Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2
As it approaches its quarter-century mark, Carmine Smeraldo’s restaurant still attracts the movers and shakers that have been gathering there en masse for so many years. Last night’s visit–our second after our last visit there 5 years ago–revealed why. Things don’t change much here, and that’s both a good and bad thing. Waiters still wear their buttoned-up white jackets; lawyers still gather in flocks; and the shrimp provinciale is still hauntingly delicious–enough to make me say that I’d consider going back.
Here’s the deal: Il Terrazzo Carmine is the most authentic Italian-American food you’ll find in Seattle. For more of the same, you’d have to go to New York’s Patsy’s (whose sauces are available at Metropolitan Market) or Chicago. Italian-American is not the same as Italian. The easiest way to remember the difference is that you’re not likely to find these usual suspects–saltimboccas, marasalas, piccatas, spumoni, cannoli, tiramisu–at an “authentic” Italian restaurant. (If you do, you won’t recognize them. For authentic Italian, the closest you’ll find locally are Spinasse, Salumi, and Cafe Juanita.) If you don’t confuse these two distinctly different cuisines, then it’s easier to understand Il Terrazzo’s godfatherly grip over that end of the city. When we left at 7pm on a Wednesday night, every seat in the house was taken, and the ratio of men to women was 10 to 1.
And therein lies another source of Il Terrazzo’s enduring appeal: It’s an unabashed guy’s restaurant, never mind the floral curtains hanging in the windows or the obligtory rose stuck in the bud vase. If you order the “small” pasta plate, you’ll get a portion that would be considered generous in a place like How to Cook a Wolf (which aspires toward Italian). Contorni, side dishes, come heaped on the same plate as your meat entree. The chewy and uninspired duck arrived with a heap of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. The veal marsala (competent) came with white truffle fettucini and more of that blah steamed broccoli.
This presentation didn’t make sense to us, as we had ordered an appetizer and two small pasta dishes (a delicious rabbit mushroom ravioli; an OK penne bolognese) as well as a Caesar salad (I’m on the hunt for a brillliant one; this one was just good). The broccoli was left untouched as it reminded us too much of the boring, buttered version we serve our children (who won’t eat it any other way). And as long as I’m noticing flaws, I might as well point out the propensity of the kitchen to lavish black pepper on everything, in copious amounts.
The dessert tray offered cheesecake, chocolate mouse, tiramisu, cannoli, of course. The wine list featured mostly name-brand, expensive American wines whose names (and status) the average suit will most likely recognize. This is not a place for serious wine-lovers looking for hard-to-find Italian labels.