I’ve Been Everywhere & Then I Had Dinner, Washington Edition
Location: Vito’s, 927 9th Ave, Seattle, WA
Time: February 13, 2016 7:30 p.m. PST
I could start with the décor straight out of a ‘50s mob-olicious film—red leather banquettes, black marbled mirrors, candlelight that makes everyone look good. I could enthrall you with the in depth Battlestar Galactica discussion, or tell you the tale of the well-aged piano player who’s last employer found his flirting to be too much for their conservative clientele. But, this is a story in the IBE&TIHD series, so maybe I’ll just start with the tequila.
“Jeff wanted to make sure you enjoyed your evening,” the server says, as she sets three tequila filled tumblers, each garnished with a wedge of lime, on our table.
Tequila was the last thing I expect because 1) I’m at Vito’s—a restored vintage Italian restaurant in Seattle. In my brain, tequila and Italian don’t go hand in hand, but I’ve learned Seattle can always serve up the unexpected. 2) I’m here with one of my best friends, Natalie, and her husband, Jason. They both happen to work at Charles Smith Wineries. Since my dinner companion has a degree in enology, I assume I’ll end up drinking wine at any meal we share. 3) We didn’t order it. But when the owner of the restaurant (Jeff) recommends something…
I decide the offering is our liquid appetizer, rub my lime around the edge of the glass, and take a long deep swallow of the golden liquid. It warms me enough I forget about our mile-long hike, up hill, in damp weather, and confirm I’m definitely at the right place for my IBE&TIHD Washington adventure.
It’s only 7:30 and the menu has a line up of everything you’ve ever wanted to put in your mouth at an Italian joint. Nat orders us a bottle of Prosecco and the cheese plate to buy us some time before we make the bigger decisions of the night. The cheese plate has cheese-platey stuff: cheddar cheese, goat cheese, fancy cheese three, and fancy cheese four, flat crackers, thinly sliced pears, and a lovely silver cup filled with sweet, tangy chutney—it’s not overly gooey. The apricots still hold enough texture that when you spread it on top of the creamy goat cheese your tongue almost falls out of your head because it’s hit the balance of sweet and tangy just right.
I’m somewhere in the middle of a chutney chew when our server brings over the Prosecco. She pops the cork, and I jump about a foot. Sadly there is no cork cannon careening across the room, but it’s a fancy restaurant with well-trained servers who clearly are more skilled at opening wine than I am. Have I mentioned that I think sparkling wine is dumb? I mean, I like how the bubbles look in the glass, but other than that it normally just doesn’t do it for me. But tonight this sparkling wine tastes pretty good. (Little did I know that Vito’s does something weirdly magical in their time-traveling restaurant, and I should have caught on with that first sip of Prosecco.)
Another great trait of my dinner dates is they are food sharers. This makes ordering a group decision, and lets us taste a lot more things. We decide on beef carpaccio, a grilled Caesar salad, and a pickled beet salad. We sip the bubbling Prosecco, and I have Nat tell me the tale of how wine bottles are made. Some people may think such conversation is lame, but I like the idea of molten-glass lava waterfalling multiple stories, being poofed with billowing air, and stretched to form one of the more recognizable shapes on our planet. We’re halfway through the mental glass factory tour when the pink shreds of rare beef tossed with Parmesan, capers, arugula, and olive oil are set before us next to the grilled romaine and a colorful concoction of beets. The beef carpaccio is melty shreds of beef deliciousness, but I see Jason is clearly in love with it, so I only take a sample. Nat’s not crazy about the anchovy level in the Caesar, so I pile it onto my plate. The real surprise for me was the beet salad though. My main joy of beets is they turn everything purple—sometimes they taste all right, but I never wake up and think “damn I’d really like some beets today.” But at Vito’s their pickled beets are all colors of the rainbow and mixed with radicchio, frisée, pear, toasted pistachios, and a verjus vinaigrette. The salad is light, the texture of the beets crisp against the crunch of the nuts. The earthiness of the beets brightened by the slivers of pear—it’s so good I’m a little sad I had to share. Nat and I devour the plate before the well-aged piano player’s done with his first set.
