I happily dug into a twirl of spaghetti draped in a velvety egg sauce with Parmesan and chased it with a long tangle of tagliatelle slick with pesto. Even more happily, I devoured the puffy clouds of potato gnocchi in a clingy marinara.
I’ve got a new favorite find for pasta, pizza and other Italian classics.
Give it a few weeks, but get yourself to Lovino Ristorante Italiano, the area’s newest Italian restaurant plunked in the middle of “the original” Ruston, which is the business area around North 51st and Pearl streets. It’s just up the hill from Point Ruston, the retail-residential development on Commencement Bay.
Lovino opened May 15, and the response so far has been enthusiastic, this hired belly included.
The 50-seat restaurant with a 20-seat bar is a project of friends Jeff and Laura Macaluso and Michele Lovino. Jeff and Lovino met at a charitable organization and bonded over their shared love of Italian cuisine. Jeff’s father’s family hails from Sicily, and Lovino is from Calabria.
This is Lovino’s first gig as an executive chef of his own place, but he has a lengthy resume working as a server and chef. Most recently he waited tables at Redmond’s Blu Sardinia. Laura and Jeff have both owned businesses in Tacoma, but this is their first restaurant.
Because it’s a new project and has attracted a great deal of interest, a reservation is a must. If possible, wait two weeks to visit as the restaurant acclimates to its crowds. I can see why diners are flocking. The restaurant reads like a collision of two Italian restaurants I love, Marzano and Adriatic Grill (which closed in February, sadly).
Here’s a first bite look at the restaurant that serves lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Sundays. It’s this paper’s policy to skip criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
The dining room: Casual but handsome with wood floors and paper-covered bistro tables and straight-back wooden chairs. A long banquette spans the length of one wall. Gone is the half-wall that separated the dining room of the restaurant’s former occupant, Point Defiance Tap and Grill. To the rear of the restaurant, with its own entrance, is a 20-seat bar with high-top tables and bar seating. Plating is casual, but elegant. The linen napkins were a nice touch.
Lunch menu: Abbreviated menu compared to dinner. Starters include five choices spanning fried calamari to beef carpaccio ($10 to $12), Caesar, house or arugula salads ($7 to $8) and daily soups ($7). Entrees include prosciutto, margherita or sausage-mushroom pizzas ($11 to $16), a sandwich of the week and nine pasta and entree choices including spaghetti marina ($12), arborio risotto boscaioli ($14), chicken piccata ($18) and seafood pasta ($22).
Dinner menu: Expanded options of seven appetizers including calamari ($12), beef carpaccio ($13), octopus carpaccio ($14), meatballs in tomato sauce ($12), antipasto misto ($14) and prosciutto with burrata ($13).
Same selection of pizza, salads and soups at dinner as lunch. Dinner pastas include a dozen choices: spaghetti with meatballs and marinara ($15), tagliatelle with prawns and tomatoes ($16), portobello ravioli ($17) and more.
Other entree selections include eggplant Parmesan ($18), chicken piccata ($18), chicken marsala ($18), grilled rack of lamb ($24), veal osso buco ($36), saltimbocca Romana ($24) and grilled steak ($36).
Gluten-free: All wheat pasta can be swapped for gluten-free rotini.
Dessert: Limoncello cake, tiramisu and more.
Wine list: 18 wines by the glass priced $7.50 to $9 with a list weighted heavily on Italian varietals, with a few Washington wines. The by-the-bottle Italian-heavy wine list spans two pages with more Italian choices thoughtfully organized by region (Toscana, Piemonte, Veneto, etc.). The list includes economy to splurge bottles, $23 to $140.
Spirits: Cocktail list coming soon, but all classic spirits covered here.
Notes: An overwhelmed kitchen means items occasionally run out. Osso buco was missing on one visit, octopus carpaccio on another.
On a first visit: Get the well-priced pasta, with plates of warmed bread served with a flavored compound butter.
Don’t miss the carbonara, which might become my favorite in town, with an eggy drape of a sauce clinging to al dente spaghetti and hefty wedges of slow-cooked pork cheek ($15) or the bouncy puffs of feathery soft gnocchi in a rich mozzarella and Parmesan fortified marinara ($14).
Tagliatelle pesto tasted subdued, of more basil than garlic, with a nutty finish from walnuts ($13). I twirled my fork excitedly into thick ribbons of papardelle with a rich bolognese that begged for dipping ($14). Lasagna was stacked with more of that rich meat sauce, ricotta cheese and cheesy strands of mozzarella ($18).
To start the meal, try the wonderfully plump clams in a dip-worthy wine broth served with more warmed bread ($14). Thinly sliced beef carpaccio was simply dressed in olive oil, shaved Parmesan, lemon and capers ($13). Fried calamari was both tentacles and rings, with a tasty aioli ($12).
To end the meal, whatever you do, save room for the dreamy limoncello cake ($8).
Lovino Ristorante Italiano
Where: 5101 N. Pearl St., Ruston
Info: 253-267-1340 or lovino.business.site
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. 5-9 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Mondays.