December 14, 2009

Venice Without the Gondolas

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Small plates (call them tapas, call them hors d'oeuvres, call them mezze) and cocktails: a brilliant concept when it's done right, a quagmire if you get it wrong. And so much can go wrong, so quickly. Just look at the sad-sack happy hours in all the gin joints around town; you know who they are. So what a pleasure to find a new spot that does it right, Cicchetti, which is what the Venetians call them. The menu comes with its own official pronunciation guide, "chi-KET-tee," rhymes with spaghetti. "The staff thought the name was too hard," says owner Susan Kaufman. "I overruled them."

The menu is short: 9 cold dishes, 13 hot items, 4 desserts. The wine list is similarly simple: 15 bottles altogether, all available by the glass. There's a moderately priced ombra, red and white (ombra, literally shade or shadow, being the name given to a wine you drink in the cool shade of a Venetian arcade). The reach is global: Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Israel and Washington State are represented.

In the open kitchen, Serafina's exec chef Dylan Giordan and his crew chop and dice, melt cheese and bake fish on the floor of the Woodstone oven. Yes, there's a pizza; fontina & chanterelles for $13. We rather liked the octopus and chickpea salad ($7), though the peas could have been cooked a minute longer and the dish needed a bit more salt. At $14, Moroccan spiced lamb is the most expensive item on the menu. Cornichon suspects that the ricotta fritters injected with puréed huckleberries ($7) will win the Oscar for best supporting dessert. And, yes, they're Italian: haven't you ever heard of Tavolata's zeppole?

You enter Cicchetti through the charming courtyard behind Serafina. The building until recently housed an architect's office; its clean lines have been transformed into a quintessentially Seattle bar-without-folderol by interior designer Nancy Barisof. Centerpiece is an over-the-top chandelier of Murano glass, the sort of piece that inspired Dale Chihuly's exuberance. Kauffman had acquired a much smaller piece in Italy and, having found his business card, asked the artist if he'd be interested in doing something for Cicchetti. Sure, he wrote back. "My girlfriend lives in Ballard." What are the odds? Two weeks later he was on site, assembling the chandelier.

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Cicchetti, 121 E. Boston (off Eastlake, behind Serafina), Seattle, 206-323-0807  Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at December 14, 2009 9:09 AM | TrackBack

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