The Eats: La Medusa, 4857 Rainier Ave S., 723-2192. "Sicilian-inspired food for the soul."
La Medusa's menu changes weekly and on market availability; this blackboard is the only menu in house!
The Deets: In the heart of Columbia City, this 15-year old restaurant sets a charming scene in a cozy, rustic room filled with farmhouse-style tables and chairs. Service is warm, affable, and well-versed in the foods, flavors, and preparations of the regularly changing menu. As my boyfriend and I craned our necks to read the night's offerings, our hostess politely informed us that "most people just take a photo of the menu with their phone and read it from their table." The advice was helpful, as, once seated, maneuvering the small, full dining room required some logistics. The only paper menu guests receive at the table is for wine and cocktails, which features a good selection of drinks and mostly imported wines.
Prices are quite reasonable, and we stuffed ourselves with multiple appetizers, an order of bread and a salad course, two pasta entrees, desert, and a bottle of wine, running a tab right around $100. (After sounding like a rooting warthog, I'm compelled to disclose that we don't eat like this everyday, but after a long day hike were in the mood for a large meal.) For a leisurely dinner out on the weekend, incorporating "a combination of Sicilian imports, organic produce, and artisanal products," La Medusa already scores high in the value department.
The Beets: If their reputation for amazing hand-formed meatballs hasn't already given them away, La Medusa is definitely not a vegetarian restaurant. Considering Beet Street's checkered past with artisanal, non-vegetarian Italian restaurants, it was a toss-up at the onset. But La Medusa's genuine hospitality, hearty portions, and down-to-earth prices warmed me over by meal's end.
The Arancini, fried saffron rice balls stuffed with mozzarella, were hearty and generously portioned--at two for $8, I expected something like a croquette, but these were true orange (arancia means orange in Italian) sized balls. The saffron had a subtle flavor, but the balls were fried to a perfect crisp. The cauliflower gratin with golden raisins, pine nuts, and spicy butter was delicious. It was a rustic gratin, roasted in a cast-iron skillet with sparing amounts of Parmesan, but the vegetable had a great, fresh snap and was balanced with sweet, spicy flavors.
After a simply dressed whole leaf salad, the Campanelle with taleggio cheese and asparagus was the perfect taste of Spring. Creamy and al dente, the asparagus added just the right amount of green, and the stinky taleggio mingled superbly with its vegetal aromatics. We finished our meal muscling through a slice of strrawberry-rhubarb pie and after a pleasant chat with our waitress, drank the last few sips of wine and waddled out into the night.
The Tweet: La Medusa may have a fondness for meat, but veggies can easily custom-craft an exceptional meal at a good value.