Celebrating with a group at a restaurant can be very difficult. Aside from just coordinating the simultaneous location of more than a dozen individuals, there are a million things to think about when choosing a venue: Is the vibe right? Will it be willing to split checks? Is there something on the menu to please all levels of pickiness among eaters? Will we annoy other patrons if we're too loud? After a recent event at Cuoco, the other attendees and I came away with the all the answers while sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying oversized shot glasses full of Limoncello. The set up and skills for catering to a big group were over-the-top impeccable at Tom Douglas's South Lake Union Italian eatery.
The tiny treasure found on the bread plate is rosemary lardo, a potent, fatty dollop. It is meat in cream form, boasting porky pride under the pretense of a butter-like spread. While the bread service costs $3, the waiter was generous with the size of the portions, increasing them when he refilled, for free, as our group grew. These actions earned Cuoco superlative praise as it continually stepped up, even when we were not the easiest of diners. It took a twenty-minute trickle for us to arrive, and that was with a few last minute cancellations. Each new arrival had drinks brought promptly. The server ensured that enough of the bread plates were purchased to go around. By the time we ordered, I was already impressed.
In each group, though, there is a fish that must swim against the tide, and ours was a sick friend. Our server met her custom pasta request with less judgment than most waitresses pass on a diet Coke refill, almost with pride. I watched in awe as the friend recited a near-recipe to the server, and with pleasure as she dug in happily. Much of the rest of the group favored the lasagna; which came stacked like a college student's notes spilling from a folder and bathed in a vibrant sauce. The more adventurous among us found our fun (and food worth bringing friends in for) in lamb ravioli with Padrón peppers, or the house specialty, agnolotti di plin. This pasta stuffed with rabbit, pork, and veal is easily recognizable to longtime fans of older sibling restaurant Palace Kitchen.
There is a place for chef-driven restaurants that pall at substitutions, but it is not a home for group dinners. Cuoco's ability to cater to all kinds of eaters while maintaining service standards that please the group sets it apart. The crowning moment came at the end of the meal, when not only was each check split out accurately, we also received an extra, combined check with some of the shared items. Paying for a group of a dozen diners has never been easier, leaving us all the more time to celebrate over a charmingly crisp seasonal crostada.