A Left Bank on the Eastside

Photo by Julien Perry
The Watering Hole: Ristorante Italianissimo, 15608 N.E. Woodinville Duvall Pl., 425-485-6888, WOODINVILLE.

The Atmosphere: Italianissimo is tucked off to the side of the Woodinville Duvall Road. It's the go-to place for homemade Italian food for anyone looking for pizzas, pastas, fresh seafood and of course, local wine. Inside, Italianissimo is reminiscent of those Italian joints that you remember visiting with your family in the 80s. There are big white columns and gathered curtains with gold tassel ties announcing the dining room entrance, black and white checkered tile in the entry, and ginormous planters filled with flowers studding the restaurant. There's a certain comfort quality about this family-owned restaurant. You get the sense that everyone here is family -- from the servers to the 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. There lies its charm.

The Barkeep: Jorge Valadez. In July, he'll have worked at Italianissimo for nine years. "I love my job," Valadez says enthusiastically when asked what's kept him there for 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. For most of that time he's worked in the restaurant industry, including jobs at Milestones American Grill and Red Robin.

"Woodinville's got great people. 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 the clientele at Italianissimo is mostly regulars, Valadez says he usually knows what drink they're going to order when they walk in the door. But what would he make someone he didn't know if he got to chose their cocktail?

Photo by Julien Perry
The Drink: Valadez makes me a Left Bank made with Voyager gin, St. Germain and Savignon Blanc. It's a traditional cocktail and one of his favorite drinks, "especially this time of year when it's 70-degrees out." Yeah, it was one of those rare sunny Seattle days when I made my inaugural visit to Italianissimo.

The cocktail is locally sourced, for the most part. Voyager gin is from Pacific Distillery in Woodinville and the wine is from Townshend Cellar located near Spokane. To make the drink, 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 up, 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 it just different enough from the traditional summery fruity drinks that it 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 I was treated to at Italianissimo left me feeling warm and fuzzy.

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