Note: much has changed at this restaurant since this review was written. It is currently in the process of being updated
Located in the Italian restaurant row on NW 21st and Kearney, Serratto is a huge open space with soaring old growth timber beams. The well-designed lighting makes the earth tone room inviting – think modern rustic. Tables are clothed in crisp white linen; the seating ranges from comfortable leather to terrible hard wood that leaves you checking your back pockets to see what could possibly be making you so uncomfortable. On nice evenings, big open windows let the breeze blow through, and tables dot the sidewalk outside. Inside, the Vineria bar is a nice place to hang out while waiting for a table, or having a quick bite. Service is always attentive and knowledgeable. Every meal begins with an amuse bouche (little bites), which sets the tone for your evening. Bread and good sweet butter accompany every meal.
Chef Thomas McLaughlin most recently from Lucy’s Table isn’t afraid to push the envelope. For an Italian place, parts of the menu are a bit unusual and ambitious. It begins with the basics:
Caprese is a classic Italian dish, a salad of heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. While it is simple, the need of high quality ingredients makes it a good test of a restaurant. This is the time of year for caprese to shine and here it doesn’t disappoint, letting each ingredient speak for itself. The tomatoes are vibrant, the basil bright, and the mozzarella wonderfully milky. A drizzle of olive oil completes the dish ($9.00). An antipasto of thin sliced prosciutto, melon, fontina cheese, candied walnuts, and house-cured olives weighs in at $9.00. This was a huge plate of different flavors that didn’t really work. The prosciutto was not very high quality, the cheese suffered from the same problem, and the melon was not as flavorful as it could be. The prosciutto-wrapped scallops fared much better. Seared and finished in melon coulis and mint mascarpone ($7.00) they were silky moist nuggets with a hint of the ocean. The supporting ingredients made this an unusual combination, but it all worked. A few nights ago on a warm evening, a beet salad seemed appealing. It came with a huge amount of pickled beets and nice little clumps of ricotta salata over arugula. I would have preferred fewer beets and more greens, but nevertheless I enjoyed it ($6.00). Not exactly Italian, the chopped salad has been making a bit of a comeback. Here it is a mixture of romaine with walnuts, blue cheese, and sherry vinaigrette. I thought it was too heavy on the walnuts, making it a meal in itself. $8.00
The entrees can be kind of a strange mix. They start out Northern Italian, drift to Southern Italian, hit Morocco, and have some German influences. Some work, some don’t, some I didn’t try. Personally, I think they would do best if the menu stuck to Italian, but it does make things interesting. Italian meals usually start with a small order of pasta before moving on, but here they are far too substantial. It would be nice if they were available in two sizes. The first night I had the wild boar, braised in stock with red wine, tomatoes, and herbs, on penne with orange gremolata. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the boar plentiful making a hearty and satisfying dish that many people would enjoy. The price was just right for the substantial portion ($15.00). Spaghetti and tomato sauce with braised pork shoulder, hot Italian sausage, and beef meatball ($14.00) was very salty, the beef a bit dry. The sausage was quite good, but didn’t overcome the heavy salt. Roasted pork tenderloin on polenta cake with pancetta, balsamic braised chard, pine nuts, and raisins ($21.00) was fine but nothing terribly inspired. It reminded me of food at touristy restaurants in Northern Italy.
Pan-seared scallops on a bed of lemon leek risotto finished with basil oil ($21.00) were quite good. The scallops were moist and perfectly cooked. Restaurant risottos make me a bit nervous, and when I saw the huge tower of it I was worried, but no need. This risotto perfectly cooked with an excellent mélange of flavors and nice little bites of lemon.
Now the combinations start to get a bit strange for an Italian restaurant:
A grilled ribeye of Cascade natural beef with garlic butter and spaetzle (little German noodles/dumplings) with mushrooms ($24.00) was a bit out of place. A nod to the beef lovers, this was perfectly cooked with robust flavor. I would have liked it on something a bit more regional but no big complaints. The nights I tried fish, overcooking seemed to be a trend. Seared halibut with Spanish romesco sauce on a bed of spicy lentils and spinach ($20.00) was a big disappointment. If these lentils are spicy then my grandmother was dynamite. The halibut was overcooked to the point of no return. An accompanying romesco was fine, but just average. The simply grilled wild salmon drizzled with citrus aioli ($20.00) was simply grilled, but also simply overcooked. I do like the minimalist approach, however. Once again the German spaetzle makes an appearance, this time with mushrooms $23.00.
Out of the blue, the menu lists braised lamb with Moroccan spices over saffron basmati pilaf, mango chutney, and yoghurt raita $19.00. I didn’t try it but was a bit thrown to see it on the list. Finally, there is a vegetarian special every evening.
The wine list is fairly extensive, with emphasis on Italian wine regions as well as some of the newer zones such as Sicily and Apulia. A few California and Oregon wines are thrown in. There are some interesting choices with about average markup. I’d like to see a few more by-the-glass choices.
Most desserts are $7.00. At times they can be inspired; a recent sampling was more pedestrian:
Chocolate espresso cake
White chocolate mousse – layers of mouse with filo dough and raspberries
Oregon berry cobbler
Lemon pudding cake
House-made gelatos and sorbettos are $6.00
I like Serratto. The ambiance is really relaxing, I like that you can sit outside, the wine list is good… it is just a very pleasant place. The preparation could use some help, and I think they need to focus on consistency, both in their cooking and the menu. I still go here now and then and don’t have a problem giving it two stars: