Three Men and a Neighborhood Italian Joint

Two great local Italian eateries, three peckish writers and six mouthwatering entrees.

The Alaskan salmon spring salad from Mission Bistro - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
The Alaskan salmon spring salad from Mission Bistro

Young Kwak

Seasonal Grub at Italia Trattoria

Whole Beast at Sante

Salt and Yoga at Spuds

Garlic-Mad at West Wing

3 Men and Neighborhood Italian

3 Women and Local Ice Cream

A Simple Drink with Wide Appeal

* Browse the menus

The Mission Bistro 2002 E. Mission Ave. 954-0756
It’s not the loveliest intersection: a Hai’s Mini Market, a Tesoro gas station and … Cassano’s, the Italian grocery that houses the Mission Bistro. Strange. Nonetheless, walking through the door is like taking a step across the Atlantic Ocean, right on to the boot of Repubblica Italiana. Pasta, olive oil and Italian foodstuffs galore await, but it’s the bistro in the rear that beckons. Somehow, it feels Italian here. Whether it’s the string of lights encircling the dining room, the green plastic covering the tables or the half—vases supporting fake plants on the walls, I couldn’t tell you. (ND)

Seven-Layer Lasagna ($11)
There are the Seven Deadly Sins, the seven terraces on Dante’s Purgatory and, of course, the men of The Magnificent Seven. But seven-layer lasagna? Count me in. With alternating layers of pasta, basil pesto, provolone and marinara, this one-pound beast is a mouthful. As the golden brick melts away from the pasta bowl’s center, its colors gradually fade down the spectrum from a rich yellow to deep red. It’s a comforting dish, heavy and opulent, but it lacks nuance. There are no delicate flavors here, and the pesto is overpowered. Much like me, after I ate the entire thing. (ND)

Pan-Seared Almond Salad ($12)
Our waitress was attentive but not overbearing, greeting us with warm sourdough rolls with dipping sauce. So far, so good. I went with the salmon salad, which seemed a little out of place on the menu, but I welcomed the sight of it. The dish arrived promptly and slapped me in the face with vivid colors and perfect presentation. The fish was crispy on the outside and pink and flaky inside — which was brought in balance with the balsamic citrus dressing. It was nicely complemented by feta and pecans. In the end, there was just enough dressing to sop up with another warm sourdough roll. (CB)

Stromboli ($9)
Before the main course arrived, I chowed down on the accompanying house salad, ordered with the house Italian dressing made with tarragon vinegar. Already a great start (at a pretty great price). The stromboli itself came out golden brown, with a chewy crust. Inside was a mix of ground beef, Italian sausage, provolone cheese and ham. It was all very comforting on an early fall day, but for my taste, I would have liked a bit more seasoning on the beef, or a bit more cheese, or perhaps both. Still, with good prices, swift service and a full stomach, there was little to complain about. (JF)

Ferrante’s Marketplace Café 4516 S. Regal St. 443-6304
Driving by on Regal, you might miss Ferrante’s, which is located in a small shopping plaza. But once inside, you’re struck by a comforting dining room, with a wine shop (at reasonable prices) and a cafeteria, where you place your order. It seems like a good spot to take a first date: fancy enough, but casual and unpretentious. If the weather’s nice, grab a seat outside — the view isn’t spectacular (really, just a parking lot and the buzzing traffic on Regal), but somehow, with a glass of wine in front of you, you can imagine for a moment you’re sitting in an Italian plaza. (ND)

Patio Pizza ($15)
Most of the molecules in my body were built from pizza. I’ve stuffed my piehole from San Francisco to New York City. Whatever my faults, I know my pizza. So I was excited to see this pizza on the menu — a crispy mozzarella and feta cheese pizza covered in fresh baby arugula and cherry tomatoes, with a side of balsamic vinaigrette. Oh, yes, please, thank you. Unfortunately, the peppery green arugula was scant, the abundant cheese was stringy and the vinaigrette was mainly oil. The crust, however, was a perfect combination of crunch and suppleness. (ND)

Panini ($9)
It seemed a little strange, placing the order cafeteria-style, and my panini didn’t knock me over when it arrived. The salad was lacking color and flavor, while the insides of my sandwich — sun-dried tomato, mozzarella and creamy pesto — were hard to find as well. I mostly tasted crusty bread and thought for a moment that I was eating a hand-held calzone. Still, with a glass of wine, a patio and a good company, it all seemed to come together. (CB)

Peas & Bacon Gnochetti ($13)
It’s been said throughout history that everything’s better with bacon, and it’s true. Based on the cashier’s recommendation , I order the gnochetti — basically, small pasta shells with ridges on the outside — which arrives in a light garlic cream sauce with peas, hearty chunks of bacon and two slices of hearty herb bread. The bacon gives a saltiness to the otherwise subtle dish of tender pasta and lightly seasoned sauce. It was a comforting meal, but next time I plan to try out the spicy chicken Italiano, with seared chicken breast in a fired tomato sauce with capers and jalapenos. Yum. (JF)

Dining Out 2010

Get a chef to confide in you*, and one of two things will happen. If that chef is passionate about her work but works for someone else, she will undoubtedly talk about the frustrations and constraints of working around customers’ whims — or, maybe worse, an owner’s perception of a customer’s whims. She’ll talk about wanting to be free to make her art on her own terms — to open a restaurant that is only hers, and to make the food she loves making, regardless of who comes in the door.

Now get a chef who is also a restaurant owner to confide in you. She might complain about many things — payroll, a ruined panna cotta, an inexplicable kale shortage — but she won’t complain about feeling boxed in. At worst, she’ll feel misunderstood. But feeling misunderstood is a trait of all artists, isn’t it?

The chefs in Dining Out 2010 belong to that latter category. They have taken on tremendous personal and professional risk in the hope of reaping the tremendous reward of both freedom and success at the thing they love most. Their food and their stories inspire us. We hope they inspire you, too.

— Luke Baumgarten, Section Editor

* This may take a drink or two, and you may have to do some confiding yourself.

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About The Authors

Nicholas Deshais

Nicholas Deshais is a former news editor and staff writer for The Inlander. He has reported on city, county and state politics, as well as medical marijuana, transportation and development. In May 2012, he was named as a finalist for the prestigious Livingston Award for an Inlander story about (now former) Assistant...

Jacob H. Fries

Jacob H. Fries is the editor of the Inlander. In that position, he oversees editorial coverage of the paper and occasionally contributes his own writing. Before joining the paper, he wrote for numerous publications, including the Tampa Bay Times, the Boston Globe and the New York Times. He grew up in Spokane Valley...