Rediscovering Vito’s

October 14, 2010

Many moons ago, a restaurant on First Hill in Seattle called Vito’s was known as a hang-out for people of dubious character who liked their martinis strong, their Italian food authentically prepared, and the lights turned down low.

Menu-wise, the original Vito’s was perhaps best known for its Cannelloni Bolognese. Thin sheets of pasta were stuffed with veal, beef, and vegetables, gently rolled, then baked in a rosa sauce with provolone cheese.

Management changed, and, according to our server, Vito’s became a hip-hop bar. It closed a few years ago, much the worse for all the wear and tear throughout the years.

Glad to report it reopened a few weeks ago and has successfully recaptured the coveted Rat-Pack vibe. The menu offerings and food have definitely been thoughtfully reworked, revamped, and revived thanks to Michael Bruno, former long-time chef at Tango.

Lasagne Vegetale (Vegetarian Lasagne) at VIto’s

“When I walked in here, I just felt like I knew it,” Michael told us during a recent Saturday-night dinner, undoubtedly referring to the space’s East Coast vibe. Smoky glass mirrors, real burgundy-leather-colored banquettes, sparkling lights over the dimly lit bar, and even a disco ball hanging over the grand piano make you think you’ve been swept back in time (in a good way).

I knew exactly what he meant, having grown up in suburban Philadelphia with its large Italian population settled in south Philly, not to mention Italian immigrants with businesses throughout the region. I’ll never forget Giuliani’s, a family-run Italian restaurant in Narberth, Pa. Mama Giuliana pumped out her own lasagne, pizza dough, and spaghetti and meatballs for years. My mother craved Italian food throughout her pregnancy with me and partook at Giuliani’s more than she rationally should have; both my parents only half jokingly used to say they were surprised I wasn’t born with spaghetti sauce flowing through my veins.

Spencer and I found out over credible Minestrone Soup (I would have liked more white beans and Parmesan, a lighter broth, and fewer chunky potatoes) and delectable Vegetarian Lasagne (fresh spinach pasta layered with zucchini, ricotta, béchamel, and marinara) that Michael hails from suburban Philadelphia, too! I went to Harriton High; he graduated from Norristown. Undoubtedly, our two schools competed in athletic competitions. Coincidentally, when Spencer and I got married almost 29 years ago, we got our marriage license in Norristown, the county seat.

Spencer enjoyed his Lasagne Bolognese–fresh pasta layered with ground beef, pork, ricotta, béchamel, and marinara; the wine list is thoughtful and reasonably priced; and the demographic runs from young to old. We both predicted the new Vito’s will do really well.

And we can’t wait to return to try specials of the day such as Ahi Tuna with Puttanesca Sauce, along with menu standards such as Scampi Nero d’Angelo (black tiger prawns over a spicy red sauce on black angel hair pasta) and Steak Piazzola (a 12-ounce rib-eye steak with a spicy red sauce, red wine, and fresh oregano, served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables).

And good news–the Cannelloni Bolognese remains a stalwart on the new Vito’s menu.

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