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Cuoco

December 2, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

cuocopasta

We’re a little slow to get to new restaurants, thanks in part to the many old ones that we don’t get to often enough. By the time we try a new one, it isn’t new anymore. Like Cuoco, which must have opened over a year ago, and which the Seattle Times reviewed just about a year ago. We made it there Friday night, discovering in the process a whole new center of evening activity.

The area of Seattle known as South Lake Union has been a locus of potential development for decades, thanks in part to the efforts of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who started buying up property at least twenty years ago. Once an industrial area of low-rise buildings, it is now the booming home of biotech companies, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the flagship REI store, the Group Health Cooperative offices where Jessica works, and much more, including most notably Amazon, which has continuing ambitious expansion plans.

Then there’s Tom Douglas, Seattle’s most famous chef-entrepreneur. Clustered at 4th and Virginia, on the northern edge of downtown, are four of his operations: Dahlia Lounge, Lola, Serious Pie, and Dahlia Bakery. All are superb. Combine newly upscale South Lake Union, thousands of office workers with a need for places to eat, and Tom Douglas and what do you get? A suite of new restaurants. There’s a second branch of Serious Pie. A second branch of the bakery. And, in one of the new Amazon buildings, Cuoco and Brave Horse Tavern.

On Thursday, we were trying to figure out where to eat the next night with some friends when one of them reminded me that Gail had previously suggested a new Tom Douglas restaurants in South Lake Union. She recalled the name Brave Horse Tavern. I looked at the list online and decided Gail must have been referring to Cuoco. We made reservations.

Friday brought heavy rain, as many days seem to do lately. I knew the address and, in principle, how to get there, but hadn’t seen the new Amazon building since it opened and had no idea where parking was. We approached from Denny, the east-west street forming the southern border of South Lake Union, turning north onto Terry, the street the restaurant was supposed to be on. We found ourselves among unlit, low buildings and darkness—the old South Lake Union, not where one would expect to find a restaurant, or have any reason to go to at night. Up ahead we could see a brightly lit area.

In another couple of blocks, we found ourselves in a thriving community, swarms of cars, traffic cops at every intersection controlling the flow. To the left was Jessica’s office building. To the right, a building we had never seen before. As we drove past it, we saw Cuoco. At the far end, we turned right and saw a parking garage entrance within the building. Pretty easy. We parked, took the elevator up a level, passed a bank of Amazon lockers for employees, exited into a courtyard and heavy rain, with the Cuoco entrance just ten feet over, within the courtyard, set back from the street.

Our friends, unfortunately, came from the north. This turned out to be a disaster, because of road construction, traffic, and the weather. They never did find the garage. They just parked where they found a spot and walked in the rain to Cuomo. We had studied the menu several times over by that point, which was good, since are now prepared to order our next three dinners there. The back side of the single-sheet menu has the wine list, which, though not long, has an intriguing mix of Italian wines that I’d love to sample.

Once our friends settled in and had a chance to review the menu, we agreed to share three appetizers. I see now that the online menu lists only one: 24 month aged prosciutto parma, honey crisp apples, arugula. Next time I go, I might order just this. It was great. The dish I chose was a green salad, the details of which already escape me. And we had an order of some sort of risotto balls, maybe with olives of some sort in them. These were great too.

Preceding this was what the menu calls their “bread service”, for which one pays: Dahlia workshop “house loaf” with olives, olive oil, rosemary lard. The bread is served with a small three-part dish, the parts containing butter, the olive oil, and the lard. Everyone else loved the lardo. I was avoiding it, until they insisted I try. I was happy enough with the butter up to that point. They’re right. It was good.

For the main dish, I had the Bucatini: hollow dried wheat pasta, marinara, braised beef meatballs. Gail had the Tagliatelle: house made egg pasta, braised painted hills beef, melted leeks, prosser farm kale, as did one of our friends. Our other friend had Ricotta cavatelli: crimini ragu, cotechino sausage, pecorino.

My meatballs were perfect. Well, as Gail observed yesterday, my dish looked dry. Maybe it was, a little. Certainly it wasn’t swimming in marinara. But the flavors were excellent and I couldn’t have been happier. I tasted a little of Gail’s tagliatelle at the end. It was overwhelmingly rich, at least compared to my dish, which is one reason she had a little left over. A tantalizing array of tastes, but too much for me by that point in the meal. Accompanying all this was a bottle of Montepulciano, the 2008 Corte alla Flora.

Gail being a Tom Douglas donut fanatic, it was hard to leave without some, but we had decided to retreat to our friends’ home for dessert. They come with a hot chocolate sauce. Taking out may not be the ideal way to eat them. They survived the drive, though, and we’re glad we got them.

I’m just now looking at what the Seattle Times reviewer had to say. Here’s her discussion of the pasta options:

Just about everyone orders pasta here. With 10 different noodles on the menu, the choice isn’t easy. Will you have the ethereal tajarin, unimaginably thin hand-cut egg noodles dressed in butter and sage, or their much wider, marinara-sauced cousins, tagliatelle, twined around roasted Delicata squash and chunks of spicy Italian sausage? Will you opt for the dainty cheese-filled cappelletti in silky fonduta sauce, or the savory, meat-stuffed agnolotti dal plin that resemble tiny origami birds just emerged from a butter and marjoram bath? What about butternut squash gnocchi, so light and supremely autumnal tossed with chanterelles, hazelnuts and sage? I’m no help: I loved them all.

We do need to go back to sample more of the pastas.

Oh, I didn’t mention that right by the entrance, you can see the pasta-making area and look into the kitchen. We turned the other way on being seated, so we didn’t even notice. On the way out, we stood by the door for a minute while the hostess went to get a bag for us to carry our chocolate sauce carton in. That gave us a chance to look around, and to realize as we went out into the rain that all that time, Tom Douglas was standing just five feet away from us. We should have said hi.

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