You may believe that Marco Polo originally brought noodles from China to Italy in the 14th century or think that yet again, some wily Westerner stole credit for the contributions of Arab traders. But ask most first-graders in America where noodles come from, and they'll say "Italy."
In another 50 years, they may say, "Here." Fettucine (or spaghetti) with red sauce is now just as American as spaghetti, the second thing that college freshmen of my generation learned to make right after mastering the instructions on the Top Ramen packet. It's so common that we forget how exotic it used to be to our grandparents, and how good it can be when done right.
Tavolata and Spinasse may be the pasta restaurants du jour, but Cafe Lago is settling into the comfortable middle age that Ethan Stowell and Justin Neidermeyer probably dream of. It's always busy, most of its clientele regulars. Part of the reason is that the 18-year-old Montlake restaurant cultivates welcoming, competent servers. And the other reason is the cafe's pasta.
Lago's freshly made fettucine is quite a few steps elevated above Safeway spaghetti with chunky Ragu: slippery and pliable, with a bit of chew to each strand but not the tight-grained center that al dente dried pasta has. I'm not the greatest fan of Cafe Lago's marinara -- it's a little bright and clean for me, without much depth -- but the pasta and the springy veal meatballs make up for it.