I’m still finishing my Caesar when Nat tells our server “How about a bottle of nebbiolo.” Oh yeah, nebbiolo, I think. Then I ask Nat, “Is that the type of grape?” She confirms it is, and a red one at that, which is lovely because I’ve ordered a big fat steak for dinner. There’s nothing better on earth then red wine and steak, except maybe red wine and chocolate, but honestly the steak probably wins.
About this time Jeff, the tequila enabler, stops by the table to say hi. We tell him how much fun we’re having, and that everything has been delicious. He is very pleased and tells us if we stick around there’s a chanteuse scheduled to come on at midnight. He excuses himself as dinner arrives. Nat got the lasagna, served as a molten, steamy, volcano of awesome that you need to have your mom blow on for ten minutes so you don’t burn your face off. It was a good twenty minutes before I ventured to taste it for fear of searing my taste buds. My bite was still warm, full of a plethora of meat, and well seasoned. Jason had ordered the chicken Marsala. Chicken Marsala has never made it onto my culinary radar as anything of interest, but Jason seems to enjoy it and the bite I had was quite nice. There was also a side of house made meatballs, but I completely forgot to try them because I was glaring on my plate.
When I ordered the menu said “vegetable of they day.” I was too excited about my beet salad to ask what the vegetable was—bad Jessica, amateur move. I know better than that. So Nat and Jason are digging into their deliciousness and I’m fixating on a heapy mountain of Brussels sprouts. Known to me as tiny feet smelling cabbages that people always tell you are going to taste better than they do, but really they still taste like stank little cabbages, and here they are on my plate next to my perfectly seared steak, and my creamy pile of mashed potatoes, and all because I forgot to ask “What’s the vegetable of the day?” But then I remember the weirdly good bubbly wine, and the beet salad that rocked my face off, and figure what the hell and stuff one in my mouth. And holy shit this damned restaurant has worked a miracle again, because here I am eating a Brussels sprout, and not in the I-have-to-eat-my-vegetables kind of way, but in the these-are-tasting-pretty-good kind of way, and I find myself shoving another one into my mouth. It’s highly probable those sprouts were so good because they were paired with a steak that makes you wish you had an extra stomach. Cooked to medium, it was juicy, and so tender that it made me want to take my time with each chew so I could make it last longer. Nat, Jason, and I agree my steak is the best entrée of the evening.
About now the piano player is covering “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. It makes me giggle because I actually love that song. And My Fair Lady is the only musical on earth I like—every other one makes me want to gouge my ears out. That’s when I realized what Vito’s has been doing all night long.
Vito’s has taken things that I normally am ambivalent towards, or, in the Brussels sprout miracle, despise, and turned them into delectable parts of the meal. It really is a masterful feat of the chef to put out dish after dish of delicious food and help people taste food in a way they never have before.
By now we’re getting toward the bottom of the nebbiolo bottle. We’ve probably been eating for over two hours, when the server comes to ask for dessert. Some people may have said they’d had enough—we however said nothing of the sort. We ordered the cannoli stuffed with chocolate cream, salted caramel gelato, and tiramisu. Jason thinks a digestif would do us right so a round of amaro is ordered as well. The dessert’s perfectly adequate, but my brain is still fixated on the steak portion of the night and trying to figure out what the new band that’s setting up is going to sound like.
I assumed that was the end of the night, but we run into Jeff and his friend. They discover I’m a fantasy writer; we explore our mutual adoration of Battlestar Galactica. I decide his friend is an MMA fighter, he says he’s an engineer; I insist my story is better, and it offers plausible causation for his rotator cuff injury. The lead singer of Tacocat shows up. And then a whiskey and a whiskey and a whiskey. But that is a very different story.