Carmine's care has made Il Terrazzo part of the old world among Seattle restaurants
Seattle Times restaurant critic
"That's me when I was young and handsome," jokes Carmine Smeraldo. It's Friday night in Pioneer Square and the boss is - for the moment, at least - working the front desk, welcoming guests and catching one of them in the process of pocketing a picture postcard. On it is an Italian-food tableau and a smiling Smeraldo, whose face, captured long ago for posterity, is wearing a look that says, "Abbondanza!"
Moments later Carmine's working the room, glad-handing, celebrating, pouring on the charm in a full house while keeping his finely tuned hawk-eye on the intimate bar, the open kitchen, the errant busboy and everything else in his overstimulated orbit. The little man with the big Italian restaurant has been doing exactly that for 16 years, and it is, without question, the secret to his continued success.
Carmine's "Terrazzo" - which takes its surname from the formal yet festive terrazzo-style dining room and its adjoining courtyard - is more than an invitation to fine foodstuffs and polished service. It's also an excuse for romance. Not just the get-down-on-your-knees-and-propose kind (which is exactly what one earnest young man did last month, to the applause of a room full of delighted onlookers), but the spaghetti-strap and lip-lock love, the Roman Holiday redux. Even the waiters get into the act. One look into my guest's exquisite turquoise eyes and our Sicilian swain was sunk. "You are BEE-u-tiful," he said, to the romantic strains of Andre Feriante's guitar, which weeps on cue Wednesday through Saturday as it has for years.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I beheld it in the eyes (OK, antennae) of scampi aglio olio ($28.95), that night's seafood special. Three gargantuan black tiger prawns, grilled whole and split, arrived in lobster-sweet splendor over spaghetti tossed with garlic, oil and a light hand. "You wouldn't want to eat this on a first date," said Beauty after devouring two of the beasts before using a linen napkin to swipe the blackened char from her lips and teeth. "I bet I know someone who wouldn't mind the mess," I said, nodding in Romeo's direction.
Romeo's direction led us to a 1998 Avignonesi Grifi ($42), the youngest and least expensive among a list of muscular, high-quality super-Tuscans. Culled from a deep cellar dominated by pricey Italian selections, the robust red was accurately paired with my veal ossobuco ($15.95 lunch/$24 dinner). Cut from the center of a meaty veal shank whose bone encased a memorable mouthful of marrow, this classic braise is draped in a tomato- and wine-rich reduction that flatters the buttery side of fettuccine. Veal was less interesting - though no less well prepared - when swathed with mushrooms and served on the bone of a hefty, pink-centered chop ($34). Rack of lamb, roasted with garlic and rosemary, was an enjoyable expense: three tender chops lightly encrusted with horseradish cream ($34). Rabbit, braised too long with pancetta and kalamatas ($24), suffered from a case of salt overload.
It's easy to overload on pasta if you do as the Italians do and consider it a prelude to the meat course. Which is why, at dinner time, pastas are available in half-portions ($6-$9). Some - notably the cloudlike potato gnocchi ($11.95, dinner only) and the spaghettini dressed with arugula, goat cheese, tomato and pine nuts ($11.50 dinner/$10.50 lunch) - are blissfully light. Not so the strongly flavored venison ravioli and its heady shiitake mushroom sauce ($14.95 dinner, $12.95 lunch). Even a half-portion of this is enough to make you take one look at the cheesecake- and tiramisu-laden dessert tray, turn to your companion and say, "It's BEE-u-tiful," but I only have eyes for you.