Go Eat! Inspiration from the other Northwest


By Julien Perry

SEATTLE -- It's named after a popular, velvety wine from the other Northwest.

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Barolo restaurant in downtown Seattle takes its cue from the Piemonte region in Italy.

"Barolo is one of those areas of Italy that is beautiful and it really hasn't been done in the city; the whole Piemonte area and the cuisine and the wine and the emphasis on the wine list," says owner Leo Varchetta, adding that northern Italian cuisine has more earthiness to it.

"It's like a walk in the forest, pretty much. You find the mushrooms, the herbs, the truffles, the birds -- that's what Piemonte is about."

Chef James Best has been cooking for the Varchetta family since Leo and his mother opened Mamma Melina 17 years ago.

"My role in this is the native Northwesterner.  I know about what's available, how things work around here -- it's like a culinary translator."

He and Leo are both very involved in creating Barlo's seasonal dishes.

"My favorite (dish) would be the pheasant with gnocchi, the homemade gnocchi. The biggest selling dish is our veal with truffles."

But it's Leo and his brother Salvio who are in charge of the more than 400 wine offerings.

"Being the emphasis on northern Italy we do carry 15 Barolos and 10 Brunelos and 10 Barberesco and 10 Barberas, which is very unusual."

Leo moved to Seattle in 1990 to help his brother open the now-defunct Buongusto restaurant on Queen Anne. Six months later he opened Mamma Melina's, followed by Leo Melina, which has since closed.

"I always get the question, 'What's the difference between an Italian restaurant where there is real Italians and an Italian restaurant where there is no Italians?' and it's like, well, that's a huge difference -- it's because as an Italian you bring the culture."

Culture, Leo says, which makes a difference in his customers' dining experience.

"The number one goal is to make them feel they had a special experience, that this is is just not another restaurant."

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From left: Salvio, Melina, and Leo.

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