Piatti is plagued by food's inconsistency
Seattle Times restaurant critic
I had a lovely dinner at Piatti last week. It began with a negroni cocktail followed by an elegant "white" pizza — its oven-blistered crust topped with mozzarella, roasted garlic and portobellos, the whole swaddled in prosciutto ($11.50). "Would you like me to divvy up the salad?" asked our gracious waitress before swiftly and neatly dividing scarlet beets, Oregon blue cheese and fresh greens tossed with sherry vinaigrette ($6.95).
From the White Fish Festival selections (Piatti's seasonal food "festivals" change monthly) we'd chosen a fillet of escolar. The firm unctuous flesh, seared to a delightful crunch, was sauced with a surprisingly tame puttanesca "relish" and partnered with Parmesan risotto that (oh, happy day!) toed the line between toothsome and creamy ($16.95).
Rosy thick-sliced duck breast (a special, $14.95) wore a rich demi-glace glistening with plump cherries. Brussels sprouts, green beans and a soft-centered square of herbed polenta made this autumnal offering look like an Italian Christmas.
Bright red peppers brought heat and color to a simple pasta: Manila clams adding their briny nectar to skinny strands of fresh linguine ($14.25). Dinner ended on a high note with a refreshing blood-orange sorbet ($4.95) and a warm pear tart ($5.25), and I left Piatti shaking my head in disbelief.
Not, as you might imagine, because Piatti is part of a California-based chain or because it's part of University Village Mall, but because I'd eaten there the week before and had one of the worst meals I've had in recent history.
That dinner began when we were shown to a large table in the middle of a spacious, warmly lit dining room.
Here, I took in the scenery: a broad bar and lounge that adjoins the entranceway; the length of the open kitchen where a wood-fired oven adds to the comfortably rustic atmosphere and a secondary dining room warmed by a gas-fueled fireplace. I saw families dining with children of all ages, as well as a graying clientele who, like me, must have appreciated the restaurant's conversation-friendly acoustics.
So far, so good, I thought, while making the most of warm housemade focaccia and La Brea sourdough bread offered with a bold balsamico and olive-oil dip.
My husband, impressed to hear his favorite Italian beer was on tap, was far less impressed when the Moretti showed up flat as a day-old Michelob.
Shrugging it off, we turned our attention to fried calamari and vegetables to find the onion and fennel components indistinguishable, noting that we'd had ranch dressing more assertive than the lime aioli offered alongside this oily appetizer ($8.95). Four wood-fired marinated prawns tasted neither wood-fired nor marinated, their nest of wan arugula undressed and unappealing ($9.95).
My son barely picked at his sausage pizza ($11.25), and who could blame him? It arrived lukewarm, the crust the color of a manila file folder and approximately as tasty, the cheese congealed, the sausage dry and (dare I suggest the possibility?) freezer-burnt.
The tantalizing scent of rotisserie chicken ($14.50) — an herbed half-bird tinted pink from wood smoke — raised my hopes. Dashed when the mushy, overcooked meat, its herbed skin several degrees shy of crisp, fell from the bone with the touch of a fork.
I won't soon forget Piatti's cannelloni, though, Lord knows, I'll try.
Here's the menu description: "Cannelloni stuffed with roast pork, sun-dried tomato over spinach, $13.95." Here's mine: three undercooked pasta sheets rolled around pink logs whose taste and texture was reminiscent of a bad seafood mousse, bathed in a watery tomato glaze, briefly broiled and served atop fresh spinach. We skipped dessert.
I returned for lunch a third time, wondering who I would find: Dr. Jekyllini or Mr. Hydeloni.
Here's what I found. The lunch menu was a slightly abbreviated version of the lengthy dinner card, minus the food festival, plus some panini. Taking a deep breath, I ordered the sausage pizza I'd had on the "off" night. And what-do-you-know? It was a credit to its genre. The rotisserie chicken, however, was yuck redux.
High hopes took a turn for the worse when butternut squash ravioli ($12.95) translated as doughy oversized pasta pillows whose sweet centers could have come from a can marked "Libby's." Scattered with chunks of squash in need of roasting and hazelnuts in need of crushing, this loser skewed the scorecard, which headed further south when I tried the peppered pork panini ($8.95). Despite the caramelized onions and melted provolone, this heap of thin, dry grilled meat, sliced and sandwiched between bland flatbread, grew tiresome after three bites.
Verdict? Unfortunately, of the three visits, the good night was the anomaly.