray color scheme with bright yellow accent tiles and hand-rolled paper lampshades. There's seating for a total of 50 at two bars (one at the cooking station, one for cocktails) and a string of tables for two overlooking the sidewalk. The place is named for Pellegrino Artusi, a northern Italian silk merchant who wrote Italy's first post-unification cookbook ("The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well"), wildly popular in Italy at the end of the 19th century and only available in English since 1997.
The concept is for folks to come into Artusi for a drink at one of the counters, a cocktail or maybe a glass or two of wine, maybe a stuzzatino (snack) of fried capers ($3) or a crisp semolina wafer with fresh ricotta ($6), then meander over to Spinasse when their table was ready. They way you would in Italy. An aperitivo and a bite in a caffè or bar, then dinner somewhere else. And some folks, to be sure, do just that. But no sooner you think that Seattle gets it, gets the Italian lifestyle, you fine that many more folks don't want to leave for dinner at all.
Gulp! Seattle wants more: bigger portions, more full-meal options. Sheesh. But Stratton's not a dogmatic chef, he's the soul of attentiveness to what his customers want . (Helps that he's got a great staff of business professionals working with him.) So dinner-size portions it is.
Which brings us to Stratton's dilemma. Can't put handmade pasta on the menu at Artusi, that's cannibalizing his own specialty. So instead he's doing some remarkable dishes that can be prepped in the Spinasse kitchen and finished on the induction cooktop at Artusi: duck leg with prunes ($15), lamb braised with olives ($16), and the single best dish I've had in months: tripe with bone marrow and local black truffles ($16).
A lot of people, needless to say, have negative experiences (or negative expectations) about tripe.
"There's something deeply satisfying about taking such an overlooked and even off-putting ingredient and transforming it into something delicious and tender," Stratton tells me. "I've had many guests be surprised at how much they like it."
Beginning to end, the tripe dish is a three day process. First, Stratton's crew blanches honeycomb tripe (from Nicky USA, a specialty purveyor in Portland) in a vinegary poaching liquid with white wine onions, garlic and spices. The pot goes on a very low simmer for about an hour, with a cook standing by to skim off the scum as it rises to the surface.
Most of the "funk" contained in tripe lies in the fat, and poaching helps render some of it. Once it's chilled, the honeycombs are scraped with a spoon to remove the rest of the fat that resides in the folds and near the valves of the stomach. Then it's cut into thin strips.
Meanwhile the cooks prepare a brodo, a meat broth that begins with a soffrito of finely diced carrot, celery, onion, garlic, chopped rosemary and a little sage, pancetta and prosciutto rind. After it caramelizes and gets deglazed with white wine, the trips is added back and simmered for about three hours. When it's done, the brodo is thick and stew-like.
Stratton's line cooks (Bobby Palmquist on a recent weeknight) finish the dish with grilled bread, julienned black truffles from Oregon, sourced by Jeremy Faber of Foraged and Found, and discs of bone marrow (from Silvies Valley Ranch), seared in a hot pan and added at the last minute.
"This is sort of a Northwest ode to cooking tripe in the style of Piedmont, where bone marrow is often used to enrich tripe dishes," Stratton explains. In any event, the tripe is rich and flavorful, with the texture of sliced mushrooms. The best wine? Schiopettino from Friuli, Primitivo from Puglia, Negroamaro from Siciliy, Canonau from Sardinia, Barbera from Piedmont. This is a dish that transcends wine.