Friday, December 02, 2005

Volterra exceeds expectations

This evening Zorg and I dined at Volterra, a Northern Italian restaurant that opened in Ballard earlier this year and has received high praise from the local foodies. It's not for everybody; many of the diners who left comments about Volterra on CitySearch seemed put off by the lack of familiar Southern Italian dishes featured in the couple hundred other Italian-style restaurants in King County.

Zorg and I have quite different culinary backgrounds and interests, but we both found Volterra's take on Italian impressive and tasty.

We began with two of the house special cocktails. Mine featured a homemade limoncello (lemon peel liquor). It was quite smooth and well balanced. Zorg had an espresso martini; too sweet for my taste, but he liked it. Next time I want to try the grapefruit negroni.

The appetizers and salads were small, tasty and inexpensive (about $7 each). I had wild boar proscuitto on a bed of greens, followed by a little salad of greens, sliced roasted beets, and sliced grana parmesan. Perfect! Zorg had the special of the evening, veal-stuffed calamari in a light tomato sauce. The big calamari tubes were as tender as a rigatoni, and the stuffing was complex and interesting.

The main courses were substantial. Zorg chose one of the specials, wide noodles with ragu. It was one of the best ragu sauces I've ever tasted. I had lobster ravioli in a lobster sauce. The ravioli were stuffed with big chunks of succulent lobster. The lobster sauce, with cream and tomatoes, wasn't quite on target, however. Again, both dishes were reasonably priced at about $18 each, and we took quite a bit home with us in boxes. Desserts at Volterra are intense; I had a panna cotta with an extremely fragrant floral honey and fresh strawberries. Zorg went for a semi-freddo, two flavors, with a flavored whipped cream. The combination was decidedly heady, more to his taste than mine.

Volterra's unerring selection of top-flight ingredients, from the tender greens to the out-of-season strawberries, allows them to cook up dishes with vivid and complex flavors -- without covering dishes in overpowering garlic sauces or tsunamis of dark green olive oil that leave you feeling hung over the next day.

OK, so we completely overdid it. The next time I go back, I'll likely stick with a cocktail, appetizer and salad -- in part because those were the most interesting offerings. I wanted to taste every single one they had on the menu!

I mention the prices because the evening before I'd eaten at a similarly priced restaurant in Ballard and the food wasn't half as impressive.

My only caveats: The recorded music -- more industrial trance than jazz -- is just too LOUD. And, like many of Seattle's trendy new eateries, a table for two is practically on top of the table for two next to you. This is not the place for an intimate conversation. If you open your mouth, just put a forkful of pappardelle with duck sauce in it.

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