First Call: The Excellent Valadez

Italianissimo's bartender brings the Left Bank to Woodinville.

The Watering Hole: Ristorante Italianissimo, 15608 N.E. Woodinville-Duvall Rd., 425-485-6888, WOODINVILLE. The Atmosphere: A go-to place for homemade Italian pizzas, pastas, fresh seafood, and local wine, Italianissimo is tucked off on the side of the Woodinville-Duvall Road. Inside, it's reminiscent of those Italian joints that you remember visiting with your family in the '80s. Big white columns and gathered curtains with gold-tassel ties announce the dining-room entrance, black-and-white checkered tile covers the entryway, and enormous planters filled with flowers stud the restaurant. You get the sense that everyone here is family, from the servers and cooks to the patrons and the bartender. Italianissimo doesn't contain an ounce of pretense, and is certainly not like anything you'd find in Seattle. Therein lies its charm. The Barkeep: Jorge Valadez. In July, he'll have worked at Italianissimo nine years. "I love my job," he says enthusiastically when asked what's kept him there so long. "I'm very proud serving food and making drinks because I know that it's quality and because it's fun." Valadez was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has lived in the U.S. for 15 years. Most of that time he's worked in the restaurant industry, including at Milestones American Grill and Red Robin. "Woodinville's got great people," he says. "People who live around here work at Microsoft and Boeing, so it's the same clientele you'd see in Seattle or Bellevue or Kirkland or anywhere. Woodinville isn't really out in the boonies." Because Italianissimo's clientele consists mostly of regulars, Valadez says he usually knows what drink people will order when they walk in. But what would he make for someone he didn't know, if he got to choose? The Drink: Valadez makes me a Left Bank, concocted from Voyager gin, St. Germain, and sauvignon blanc. It's a traditional cocktail and one of his favorite drinks, he says, "especially this time of year when it's 70 degrees out." Coincidentally, I made my inaugural visit to Italianissimo on one of those rare sunny Seattle days. The cocktail is locally sourced, for the most part: Voyager gin comes from Pacific Distillery in Woodinville, and the wine is from Townshend Cellar near Spokane. Valadez mixes an ounce and a quarter of gin and about half an ounce each of St. Germain and sauvignon blanc. He adds ice, shakes it, pours it into a chilled martini glass, and adds a lime garnish. The Verdict: The drink is wonderful. It's refreshing, smells of lime zest, and is just different enough from traditional summery fruit drinks to hit the spot on a warm Seattle day. Of course, by the time I left the bar it was cloudy and a bit chilly, but the drink and food at Italianissimo left me feeling warm and fuzzy. jperry@seattleweekly.com

 
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