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Under the Tuscan sun: Cantinetta brings a little taste of Tuscany to the Pacific NW

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Lead line cook Rachel Sanders, left, and pastry chef Lorna Stokes roll dough into breadsticks at the Continetta restaurant in Wallingford.

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A plate of proscuitto e melone at Continetta, an Italian restaurant in Wallingford.

In a city teeming with ethnic cuisine, the Italian-inspired Cantinetta in Wallingford provides a cozy alternative to pho and falafel.

Cantinetta is one of the few restaurants on the south end of Wallingford Ave. The fledgling pasteria offers a high-class, Italian experience without the need to travel to Italy to find it.

Stepping over the restaurant’s threshold is like stepping into a family restaurant in a small Tuscan village. Cantinetta’s inviting ambience allows the patron to forget about the overcast sky on the other side of the door. For those seated outside, the southern view provides a glorious picture of downtown Seattle.

The staff is attentive as they refill water glasses, take orders, and make conversation, but they never cross the line to be overbearing. They politely disregard failed attempts at pronouncing the names of the dishes, and each one makes a good representative of the restaurant.

In the Cantinetta kitchens, simplicity is the key to an authentic Tuscan meal. With only a few ingredients in each dish, individual elements play off of the others to create taste sensations found only in Italian cuisine.

In Italy, olive oil prevails over butter. The complimentary bread plate is accompanied by a dipping dish of the classic Italian oil. The small slices of bread are hearty. A blend of herbs is kneaded into the dough, creating a timeless Italian loaf.

To begin, an option is the proscuitto e melone. This dish blends salt and sugar as the tangy dry-cured ham compliments the sweet melon. It is an unexpected marriage, but the results stimulate and satisfy two of the five basic tastes: salty and sweet.

For an entrée, try the tagliatelle dish with rabbit ragu and chanterelle mushrooms. The rabbit is a different kind of meat to try, but with a flavor similar to chicken, it is a pleasant surprise. The accompanying ragu is a light compliment to the meat. The mushrooms provide an earthy taste, which is a perfect pair to the rabbit. The tagliatelle pasta — similar to fettuccine — presents an ideal base to the entrée

A vegetarian option, one of many on the menu, is the gnocchini. The gnocchini — small pasta dumplings made from potatoes rather than flour — are paired with halved grape tomatoes and petite mozzarella rounds. The dish is finished with a spoonful of fresh basil pesto to pull the delicate flavors together. This plate is a classic example of how a few simple ingredients create a savory dish that satiates and delights.

For dessert, the menu provides an alternative for every preference. Fresh sorbets and gelato are available, as well as a lemon curd tart with meringue and raspberries. Chocoholics can be satisfied with a plate of a chocolate cream puff, mousse and torte, but these are only a few among an array of other delectable desserts.

The prices are a little high for the average college student; entrees average $16, but for a special romantic night out, the seasonal, organic ingredients prepared by skilled chefs create an authentic Italian experience.

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