Monday, January 11, 2010

Appreciating Accanto

I like the idea of twins. Especially the idea of having one. Not the evil kind, but one that would balance out my yang with its yin. Be likable when I'm cranky, be accessible when I'm cocooning, and maybe clean the house on a more than semi-annual basis.

Twin restaurants are a nice idea, too, especially when one of them is a higher-end, special-occasion type place. Castagna pioneered that sort of side-by-side pairing with its Café next door serving equally excellent but more approachable (and approachably priced) food. Where the restaurant is a maybe once-a-year splurge, the café can be an option on one of those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights where you can sit at the bar, have a drink and split an entrée.

The latest incarnation of this phenomenon is the Woody Allen-Soon Yi pairing of the grande dame known as Genoa with bright young thing Accanto. Granted, the old gal's had a lot of work done and looks more elegantly uptown than down-and-dowdy, but it's still going to be a more occasional pleasure even with the significantly reduced price of a meal.

So it was smart of the new owners to open up the unused corner space next door as an Italian-style enoteca, a zippy, small plates-and-a-cocktail joint with a long bar, tiny tables and a couch-filled open library on one end. The menu, the kitchen and the staff is completely separate from Genoa, though chef David Anderson, himself a twin, has a hand in overseeing the operation and the kitchen at this point.

I met a friend there for a quick drink and some snacking just to check out the vibe, and I'm thinking this place could become a frequent stop for such occasions. We took the corner of the wood slab bar, probably the best seats in the house for my money, where you can sit and watch drinks being made, kibbitz with the bartender and have a good view of the room and the street outside.

We were both intrigued by the A Traversiamo (photo, upper left) on the cocktail menu, an icy yet somehow warming concoction of Integrity Spirits' Lovejoy Vodka, J. Witty Chamomile, lemon juice and simple syrup served up with a thyme sprig. The rest of the drinks that were coming out of the shaker looked tasty, too, so let me know if you get in and sample some.

We ordered a small variety of their snacks, including the fritto misto of vegetables and calamari (photo, above right), the coating light and lightly toasted to a perfect crispness, the olives (both black and green) being something I could eat a basket of all by themselves. The arancini (top photo) were stuffed with crab and ricotta with just a hint of saffron, served in a small puddle of tomato coulis. The ricotta made the centers a little mushy, but they were still quite good.

We also had a selection of their "salumi e formaggi," three samples each of cheeses and cured meat, and the cheeses definitely outshown the meats. They're buying good quality cured meats from outside purveyors, but having had housemade meats in other places (notably Kevin Gibson's at Evoe), I'm more than a little spoiled. (Note: The bartender said they are planning on featuring their own meats in the future.) And it would have been nice to see more local cheese on the list, since there are so many fabulous choices here in the Northwest.

Like Bar Avignon, this is a great place for the aforementioned drinks-and-a-snack, but also someplace to grab a quick bite or have a meal. And it might just tempt you to visit its twin next door a little more often.

Details: Accanto, 2838 SE Belmont St. 503-235-4900.

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