It's a mall world

Stop. Shop. Mange!


University Village, 524-9088 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. and Sun.; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. AE, MC, V / full bar FROTHY, STICKY Orange Juliuses, kung pao chicken swimming in oil, heat-lamp pepperoni pizza: These are mall foods, the halfhearted sustenance scarfed down by exhausted moms and their fussy toddlers, by spotty, hostile teens, and by harassed-looking employees in gummy-floored food courts across America. Seattle's University Village is a mall, but of a very different breed—a bucolic, upscale maze of courtyards, landscaping, and lovely, pricey shops. It follows, then, that Piatti, located on the far edge of the Village, offers a very different sort of mall food—though it doesn't exorcise its food-court demons altogether. Light, airy, and earth toned in a vaguely Tuscan way, Piatti's massive square footage and high ceilings flow into an open, prettily tiled kitchen and wrap-around terrace dining. The entire space has the feel of a trattoria done on a grand scale (though the dusky ceramic floor tiles lead somewhat incongruously to a large television at the bar, tuned constantly to ESPN). The look is the result of an extensive five-month remodel for this outlet of the Mill Valley, Calif.-based chain, an overhaul that extends to the menu as well. Starters are uniformly enjoyable: A small bruschetta trio with a simple, vine-ripened tomato and basil bite; a more robust offering in the form of a roasted garlic, arugula, and creamy cannellini bean combination; and a piquant, nearly overpowering marinated portobello and gorgonzola selection ($5.95). A nightly special, pan-seared scallops with red pepper pesto and chives ($7.95) were succulent and cleanly flavored—nearly perfect. Another dish, fresh watermelon and strawberries with prosciutto di Parma and shaved Parmesan ($6.95), proves through no great effort that the unlikely but time-tested pairing of paper-thin meat shavings and fruit is no mistake. Piatti seems to take this success and run with it in the salad department, adding peaches and blueberries to a roast duck and organic greens ensemble ($6.95) and a strong raspberry tinge to a m鬡nge of caramelized beets, baby greens, candied walnuts, and blue cheese ($6.25). The former begins a little oddly but grows on the palate with subsequent tastes; the latter, while tasty, could use a lighter hand on both the sharply flavored vinaigrette and the cheese. Overdressing, in fact, seems a common thread in the salad department; a crisp Caesar ($6.50) is weighed down by oily globs of the stuff. As for the soups, the minestrone ($4.95) has a powerful rosemary flavor that takes some getting used to but balances out fairly with chunks of veggies and a creamy pesto swirl. The restaurant celebrates several traditional Italian festivals throughout the year, including the current Watermelon Fest, with special menus. Surprisingly, this nod to Piatti's roots results in some very un-Italian-tasting dishes: A Polynesian-style salmon dish, though quite tasty with its pan-seared fish and pineapple and tomato salsa, felt slightly out of place ($17.95). An herb-marinated rotisserie chicken ($13.95), served with Yukon potatoes and pan juices, is similarly anomalous and was, with its powerful smoky flavor, somewhat less pleasing to the palate. Just as patrons don't frequent Mexican restaurants to sample their hamburgers, so visitors to Piatti shouldn't expect the venue's Continental cuisine to come off as well as its more traditionally Italian options. THOSE WHO'VE ever attempted to make their own gnocchi know how ugly it can get; simple ingredients usually just mean the preparation is that much more important. But Piatti, thanks to chef Paul Marks' recent scouting trip to the Old Country, hits the mark dead on. His little potato pillows are a thing of beauty— fluffy, lightly textured, and glistening with a subtle pesto ($10.95). Similarly, roasted portobello-stuffed ravioli with Roma tomatoes, cream, and fresh rosemary ($12.95) are a nonfussy delight; although the nearly black filling may provide a visual shock when the large pasta rounds are split open, the results should please most mushroom lovers and even a few nonfans. Desserts are uniformly good, if unremarkable: A thoroughly diet-damning tiramisu ($5.25) comes out on top, while a flourless chocolate cakelette ($5.95), served with creamy espresso ice cream and fresh berries, lands a close second. A lemon frozen mousse ($4.95) is well flavored but oddly textured and dry; it seems somehow like the kind of treat the flight crew of the Apollo would enjoy after a hard day's orbiting. With unfailingly courteous service and its open, airy atmosphere, Piatti certainly offers a more enjoyable eating environment and a superior menu than 95 percent of the world's shopping-mall food options. An occasional heavy hand in the kitchen can most likely be avoided by keeping to the simpler dishes and pasta preparations, and while Tony Soprano won't be stopping by any time soon for some home-cooked goodness, the neighborhood's affluent and decidedly un-Italian residents will no doubt while away many an afternoon or evening at this pleasant outpost. Whatever its menu lacks in subtlety, few patrons seem to mind, especially in the warm, alfresco-friendly summer months. The place is, after all, rarely empty.

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