Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Taste of Nostalgia

Lance and I got the perfect Valentine's gift today.

A taste of nostalgia.

One of our favorite restaurants when we lived in Germany was Il Genio's. There were 3 locations close to home, each one with a different ambiance. The food was reliably good and inexpensive. While it wasn't the absolute best Italian food I ever had, it was certainly very good and a lot more authentic than most of the so-called Italian restaurants in the States.

Tonight, we found a place that brought Il Genio's back to us. Sort of. The atmosphere is quite a bit different, and the menus weren't in badly translated English, but the food...the food...


An Italian place opened in Kent recently, part of a chain of restaurants located around the Seattle area (with a location in Phoenix, Arizona and one, oddly, in Maryland). On a busy road, it would normally be easy to miss, but the orange neon and a large, flashing sign out front made it pretty noticeable. Nope, this isn't some charming, romantic ristorante or anything.

But looks can be deceiving. Considering that there are few Italian restaurants in Kent, we were game to try it. Tonight seemed to be the night. And it seemed like a rather low-key, family place, so I didn't expect that it would be busy with Valentine's diners looking for a romantic night out.

It wasn't busy when we got there. We could seat ourselves. There were booths and tables for large groups. The kitchen was open, so you could see everyone working in it. The only thing that seemed rather out of place was the music, more suitable for a sports bar than an Italian restaurant. In fact, I had to comment to Lance how weird it was to hear "Sweet Home Alabama" when I normally would expect the type of background music that would be played at, well, Olive Garden.

We got our menus. They had a good selection of pizzas, pasta, calzones and grinders (or hoagies or subs, depending on what region you're from). But we were primarily interested in the pasta dishes. As I scanned the choices, I commented to Lance how much the menu reminded me of Il Genio's. He immediately agreed, and had been thinking the exact same thing.

I ordered the Tortellini Special, which was spinach tortellini in alfredo sauce, mixed with bacon, peas and sprinkled with shredded parmesan. Lance ordered fettuccine with alfredo sauce and gorgonzola, baked with mozzarella cheese, and topped with meatballs. Both came with salad or soup and garlic bread (prices similar to Olive Garden, I think both our entrees were $12.95 each).

My salad was wonderful. Mixed greens, sliced black olives, shredded parmesan, and their house dressing, which was a balsamic vinaigrette. Then came the meal.

Oh my God. It looked IDENTICAL to a dish I had at Il Genio's before. And tasted almost exactly like it. Very rich and decadent alfredo sauce. The same kind of bacon (not American-style bacon). It almost transported me back to Il Genio's again. Lance thought the same thing about his dish. It was amazing. Suddenly, we were reminiscing about our life in Germany.

We both could only eat half of our entrees. We ordered a slice of cheesecake to share. When the waitress asked how everything was, I had to tell her that it was so much like our favorite Italian restaurant in Germany. She was so excited to hear it. We wanted to know if the restaurant was run by Italians, but she told us her boss was Bulgarian. Well done. She asked us if it was better than Olive Garden. I nodded enthusiastically.

When she dropped off the bill, she left two little chocolate hearts on the table, and thanked us for being her Valentines. She was really sweet.

Now...whenever we get a little homesick for Germany, we know where to go. Weird, right?

We'll be trying their pizza next. I think we're both so excited that we found this place, and we walked away two very happy (and very stuffed) customers.

I know I have yet to name this magical place, so here goes, with a link:

Amante Pizza and Pasta

Eat there, you won't regret it. And if you've never been to Europe and experienced authentic Italian food, you can now discover what you've been missing. I don't want to knock Olive Garden or anything, because it fulfills a need when you're hungry and the food is good (I have enjoyed many a meal there, too), but the kind of food combinations that you find on the menu there are not what you would find on Italian restaurant menus in Europe. Amante? Well, it is exactly what you'd find.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Red House

I've been itching to post here, and now I have a reason to.

I've discovered a gem of a restaurant in downtown Renton, very close to where I work. I was meeting a new friend there, another writerly type who lived in Germany for several years before settling down in Seattle. She recommended the place, and after doing a bit of research on it, I was very much looking forward to the experience.

The Red House Beer & Wine Shoppe and Tapas Bar is a very low-key, cozy place to meet friends or family. Also a nice date spot. It's a Craftsman-style house that has been converted into a bar, restaurant and retail wine/beer shop. There is a wonderful patio for outdoor dining in the warmer months (I think that's a smashing idea for my June birthday).

You walk in the front door and enter a room that contains a few tables, the bar, and some shelves full of wine. That leads to another room, which is filled with European beers and a couple more tables, which leads to another room filled with wine and a few more tables, etc. etc. There is also an upstairs area, which can be rented out for private parties. This is where The Red House hosts its wine tastings.

But let me get to the point. This is about the food, after all. They have full entrees, sandwich platters, and a pretty extensive tapas menu. Lisa and I went for the tapas. We ordered an antipasto platter, which came with a heaping pile of warm, delicious rustic bread, serrano ham, manchego cheese, olives and goat cheese. We also ordered the roasted beets with gorgonzola cheese. Both were delicious and made a substantial enough meal for both of us.

And then there was the wine. I had a yummy Riesling from Germany (Jakob Demmer, I believe). I think Lisa had an Argentine Malbec, which she liked really well. Since there was a shelf full of British and German beers behind me, Lisa was checking all of that out, and she spotted a bottle of cherry beer, UK made. There was only one bottle, so when she asked about it, the waiter asked if we wanted to share it. And so we did. And it was good. (I'm not a beer drinker, but I do enjoy the Belgian Lambics, so this was very similar).

We checked out some of the ciders too, and they had large bottles of British pear cider for $5, so we each bought one.

Anyway, the atmosphere was great. It's not a quiet and intimate spot. But it's cozy, friendly and fun. There was a nice variety of menu items to suit every taste. And the food was top-notch. Certainly worth a visit to Renton, if you don't have a reason to be there already.

The Red House website