The Apartment Bistro, the pretty pick-up joint next-door to Umi Sake House, has closed — and the brothers Varchetta have leased the First Avenue space. Construction on their new 38-seat restaurant and bar is underway. They’ll call the place List, and we can expect to see it open in early January, says Leo Varchetta, flanked below by his brothers Salvio (at left) and Roberto.
A Belltown joint was not in their plans, says Leo, whose family made its local-restaurant debut in 1990 with Mamma Melina . They’re already busy enough with the Roosevelt ristorante named for their mother (where Roberto is chef), and with their 2-year-old pride and joy Barolo Ristorante in downtown’s Metropolitan Tower, where Salvio and Leo preside. But when opportunity knocked in Belltown, the Brothers V said, “Chow, baby!”
“I always loved that space,” says Leo, who was known to lift a cocktail at The Apartment before it closed in September. And what might we find on the menu at List once the remodel’s complete? A list of small plates, of course. “We’re not calling it tapas, because that implies Spanish — and it won’t be.” And though the menu will have “a lot of Italian influence,” it won’t be an Italian restaurant, either. Speaking of Italian places, I’m seriously overdue for a re-visit to beautiful Barolo:
According to Leo, business there has been booming, despite the economic downturn (and I’ve heard from a trusted friend in the wine biz that Salvio has said the same). “In October, we were up 40 percent compared to last year, that’s a lot,” he says. And that’s no thanks to early reviews like mine, in which I complained about the kitchen’s inconsistency (they’ve long since had a chef change). It’s certainly one of the more striking restaurants to open in recent years, and that’s not by chance:
“I’ve had a problem the last 10 years going into a restaurant and sitting on an old, crappy, broken stool and spending $15 for a martini,” Leo told me. He thinks Seattle was “going in the wrong direction” when time after time he watched as new restaurants opened on a shoestring, failing to consider the comfort of their customers by “putting in the bare minimum, then asking top-dollar for food and drink.” Providing “a beautiful environment” was an imperative at Barolo, and having pulled it off, he says he seeks to do so again with List.
As a restaurateur, he says, “I would never dream of charging the same for a cocktail at Mamma Melina as I can charge at Barolo. If you’re sitting on a stool you paid $50 for, you can charge someone $6 for a glass of wine. If you’re sitting on a $1500 stool, that’s a luxury — and you can charge top-dollar for that.” I failed to ask him whether or not he’s installing $1500 stools in Belltown, but I can attest to having heard many a complaint from patrons at restaurants and bars all over town who feel the way he does about high-prices versus perceived value.
“Everyone should recognize that people earn their money the hard way,” Leo says. “They work for it, and they work hard. If people are going to spend their money in your establishment, you have a moral obligation to provide the best possible product, the best possible food, wine and service. For us, it’s an honor if people are going to come in and spend their money here,” he adds. “On a daily basis I have conversations with my manager and say, `What are we going to do better today?’ In these tougher times, people are getting pickier about where to spend their money — and I think that’s why I’m busy.”
What do you have to say? Have you been to Barolo lately? If so, is Leo walking the talk — or giving me the business? Are you sick of spending big money to sit in less than comfortable surroundings, getting the short shrift, along with a sore butt, when restaurants open on tight budgets. Or can you forgive (or even forget) perceived “discomfort” when the food’s fabulous and the welcome’s genuine?