Is Arosa worth seeking out? You bet your panini
Special to The Seattle Times
Upon first visit, I dismissed Arosa as too small and culinarily insubstantial to review. Sure, I thought, it's a tidy little spot with a big fan club and a blessed location, at the Madison and Lake Washington Boulevard junction of Madison Valley, Washington Park and the Arboretum. (Not to be confused with a sister location on First Hill, under other ownership.)
Denizens of these neighborhoods clearly treasure the place, judging by the traffic from folks who are obviously regulars. "What'll it be today, your usual mocha?" calls affable owner Joe Limtiaco when one woman walks in the door. The patron nods eagerly. "Better have a panini to go with it," the woman calls back. "I was going to be good, but then I walked in and smelled them."
I know just how she feels.
Arosa has all of two things on its food menu — panini in five varieties and hand-held waffles — but both are so satisfying one scarcely notices the lack of alternatives. I suspect that sometimes good restaurants get that way by concentrating their efforts. And Arosa, despite its casual demeanor and narrow purview, is a very good restaurant.
You order at the counter, then eat at one of five tables — it is small indeed — or tote your food to go. Drinks include all manner of Fonté espressos, Italian sodas and Thomas Kemper sodas. Both panini and waffles are served all day, but morning might best dictate a foamy latte and one of Limtiaco's indescribable portable waffles, decorated with nothing but the sugary skin their mama gave 'em.
Then later in the day, you can return for a savory grilled panini; perhaps the Gruyère variety, stuffed with so many artichoke hearts amidst the roma tomatoes and cheese you'd best be sporting a bib. If it's summer — which, rumor has it, will happen soon — you can crown the feast with soft-serve ice cream.
Just be sure to get all this eating in by 5 p.m., for that's when the doors close for the day. But no worries: If you're like most of the customers, you'll be back.
Roasted-turkey panini: Roast turkey just shouldn't be this flavorful, but it is here, thanks in large part to the lovely herbal mix Limtiaco and her minions paint onto the Sicilian sourdough panini bread. Then they pile it up with mozzarella, turkey and thin-sliced roma tomatoes, and press it on the grill, for sandwich nirvana.
Black Forest ham panini: See above, only substitute in savory, thin-sliced honey-roasted ham. Yum, yum. If I've any beef with these sandwiches, it's that I'd like to see some beef (or fontina cheese, or olive tapenade, or pesto sauce) — in other words, more variety — in the fillings. That said, let the record show I could happily ingest one of Arosa's Black Forest ham paninis every day of the year.
Chocolate-chip cookie: "You've got to get there early," advised one Arosa regular, "because Joe and her crew only make six of these cookies a day." Though I'm told production is soon to increase, you still might want to get there early. This cookie reverses the typical dough-to-chocolate ratio, with just a little "cookie" holding the copious chocolate shards together. Rumor has it some Bush High School students subsist on these alone.
Snack waffle: It just will never sound as good on the page as it tastes on the tongue, and it certainly doesn't look that enticing through the glass, a plump, blank grid of a waffle. Just order one. You'll encounter sheer buttery sweetness — chewy within, all caramelized-sugar crispy without — that tastes impossibly delicious with coffee.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Roasted-turkey panini $5.40
Black Forest ham panini $5.40
Chocolate-chip cookie $1.26
Snack waffle $1.50
Kathryn Robinson: firstname.lastname@example.org
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