Gail and I had dinner last night at the newest restaurant in the neighborhood, Cafe Parco. It was our first visit, and we anticipate returning often.
Cafe Parco occupies the small Madison Park house that was the long-time home of the popular Madison Park Cafe. For no good reason, we rarely went there. Indeed, I don’t think we’ve been for over a decade. The owner, Karen Binder, closed in August, prompting an appreciation by Seattle Times restaurant writer Nancy Leson.
Binder will bid adieu to Madison Park Cafe, turning over the keys to Celinda Norton. Norton, a talented chef, sold her 6-year-old Pike Place Market bistro 94 Stewart in July in preparation for the move. If all goes as planned, Norton expects to reopen in October as Cafe Parco. Her “New World Italian” menu should appeal to a neighborhood short on Italian restaurants.
“Oh my God, I’m so happy!” says Binder, who’d hoped to find another woman entrepreneur to take over at 1807 42nd Avenue East. “I’m thrilled about Celinda. She’s got a big-enough personality so I feel I have a replacement. I think she’s going to knock ’em dead.” Speaking of, given the news of the impending closure, “I just hope all the people who’ve been eating blintzes here for the last 32 years don’t have a coronary.”
Blintzes! I like blintzes. Why exactly did we not eat there?
Leson also quoted the new proprietor, Celinda Norton.
Why Italian? I asked Norton, whose 94 Stewart had a decidedly Northwest bent. “Seattle loves Italian, it’s got such broad menu-capabilities — and I love it. For the philosophy for what I do it’s the best fit: you buy the best ingredients you can and don’t screw them up. I’ll change the menus constantly. Italian food gives good value as well, and that’s important in the current economics,” she says, for both the customer and the proprietor.
And in November, Leson included Cafe Parco in a roundup of ten new restaurants, with a brief blurb: “Fans of the Northwest bistro 94 Stewart, late of Pike Place Market, can now find its chef/owner Celinda Norton here in Madison Park. Fans of the long-lived (and recently sold) Madison Park Cafe will find that French bistro and brunch spot has been given a face-lift — and “the boot”: Norton’s cooking Italian.”
It took two more months, but Gail decided late yesterday afternoon that the time had come. After the other members of a committee dealing with some Madison Park neighborhood business left our house, Gail got online, looked up the restaurant, clicked the reservations link, and booked us for 15 minutes later.
We arrived only to discover that it was closed. Or rather, inasmuch as no one had come for dinner yet, the hostess (who turned out to be Celinda Norton’s daughter Lindsey) had failed to turn the closed sign around to read open. We peered in the door, she saw us, let us in, and reversed the sign.
We had our choice of tables. See the two-top in the far corner past the fireplace, dead center in the photo above? That’s the one we took. We would have the restaurant to ourselves until dessert, when another couple arrived without a reservation.
The Cafe Parco website explains that it “[showcases] Chef Celinda’s passion for dishes that seamlessly meld the best fresh ingredients available, while maintaining the integrity of each element. A philosophy inspired by Italy.” The menu is available at the website. Not too big, but filled with interesting options.
For starters, Gail chose the Anatra con Radicchio: twice cooked duck leg, warm salad of radicchio Balsamic, and walnuts. I had the Spinaci Caldi: a warm salad of mushroom, bacon, wilted spinach, olive oil, and organic cider vinegar. Gail loved hers. I enjoyed mine, but might have opted for a different mushroom-spinach balance. I was looking for more spinach. Still, it was quite an interesting mix of mushrooms, and a good dish.
We both selected the same pasta dish, the Ragu di Vitello: hand made Papparadelle, braised Veal and tomato ragu, shaved mushroom, parmigiano. It was outstanding, to the extent that I was aware during our conversation. I think when we go back next I’m going to order it again, because I didn’t give it the attention it deserved.
We probably should have stopped there, but Lindsey brought out a tray with four luscious tarts to inspect. We decided to split the German chocolate cake. A little too rich for me. I see now that the website describes two desserts that were just added, and that were among the four Lindsey presented. There’s the Caramel Fudge Tart, a blend of dark chocolate and brown sugar. And the Oban Tart with glazed pears, a sweet tart laced with Oban Scotch. Pears are Bartlett cooked with sweet butter. Topped with a little Sel Gris. I was angling for that second one myself, even though we weren’t entirely clear on what to make of it. Next time.
It’s a beautiful restaurant, by the way. We will return soon.