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July 15, 2010 at 9:39 AM

Ciao-time in Madison Park: “What happened to Sostanza?”

Eater Terry Esposito writes: “Help! What happened to Sostanza? My family and I ate there last week. We had a wonderful meal and commented that we’ve never been disappointed whenever we’ve been there. [We] even made a commitment to returning soon. What a disappointment!”

Apparently, Terry’s not the only one disappointed about the closure of the Madison Park trattoria, shuttered Monday. In the unexpected wake of that closure, a pal-‘o-mine reports seeing Jack and Becky Benaroya (you may know their concert hall) dining on the corner at McGilvra’s this week, and other familiar faces doing the same nearby at The Attic Alehouse & Eatery. Word had it those well-heeled patrons had been headed for Sostanza.

So, what gives? And why would owner/chef Lorenzo Cianciusi bow out of his cozy Italian restaurant at the lakeside end of Madison Park so abruptly? Why leave regulars bereft and sidewalk and balcony tables empty now — when our fair-weather friend Al Fresco has finally arrived for the summer season?

Sostanza, at the tail end of Madison Park: Ciao, bella! [rendering courtesy of Sostanza]

“I felt like I needed to move on and do something else,” Cianciusi told me Wednesday as he and his wife, Colleen Protzman, prepared to break down their restaurant after nearly 15 years in business. Though his customers were “unbelievable,” and he’ll miss them, he explained Sostanza has been on the market for the past four years, it’s finally sold and “the offer was ripe.”

That sale (more about that in a subsequent post) has been in the works for six or seven months, he says, noting that while the ink’s not quite dry on the contract, it’s “95 to 96-percent there” and he had to tell his staff, then swiftly vacate the premises.

With Sostanza closed, he and his wife have plans to vacate themselves — at least temporarily. “We own property on Maui, and we’ll go over there and vacation. I’m going to decompress for a while, take it easy.” But with the restaurant business still in his blood, the chef insists he’ll be back.

Chef Lorenzo Cianciusi at his stove at Sostanza in 2006. Take it easy, pal!

[photo: Heather Trimm/special to the Seattle Times]

“I’ve still got a [real estate] broker looking for a place for me to do something smaller” — maybe on the Eastside, he says, or in another neighborhood, perhaps Queen Anne or Ballard. If and when he does find the right spot, he says, “Hopefully, all my regular customers can come back and we can begin where we left off.”

I’ll miss Sostanza’s Campanella alla Veneziana, a pasta recipe Ciansiusi shared with me after my husband raved about it several years ago. And because I’m nice, I’m happy to share it with you. Buon appetito!

Campanella alla Veneziana (serves 4)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup white onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

1/4 pound ground beef

1/4 pound ground veal

1/4 cup good red wine

1/4 cup beef stock or (even better!) demi-glace

1 cup tomato sauce or pureed canned tomatoes

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 spring fresh thyme, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound campanella pasta (the bell-shaped Barilla brand is available locally)

Parmesan cheese (to garnish)

Bring pasta water to boil in a 6-8 quart pot. Add salt. Meanwhile:

In a 12-inch saute pan heat oil, saute onion till translucent, adding garlic at the end. Add ground beef and veal. Cook thoroughly. Deglaze the pan with red wine and beef stock. Reduce wine/stock by half. Add tomato puree, cream, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Reduce liquid by half.

Drop pasta and stir frequently. Cook until al dente. Strain in colander. Do not rinse or let sit. Add pasta to sauce. Toss and serve with grated fresh Parmesan.

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