Sending My Regrets
La Spiga at One Year
People think writing restaurant reviews is all wine and roses. But when people have a bad dinner at a restaurant, they just rue whatever circumstance brought them there, maybe excoriate the place online, vow never to return, and commence putting it out of their minds. Digestion occurs; life goes on. The reviewer must dwell on the experience, dissect the contents of stomach and brain and heart, and—to be fair—return for at least one refill. (I've never had a second dinner—or a third—that significantly changed my mind.)
I regret the last two dinners I had at La Spiga. Furthermore, I regret deluding myself about La Spiga when they opened in their new location a year ago ["Beauty and the Meat," Jan 25]. The place was so beautiful! ("Soaringly, screamingly" so, I wrote, somewhat hysterically.) If the pasta was not so beautiful ("gloppy," "mush," "overcooked," "mess"), somehow this—bad pasta at a rustic Italian restaurant—became an aside, forgivable. And if the service was generally awful, well, they'd just gone from a tiny space to an enormous one, and they'd pull it together, right? (I mentioned the service problems, but also wrote, "The occasional sense of barely contained chaos is exciting." Jesus. I'm sorry, people.)
I returned a couple times over the last year; I had some mediocre gnocchi, lost what seemed like days of my life waiting for drinks at the bar. Reports, both from friends and via The Stranger's online reader reviews, varied wildly (from the latter: "Outstanding," "Too big for its britches?" "A big disappointment"). Incomprehensibly, even after every food critic in the city pointed out the terrible service, it was said to remain terrible.
Thus, a reevaluation. The first visit began auspiciously: prompt seating at the appointed reservation time, attentive yet unintrusive service, nearly instant water refills, knowledgeable wine recommendations. The first course was relatively terrific: rich, rosy-centered slices of house-smoked venison carpaccio ($15) and a rectangle of melted mild Toma cheese with jamlike roasted tomato and piadina flatbread ($7). But two pastas were massively disappointing. The house specialty lasagne verdi ($12) that was a mess a year ago was still a mess, if not more so. Obviously and poorly reheated, it had a greasy sheen as if it'd come from a deli case; the thin, delicate homemade spinach noodles had (again, still) nearly dissolved, joining the half-warmed béchamel sauce to form a rich, bland glue. The aesthetic failure of tagliatelle with wild boar ragu ($14)—a pile of green noodles with sprinkled flesh-colored nodules of meat—would've been acceptable if it had been simple and delicious. It tasted like cafeteria beef stroganoff, and it was cold. A cheese plate ($8), ordered to buoy the spirits, came with no explanation; upon request, the server returned to name them a blue cow cheese, another cow cheese, and a sheep. Is it surprising that they didn't taste like anything special? The coffee was tepid.
I walked out and wanted to turn left, to go to Cafe Presse for the Bibb lettuce salad with hazelnuts and maybe some cool, lovely, plain oysters; I was too full. I was going to have to write about this. I was morose, regretful about the wasted stomach space, about everything all night.
Would you go back? ("A big disappointment, not going back" wrote a Stranger reader reviewer just last Monday.) Duty called. Service was again prompt and pleasant, but the pasta—chestnut gnocchi with sausage ($14), ordered in the spirit of second chances—was dreadful. It looked like a predigested brown splat on the plate; it had hot and cold spots; and when my guest truthfully termed it "gelatinous," the server failed to offer to do anything about it, leaving it sitting there looking ever more gelatinous.
Eggplant antipasto ($7), ordered as a safety measure, was as good as remembered ("sliced translucently thin, olive-oil soaked, and unbelievably slippery-silky under exactly-salty-enough pestolike sauce," I wrote). But a sampling of secondi was not. Meats were La Spiga's saving grace a year ago, moving me to verbiage involving a hug ("smother you in happiness") and what ogre lumberjacks would ideally eat for breakfast (La Spiga's sausage patties, regrettably no longer on the menu). This time, slices of roasted duck breast ($19) were moist and flavorful, but neither the floppy grilled endive nor the balsamita sauce (tasting remarkably like hoisin) did anything to make this dish something you'd long for again. And a gigantic beer-braised pork shank ($20) had a hard carapace, dry meat, and a bed of braised cranberry beans that tasted (and looked) incontrovertibly like canned refried beans. For dessert, a panettone bread pudding ($7) was fine; a farro apple cake ($7) was inedibly dry.
Dinner should not induce despondency. Pasta you're paying restaurant prices for should be just cooked, good-looking, and tasty in a way that is compelling and joyful. You have a right to consistently excellent food, to know what kind of cheese you're eating, to hot coffee, and to beauty that's more than skin deep. La Spiga's still mobbed, like it was a year ago; weekend reservations remain hard to come by. I regret that you're settling for mediocrity, Seattle. As another recent Stranger online reviewer wrote, "I keep running into more people who have had the same experience, bad food, bad service, yet, like lemmings, we've all been more than once. I'm officially putting an end to this cycle in my life—it's time we all did."