"Did you eat here when it was Cucina Cucina?"
I told the bartender I hadn't.
"It's different. It's been given a lot of love."
She pointed to the marble bar, the dark wood back bar, to brand-new kitchen equipment. I popped my head into the redecorated dining room, too. Nice. White tablecloths, even at the booths. An upscale, but casual vibe.
Chef/owner Bill Trudnowski, a veteran of Seattle's Consilidated Restaurants group, and partner John Howie, owner Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar in Bellevue and the Sport sports bar in Seattle, purchased Cucina Cucina Italian Café in June.
On Saturday, they reopened as Adriatic Grill Italian Cuisine and Wine Bar. It's a step up from mall-adjacent dining.
I dropped in for a couple of mid-week meals. Except for a Margherita pizza ($11.50) that was more like flaccid flat bread with marinara, I like what I ate – particularly a thick slice of lasagna ($15) that had a nice balance of meat, cheese, noodles and sauce, and a grilled swordfish and artichokes and capers ($24).
I also liked the steamed mussels, but the appetizer wasn't served with bread to sop up the tomato-wine broth. Bread cost $6 for a loaf, served with roasted garlic and whipped butter. Ouch.
Other entrees include herb-grilled King salmon ($22), shellstock stew ($21), Pacific snapper with gnocchi ($19), roasted garlic scampi ($24), chicken parmigiano ($16.50) and gussied-up filets ($29) and T-bones ($28).
The bar menu features steamed clams, a hand-made meatball sandwich, Italian burger sliders and an antipasti platter. Happy hour bar food (dips, calamari, cheese pizza and garlic potato wedges) are half-price 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close.
The lunch menu mirrors the dinner menu, but portions and prices are smaller. Lunch also features sandwiches, from the $8.95 hand-made meatball sandwich to the $13.50 grilled ahi and artichoke sandwich.
Adriatic Grill has a good-looking wine list, featuring a good number of Italian and Washington whites and reds by the pitcher (about 1-4 glasses of wine) from $5.50 to $11.
Service on two visits was efficient, friendly and peppy. The whole restaurant looked abuzz – not with start-up confusion, but with that kind of energy that pervades the mall, Adriatic Grill's neighbor.
Adriatic Grill Italian Cuisine and Wine Bar: 4201 S. Steel St.; Tacoma; 253-475-6000. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays