When Fork's sister restaurant Alavita opened its doors on a bitterly cold January day, its "locally inspired Italian" menu was peppered with housemade pastas and winter's limited bounty--kabocha squash, sweet potatoes and a variety of meats and cheeses, some from the Northwest and others not. But as I carved into a spear of broccolini ($8), with its bright green hue and fresh snap, topped with creamy hunks of Rolling Stone chevre and a panko-sheathed poached egg that oozed its yellow innards onto the plate, I dreamed of summer, sitting on the adjacent patio after the farmers market with the garage-style windows rolled up and a plate of simple, fresh fare before me.
Which might be why a return visit to the joint in June was so underwhelming. Perched at Alavita's horseshoe-shaped bar next to a smattering of young professionals swigging sweat-beaded white wine, I surveyed the menu. It had barely changed since my first visit, and everything we tried was a little off. The same broccolini app came soaked in a heavy-handed glug of too-sweet balsamic reduction. The salty pecorino Toscano baked on cedar ($6) was coated in "truffled local Ahaus honey," but none of the cedar or truffle flavors shone through. And the giant grilled chicken and portobello salad ($11) featured a few perfectly savory mushroom slivers, alongside hunks of dry chicken and large shreds of Ballard cheddar cheese.
The only completely satisfying dish was a stack of delicately folded house-made garganelli ($16) with strings of Barolo-braised shortribs, wisps of arugula and a mound of finely grated pecorino cheese.
As I peered above my head, studying the massive, brown cylindrical lights growing from the ceiling like gauzy stalactites and the heap of giant silver logs suspended above the darker recesses of the smallish restaurant, I wondered: Was Alavita more show than substance? Was the local focus just lip service?
Thankfully, I returned. On a recent visit for lunch, the menu had been revamped to reflect the season. The grilled veggie of the moment ($9)--tiny grilled summer squash and cippolini onions, served with warm cubes of herbed bread and a fried egg--would've made a fantastic breakfast, but could've used a smear of sauce to tie it together as an appetizer. But the porcini tagliatelle ($15)--with small bits of Sweet Valley Organics mushrooms, tart cherry tomatoes, earthy brown pasta ribbons bathed in a light oily sheen, a sprinkle of chives and a pile of delicate Parmesan--was perfect. Soul warming, even on a hot summer day.
If you tried Alavita ("to life") when it first opened, I recommend you go back this summer. Right now, it's full of life.