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Monday, December 31, 2007


Volterra wine

Last evening, my dear friend Meri and I stumbled on a spectacular restaurant, all because the Indian restaurant we thought we wanted to visit was too full. As we wandered in the cold— fresh from a long walk around Greenlake in the blustery wind — searching for somewhere to eat in suddenly trendy Ballard on a Saturday night, I remembered a piece I had read in a newspaper this summer. “Hey, I think there’s a new Italian restaurant down this street. I seem to remember something about the couple who run it once living in Tuscany. Wanna try it?”

Ah, Volterra. Ah, the food.

We ate well. To start, a warm prawn and roasted fennel salad: enormous prawns sauteed in garlic; slivers of fennel; lamb’s ear lettuce; mandarin slices; a light champagne vinaigrette; spicy green olives with an unusual bite. Meri ordered a warm lentil and pork jowl salad. Never in my life did I think I could write this sentence honestly: I just love pork jowl. Before you protest, imagine this: thin, crackling slices of the essence of bacon taste, crunching among tiny brown lentils, along with small shreds of radicchio and arugula. Ah, the taste of it. Meri and I both just kept looking at each other, smiling and amazed, then diving our forks back into the pile of lentils before us.

In between dishes, we sipped on our wine. The wine list featured wines from all over Tuscany — including the “Supertuscans” — with some far out of my price range. The one we ordered was, admittedly, the cheapest one on the list. However, I certainly didn’t feel deprived. We drank a spicy, full-bodied blend of Washington-grown Shiraz, Cabernet, and Merlot, blended specficially for this restaurant. If you don’t know about the power of Eastern Washington wines, you should try some. I don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to talk about wine well; I just know what I like. And this wine, I liked. Enormous personality, full in the mouth, and it simply deepened with every new dish. Or, as Meri said, about twenty times throughout the night, “Oh my god, the wine.”

And then, the entrees. By the time they arrived, Meri and I were already in ecstasies, but we simply weren’t prepared. She had the wild boar tenderloin with a gorgonzola sauce and sauteed rapini. Apparently, it was tender and not-at-all gamey. Judging from her little moans and sudden inability to listen to anything I had to say, I’m guessing it was ineffably good. However, I didn’t do that much talking, because my prawn and porcini risotto, with cream and lobster sauce, made me incapable of speaking. Oh lord — this was good. Every bite indelible, every spoonful a pleasure, every taste a measure of just how good food can be.

You may have noticed this: I don’t write about restaurants often on this site. For one, I don’t eat in restaurants that often, since I had to learn how to live gluten-free. Eating in restaurants is always a risky endeavor, and most of the time, I’m not willing to take the risk. Sometimes, I eat in places where I know I’m going to be safe: my favorite Indian restaurant; sushi when I bring my own bottle of wheat-free tamari; salads with friends for lunch. Nothing much to write about there, though. I want to only recommend a restaurant to those of you reading here if I feel like it’s spectacular.

Volterra is spectacular, not only for the fresh, creative food — an exquisite blending of the best of Tuscany and the Pacific Northwest — but also for the way they treated me when I told them I cannot eat gluten. Our wonderfully flamboyant waiter (Paul from Seville) understood me immediately when I explained my plight. He already knew about celiac disease, but he still went back three times to the kitchen to insure that flour didn’t lurk somewhere in places that neither one of us expected it. Later, he brought over one of the owners, the wonderfully voluble Michelle, who chatted with me about gluten-free food. She truly impressed me with how much she already knew. Later, Paul informed me that the chef wanted me to know that they keep Tinkyada pasta in the kitchen, in case any gluten-free customer wants to try one of the incredible pasta dishes. That’s a good restaurant — trying to keep every customer satisfied and safe.

Since that first meal, I have returned to Volterra dozens and dozens of times. The owners, Don and Michelle, have become friends of ours. (The Chef wasn't in my life when I first visited Volterra, but he has been back with me nearly every time since.) And, in perhaps the best meal we ever shared, Don and Michelle roasted a local lamb in fennel pollen for our wedding.

I could not recommend a restaurant more highly.

Volterra Restaurant
5411 Ballard Ave Northwest
Seattle Washington 98107



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