Back in the day, you wanted spaghetti you got it at a "spaghetti house." You know the place: checkered tablecloths, straw Chianti bottles, spaghetti with meatballs. For fancy, you had fettucine Alfredo. For dessert, spumoni. You went because you liked the chef, who had an accent. And his wife, who ran the dining room.
Today, chain restaurants everywhere attempt to remind us why we loved those Old Scuola joints so much. But now, thanks to David and Lily Kong, we have something so much better.
Sure, it looks like one of those corporate constructs with its faux-Italian-villa façade, faux marble-topped tables and faux ancient ruins illuminating a cozy dual-level dining room. But there's not a false note about what you're getting at Perché No Pasta & Vino: umpteen pastas, made in-house, deliciously and judiciously sauced. Plus a wide world of wines: 300 by the bottle, 50 by the glass. And with prices this reasonable, when you find yourself considering a second visit in a week, you're bound to ask "perché no?" (Why not?)
I spent $10 for downy little clouds of potato gnocchi in a bright tomato sauce, $11 for an elegant tangle of squid-ink fettuccine lush with cannellini beans and anchovies, and $6 for a generous measure of Sicilian rosato to drink with them.
On one visit, the kids fought, rightfully so, over which pasta deserved the favored fork award: gemelli (pasta twists) with spicy Italian sausage ($13) or fresh-lasagna Bolognese, simply built with béchamel and meat sauce ($12). Their moms were thrilled to find a worthy competitor in a seafood risotto with shrimp, fresh clams and bay scallops, oh-so-gently infused with tomato and saffron ($15). And then there's the kind of dessert you're more likely to find at those fancy-foo Italian restaurants: fresh sweetened ricotta drizzled with honey ($6).
Perche'd just off the busy five-way stop on the south end of Green Lake, this is the offshoot of Perché No Ristorante Italiano in Lower Queen Anne, where the Kongs (Chinese by blood, Italians at heart) celebrate 14 years in business this month. The couple (he cooks, she manages) built their new place "from the ground up," as an ode to the family: Theirs and yours.
Doting dad has clearly passed the cooking gene on to his son Chris, 19, an accomplished culinarian who ranked second, nationally, among high-school chef-competitors before taking a lead role in the family business. Alex, 16, is already an old hand at the cold station, making salads and desserts. Their loquacious parents split their time between the two restaurants, taking guests under wing, warmly greeting old fans from Queen Anne and embracing newcomers from the neighborhood.
Consummate hosts, they're quick to ask questions — "How was dinner? You live nearby?" — and answer them — "Yes, they're homemade" — while gesturing to the rustic-looking hams strung up on display. Here, children are not only welcome, they're feted, with special menus, complimentary soda refills and (if they're really good) candy rings as a sweet arrivederci.
Lucky little ones might garner the attention of their self-proclaimed "Australian auntie": a sassy server — stage-name Alison Avenue. This charming Chatty Cathy from Down Under is quick to state her theatrical ambitions, and though her 15 minutes of fame may come right here, her entertaining style deserves to be bottled, sold and meted out to a less-than-polished crew who (Auntie included), could use a how-to course in service basics.
Family-friendliness notwithstanding, you wouldn't be nuts bringing a date here, either. Especially if you snag one of the corner tables upstairs, overlooking the five-seat wine bar and the open kitchen. From this coveted post you could share a wine-flight (say, four pours of hearty Italian reds, $11) and even make a meal of soup and salad.
A big bowl of pasta e fagioli is beautifully balanced with pasta, beans, pancetta and onion, and a bodacious bargain at $4. The Caesar's big enough for two and vigorously infused, as it should be, with anchovies, but not so garlicky that you'll be sorry later.
Large parties might share antipasti misti, a compilation of Greatest Hits from among the antipasti, prosciutto-wrapped melon, chilled squid salad and grilled portobellos. I was unimpressed, twice, by another shareable first-course option, "Focaccia Bruschetta" — the Kongs' answer to the "Where's the pizza?" question.
Crusty outside, fluffy and flavorless within, this baked-to-order bread was forgettable even when topped with the housemade prosciutto or a mix of mushrooms and mozzarella. But disappointments like that (and a panna cotta so heavy on the gelatin it danced more on the plate than it did on my tongue), did little to dampen my enthusiasm.
Leaving after lunch, sated by a sophisticated and carefully constructed timballo, a fussy-foodie's answer to tuna-noodle casserole, it was clear that I'm not the only one whose enthusiasm for the place is infectious. "See you tomorrow!" shouted David, bidding this stranger farewell from his kitchen post.
Well, why not?
Share your news or restaurant tips with Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or email@example.com.
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Antipasti misti $8 per person
Caesar salad $7
Gemelli with sausage $13
Lasagna alla Bolognese $12
Seafood risotto $15
Focaccia Bruschetta with prosciutto $11
Perch No Pasta & Vino
1319 N. 49th St., Seattle
Prices: Antipasti $6-$8, soup/salads $4-$8, pasta/risotto $10-$15, focaccia bruschetta $9-$13; children's menu $5.50-$6.50.
Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, closed Mondays.
Drinks: Beer and wine only. International list with 300 wines by the bottle, 50 by the glass. Wine flights available.
Parking: On street.
Who should go: Bargain-seeking lovers of pasta e vino.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V.
Accessibility: No access to second-level dining area (stairs).
Nancy Leson on KPLU
Catch Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants every Wednesday on KPLU (88.5 FM) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m, and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Listen to "Thousand-dollar sushi dinner," her latest commentary.