It’s always a pleasure to eat at Cafe Juanita. Although Chef Holly Smith and team continue to be recognized nationally for outstanding food and service, it still feels like a not-so-secret secret that’s just for us Eastsiders. Instead of having to cross the bridge to go into Seattle, we can bring in out-of-town friends and know we’ll have a fantastic night.
Right about now, we’re all starting to come out of hibernation. Restaurant menus are getting refreshed after several months of root vegetables, greens and hearty meats. The menu for our dinner the other night had a bit of a shoulder season feel — fresh asparagus, porcini mushrooms, lamb — paired with a gorgeous selection of wines from La Spinetta, a Piemonte-based winery which also has some acreage in Tuscany.
Giorgio Rivetti, La Spinetta’s winemaker, joined the dinner to discuss his wines and share his sense of what makes Piemontese wine so unique (it’s all about farmers!). This was my first experience with La Spinetta’s wines, while many of my fellow dinner guests were already huge fans. After tasting the wines, it’s not hard to see why.
Fair warning, there are six courses of straight food porn ahead and having eaten them on a regular, no special occasion Wednesday night feels like a bit of a splurge. But as Donna said on Parks and Rec, “Treat Yo Self.”
The meal kicked off with an apertivi of quail egg with white sturgeon caviar, piment and pumpernickel crisps paired with La Spinetta’s 2010 Contratto, an extra brut sparkler. Bellissima! I’d try to impress you with my limited, food words-based understanding of Italian, but caviar and pumpernickel weren’t among the flash cards I made before our last trip. The sorry, and somewhat obnoxious, American attempts at the Italian language will end here.
Now, let’s get to the asparagus. This may have been my favorite course of the night — chilled asparagus with a Parmigiano-Reggiano “mousse,” which I could spread on anything and everything. In a more casual dish, I could see spreading it on crostini, eating it with scrambled eggs, licking it off the plate. Fantastic.
Asparagus always seems like a tough one to pair with wine, but La Spinetta’s rose – half sangiovese, half prugnolo gentile – was a lovely complement, and heads and shoulders above most new world rose I’ve had.
Mushroom soup never sounds or looks all that amazing, but in the hands of the team at Cafe Juanita, they’ve kicked it with creme fraiche and the result is a cup of soup I’d order again in a heartbeat. This course was paired with La Spinetta’s 2006 ‘Valeirano’ Barbaresco, which still had a lot to recommend it. It was certainly a wine to savor and marvel over for its age, and its price point.
The evening’s pasta (sadly, not pictured) was gnocchi alla Romana with a Lopez Island Wagyu sugo. I can never help myself when it comes to pastas at Cafe Juanita. I dive in as soon as they hit the table and the gnocchi was no exception. Hence, no photos. Honestly, I don’t know what happened.
The good news is, many of these dishes are on the menu currently posted on Cafe Juanita’s site. Call to confirm if there’s something in particular you’re hoping they’ll have. Keep your fingers crossed that the asparagus turns up, if it’s not there already.
9702 NE 120th Place