Dishin’: Cascina Spinasse and the School of Pasta

This was a big deal. We usually go out for so-called “exotic” food like bugs, tripe, and chicken liver mousse popsicles (dipped in dark chocolate), but for a belated birthday dinner, we wanted to check out the fuss about Cascina Spinasse.

We rarely go out for Italian food, opting instead to make it at home. A plate of pasta is emergency food for us, as we can whip up a mean puttansesca in no time at all.

That said, Spinasse is no ordinary Italian restaurant, and its pasta is pretty extraordinary. But more on that in a moment.

First up was the antipasto misto della casa ($28). It’s an ideal sampler of the six antipasti items on the menu, great for the first-timer to the restaurant. We especially enjoyed the sliced cold poached veal and the salad of chicories and marinated pheasant, but found the anchovies to be a little too salty.

This we ate at one of the communal tables, as the counter was full. Free advice: Wait for a counter seat if you want one. We were told it would be close to an hour to sit there, only to watch as seats opened up just fifteen minutes later. Fortunately, our served sent us over for the next round of open seats, where we waited for our pasta and took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the kitchen – which is why we generally like counter-seating.

While the family-style menus were tempting, we opted for a la carte as we wanted to try two pastas. And we were glad we did. First was tajarin (fine cut egg pasta), which we had with ragu ($19). Very delicate noodles with just the right amount of meat and tomato clinging to them. Fun for the first few bites, but less enduring and enamoring than the maltagliati (random wide cuts of pasta) with chickpeas and prosciutto ($20). Wide noodles please us, and these were perfectly cooked with just the right bite to them.

The pasta portions are not so large, but two orders for two people after antipasti and bread had us fairly full. A side with all this would have sufficed (perhaps some roasted vegetables), but our server had earlier suggested otherwise, and housemade goat sausage with lentils and kale ($24) had caught our eyes. These balls of sausage were glimmeringly beautiful, packing a meaty, somewhat salty punch blunted well by the luscious lentils. We took a few tastes, and packed the rest for the next day’s lunch.

Spinasse is a bit pricey for Italian food, but you’re paying for quality ingredients and preparation. Based on our two-part dining experience, we definitely recommend sitting at the counter. You’re not in bantering range of the kitchen crew, but you can see your pasta-maker cooking up his creations. We know that’s Chef Justin Neidermeyer, but with his ruffled hair and overall look, we couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of Jack Black in the kitchen. To the master of the school of pasta, we simply say, “Bravo, Maestro.”

Cross-posted on Seattlest, where “we” = me.

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