Italian Restaurant Vendemmia Wows in Madrona

A new hot spot in Madrona is proof there is restaurant life outside Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square

By Seattle Mag August 11, 2015


This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Seattle magazine.

It took years of self-reflection and culinary-ladder climbing for Anacortes native Brian Clevenger to open his first restaurant, Vendemmia, in Madrona. Vendemmia is the Italian term for a season’s grape harvest, a reminder of the chef’s devotion to seasonality and quality ingredients.

First, in order to master refined Italian cuisine, Clevenger cooked in the right kitchens (Tavolàta, Staple & Fancy, San Francisco’s James Beard darling, Delfina) and along the way managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management. It shows. The service at Vendemmia is warm and confident. The pace, perfect.

Second, Clevenger knew what he wanted: a small neighborhood Italian restaurant where he would know his guests by name. So turning down offers in buzzier enclaves was easy once he set eyes on the light-filled, concrete-floored space on 34th Avenue, a brand-new building just down the street from Molly Moon’s Ice Cream.

On butcher-block countertops in the open kitchen, Clevenger crafts handmade pastas, stunning seafood and seasonal veggies using time-consuming and laborious techniques to achieve flavor and richness. Clevenger wants Vendemmia to be a place where people can afford to dine regularly and have an experience of value. To say he has succeeded is an understatement.

Take his meat treatments. To prepare the braised pork shank that accompanies his chile-flecked paccheri ($15), a delicate, ribbed pasta swimming in broth, he first cures the pork in salt, sugar and juniper for 30 hours to lock in flavor. And that broth? For every 10 pounds of chicken bones, Clevenger gets 1 quart of broth. That explains the powerful, almost umami-like taste infused in every forkful.

He uses a similar technique to elevate poached Copper River sockeye salmon ($33). Clevenger soaks the bones of four halibut carcasses in ice water for two days, then cooks them with fennel, other vegetables and stock before running them through a food mill and straining out the impurities. The result is a slurp-tastic fish broth that saturates accompanying morels bite after swoon-worthy bite.

I also have much respect for Clevenger’s ability to take three ingredients and elevate each one without overdoing anything. Case in point: Roasted baby beets ($11), a menu staple that was served with rye toast and pear, comes with goat cheese that has been whipped with heavy cream for an extra smooth—and very pleasing—contrast against the grainy pear. Vendemmia may be a newish neighborhood restaurant, but it leaves the impression of an established destination.

Open 5–10 p.m. daily. Madrona, 1126 34th Ave.; 206.466.2533;


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