On a warm summer night in Federal Way, one of those evenings when we have trouble visualizing what the phrase “sea-breeze cooling effect” might even mean, the patio deck outside Verrazano’s Italian restaurant is one of the most pleasant places in town.
The sweeping views of the Puget Sound are only slightly obscured by the greenery of Douglas fir trees and shrubbery, with eastern Vashon Island in the distance completing the view. The restaurant is on Pacific Highway but somehow not of Pacific Highway, although a gas station and small strip mall are right across the street.
Federal Way has its limits when it comes to Italian restaurants, a lack of sleek dining rooms with wood-burning ovens, hot and cold running truffles and rivers of expensive Super Tuscan wine. In some parts of our larger neighbor city to the north, you are never more than a few blocks from shade-grown coffee or a plate of wood-roasted pigeon.
Verrazano’s, however, is the local temple of Italian cuisine, it’s a trattoria — the kind of place where it is possible to go for lunch and dinner in a single week, a restaurant where waitresses race down the aisle with four identical bowls of spaghetti con polpette.
Some people never get anything but the rigatoni boscaiola, rigatoni pasta with Italian sausage, sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms, in a balanced cream sauce. I have gone months in which I was unable to get beyond the lamb chop marsala, which is cut off the rack with mushrooms in a rich, bright and soft marsala sauce and distinctly not on the barnyard end of things.
If there is a reason other than vegetarianism not to get the prime sirloin tips — prime sirloin bites sautéed with a balsamic soy glaze — I’m not sure what it might be. This place is as comfortable as eating at home, assuming home has a chef able to knock your socks off each and every meal.
As a critic, I have put off writing about this place again and again, wanting to give other local establishments the spotlight that they so richly deserve. I was sure that the solid local reputation alone should dissuade me from bragging on Verrazano’s elaborate antipasti, substantial roster of pastas and meat dishes, to the Venetian-style seafood.
The toasted peasant bread rubbed with garlic and lovingly topped with tomato and olives will do — instead of a litany of words scribbled on the page. But to not disseminate my feelings on these authentic Italian flavors to the public is a disservice this writer cannot abide. There are no truffles here, no flashy thick cut veal chops, no branzino, but what there is, is the best Italian food in Federal Way, bar none.
With free filtered water on every table at Verrazano’s, and the waiters’ reluctance to push appetizers or desserts, it is possible for two people to dine nicely for $50 or $60 (plus maybe the cost of a bottle of the highly recommended, somewhat fruity Santa Cristana Sangiovese), which makes the restaurant a pleasant neighborhood amenity for an impromptu casual night out, all the way to impressing those discerning clients at that important business dinner.
But perhaps it is time to think of Verrazano’s less as a local icon than as a restaurant that is what it is: a delivery system for fried calamari and for supple, handmade pastas, for robust bolognese meat sauce or for eggplant parmigiana so delicious it must be tasted (as words here cannot do it proper justice) to be truly believed.
There are some traditional pasta shapes here you have all seen before, like fettuccine, cannelloni or the ridged rigatoni. You can get Vitello piccatta, veal medallions sautéed with capers in a white wine butter sauce. Rock lobster tail, morsels of the delicate crustacean sautéed in champagne butter served in its shell covered in lobster sauce and partnered with pasta aglio olio, or a rather good pennette terra e mare, large white prawns and Italian sausage in a creamy yet somewhat sharply acidic tomato sauce.
As the days are beginning to cool, you may want to move in to the beautifully appointed dining room with its white table cloths, toasty fireplace and panoramic windows.
And if you are at the restaurant between 3-6 p.m., do yourself a culinary favor and take quick advantage of the twilight three course dinners. Somewhat limited in selections, but the choices available are some of the stars of the menu.
At Verrazano’s you won’t pay past the mid-twenties for any of it, and you will probably have room left for the best tiramisu I’ve tasted this side of Rome!
Verrazano’s is located at 28835 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way 98003. For reservations call 253-946-4122.
Federal Way resident Robert Colbert is a food and wine enthusiast.