Where to Find the Perfect Pasta

As a new wave of Italian eateries joins old favorites, we're falling in love with spectacular house-made pasta all over again

By Chelsea Lin

October 6, 2016

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Like a perfectly chewy baguette or a delicately flaky biscuit, pasta is a food far greater than the sum of its parts. It takes a skilled hand (and a decent amount of time) to turn a mound of flour, some eggs, a dash of salt and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil into a bowl of soul-satisfying pasta—which is why the rest of us reach for the Barilla most of the time. When the carbs are calling, tuck into a dish from one of our favorite restaurants that serve real, house-made pasta dishes.

Pasta 101: Extruded Versus Sheeted
The secrets behind the various types of housemade pastas around town? Local pasta goddess Linda Miller Nicholson (whom you’ll definitely want to follow on Instagram @saltyseattle) breaks it down in an email: “While there are thousands of pasta shapes, there are really only two main types: pasta dough that is extruded through a machine that can be fitted with different dies that create shapes, and pasta dough that is flattened into sheets using a rolling pin or sheeting machine, and then cut,” she writes. “Common examples of extruded pasta include bucatini, round spaghetti and rigatoni. Lasagne, pappardelle and tagliatelle are all sheeted pastas.

“Traditionally, extruded pasta is made from semolina flour and water, with no eggs. This gives the pasta a denser texture than its sheeted counterpart because it dries stiff and hard before it is boiled just to al dente. Sheeted pasta is more malleable and elastic because, instead of mixing the flour (traditionally semolina or a finely milled Italian flour called ‘00’ or a mix of both) with water, it’s mixed with eggs. When you see brighter yellow—bordering on orange—noodles, it usually indicates that instead of whole eggs, a majority of egg yolks are used for the liquid. Different regions in Italy specialize in different pasta shapes, and often you will see a certain noodle paired with a specific sauce because that is how it has been done for centuries and also because the noodle was designed so that particular kind of sauce would cling to it.” —C.L.

This industrial Belltown beauty (part of the Ethan Stowell empire) welcomed a second location on Capitol Hill in June. Chef Addam Buzzalini is overseeing both kitchens and executing a vision in which the daily-made pasta (both extruded and sheeted) is the star—whether it’s skinny spaghetti or snail-shaped lumache.
Our pick: Stowell has credited the crowd-favorite rigatoni ($18) with house-made Italian sausage, tomato, marjoram and Parmesan as the dish that launched Tavolàta; it’s the sort of comfort food we can’t get enough of.
Belltown, 2323 Second Ave., 206.838.8008; Capitol Hill, 501 E Pike St., 206.420.8355; ethanstowellrestaurants.com

Mo and Lu Pasta Company
You’ll often see the owners (Bruno Iezzi and Wuqin He) of this hidden Lake City gem behind the counter, lending the tiny space a homegrown vibe in more than just the menu. Dishes, ranging from soups and salads to the hearty seafood casarecce (a sort of rolled, twisted, extruded pasta) are designed for takeout; the menu may be limited, but it travels well.
Our pick: Skip over the meat lasagna in favor of the funghi variety ($8.95): portobello, cremini and white button mushrooms layered with mozzarella and cream sauce and cut into wide rectangles just three layers (of thin pasta) tall. Lake City, 12518 Lake City Way NE; 206.362.1396

San Fermo
Located inside the charming historic and renovated Pioneer Houses, this 50-seat newcomer (with a lovely patio walled in ivy-covered brick), which opened in May, offers a menu that changes daily and is highlighted by the delicately chewy, freshly extruded pasta made upstairs above the kitchen.
Our pick: The carbonara mafaldine ($16) is an excellent take on the classic—wavy ribbons of pasta accented by small squares of guanciale (cured pork) and a generous dusting of pecorino. (See page 141 for more on our unabashed love affair with this dish.)
Ballard, 5341 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.342.1530; sanfermoseattle.com

Il Corvo
Chef/owner Mike Easton is a man who knows his pasta; Il Corvo (and, more recently, his retail-only Il Corvo Pasta Studio) is locally regarded as the bar against which all other noodles should be measured. Easton’s al dente pastas are handmade with organic flours and cut with old-school bronze tools.
Our pick: The pappardelle alla Bolognese ($9) is the pasta that shows up most frequently on the short menu of pastas that changes daily, but literally everything on that menu is remarkable.
Pioneer Square, 217 James St.; 206.538.0999; ilcorvopasta.com

La Medusa
The focus at this friendly, reliable neighborhood standby is less the red-sauce Italian-American standards and more the Mediterranean/Sicilian dishes made with Pacific Northwest ingredients. Order from the flavorful, inspired menu of small plates and salads to complement the pasta.
Our pick: The perciatelli con le sarde ($22)—thick, hollow noodles entwined with sardines, fennel, saffron, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and raisins—manages to be salty, sweet, restrained and hearty all in one bite.
Columbia City, 4857 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.2192; lamedusarestaurant.com

The menu degustazione (or chef’s tastienu, $100) is a rite of passage at this local darling, giving you the opportunity to try a little of every Piedmontese dish that comes out of chef Stuart Lane’s kitchen. Lane dries his pasta (except for the filled ones) briefly after rolling it out—a technique that he says lends his noodles that light-as-air quality they are known for.
Our pick: It’s the tajarin al ragu ($26)—thin, hand-cut strands of pasta tossed with a beef and pork meat sauce—that’s gotten all the press, but we actually prefer the tajarin in its more simplistic preparation, with butter and sage.
Capitol Hill, 1531 14th Ave.; 206.251.7673; spinasse.com

Cafe Lago
Diners have been enjoying the blistered pizzas and handmade pasta at this humble neighborhood eatery for nearly 26 years. Owner Carla Leonardi employs a full-time pasta chef, who is responsible for churning out consistently exquisite linguine, fettuccine and pappardelle, made fresh each morning.
Our pick: The 11-layer lasagna ($22) is the best in the city: light yet luscious, thanks to seven dainty layers of paper-thin pasta, plus ricotta, béchamel and a vibrant tomato sauce.
Montlake, 2305 24th Ave. E; 206.329.8005; cafelago.com
Having worked in the kitchens of pasta temples Delfina (in San Francisco) and Tavolàta, chef Brian Clevenger knows his noodles. In the open kitchen of his classic-looking eatery, he is making rich, hand-cut pasta with extra eggs—a technique that makes the pasta stand up to a longer finish in the sauce (and, hence, more flavor).
Our pick: The daily market-fresh ravioli ($16) is always amazing, whether it’s filled with braised rabbit and chanterelles, asparagus and ricotta, or roasted chicken and pancetta.
Madrona, 1126 34th Ave.; 206.466.2533; vendemmiaseattle.com

Photography by Peachy Juban-Notter

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