August marks a decade of perfect pasta and carefully curated wine inspired by northwest Italy on Capitol Hill’s 14th Ave.
Cascina Spinasse turned ten this month and it celebrated with a party full of longtime customers. “Most of our regulars came over and showered us in love and support,” Spinasse’s general manager Angela Lopez said. “We’ve been on cloud nine for a few days now. It feels great.”
Piedmont is a region in northwestern Italy bordered by France to the west and Switzerland to the northeast. Not only is it an extremely mountainous place — it’s surrounded on three sides by the Alps — much of it is covered by rolling hills and vast plains. The menu at Spinasse, along with its list of wines, is derived largely from the history, traditions and culinary arts of the Piedmontese region.
“We’re lumped into a general Italian category, but really we drill down into the style of a specific place,” Lopez said.
Spinasse was born small but with a passion for amazing pasta. It was half the size at its start but received outsized praise — and produced plenty of food and drink drama.
When founding chef Justin Niedermeyer abruptly left his buzzed-about creation in only its second year on 14th Ave, Jason Stratton stepped out of the kitchen to lead Spinasse. Previously, he helped Jerry Traunfeld create Poppy on Broadway.
Stratton’s Spinasse aged into a consistently busy and still highly regarded elder statesman of Pike/Pine food and drink. With Stratton looking for new ways to expand his presence in the business, in 2011, Spinasse took over a neighboring retail space, expanding and adding its Stratton-designed Artusi bar sibling. But things hit a bump in 2015 as Spinasse-related ventured floundered and Stratton made his exit.
Today, Spinasse is owned by Jonathan Klein, co-founder of Getty Images.
With Stratton stepping away, Chef de Cuisine Stuart Lane stepped up to lead the restaurant. Chef Stuart, as they call him at Spinasse, has managed to keep Spinasse from skipping a beat. The Food Network calls his Tajarin al Ragu one the top five Italian dishes in America.
14th Ave has also built a solid pocket of foodie destinations around Spinasse and its little brother, Artusi. Chris Cvetkovich’s modernist take on global street food, Nue, opened in the early days of 2015. Meanwhile, Vios-spawned Omega Ouzeri also made its Greek anise-flavored debut on the street in January 2015.
Lopez has been working at Spinasse for five years: two as a bartender and three as the restaurant’s general manager. Before that, she spent ten years in the food industry and also worked for a boutique hotel chain.
“It was natural to go from that to a small, one-store neighborhood restaurant,” she said, adding that even though the restaurant’s investors aren’t “restaurant people,” they know to let Lopez and her staff do what they do best. “They trust us to run the restaurant in the way we have been for ten years. It’s comfortable. It’s hands-on. Everything we present to the customer is well thought out.”
Having just celebrated Spinasse’s tenth anniversary, Lopez insisted that she wants to keep doing the same thing. She wants to keep learning more about the wines, grapes and culinary traditions of the Piedmontese region while making sure the restaurant keeps providing customers with a uniquely original experience.
“What people want is consistency. If we do that, we’ll remain competitive in the Seattle market,” Lopez said. “I really just want to keep things as consistent and high quality as we have been, and Spinasse has been doing exactly that for over ten years.”
Cascina Spinasse is located at 1531 14th Ave. You can learn more at spinasse.com.
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