Back—in Bellevue

The man behind Settebello shows he's still got it—mostly.


10520 N.E. 8th, Bellevue, 425-467-9490 lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 5-10 p.m. daily AE, DC, MC, V / full bar LUCIANO BARDINELLI is back. Bardinelli, you'll recall, is the gentleman who gave us Settebello, the stylish Olive Way ristorante that introduced Seattleites to serious Northern Italian cuisine in the '80s. Settebello kicked off an Italian food frenzy that would last two decades; at its best, it was a formidable, some would argue world-class, destination in a town still regarded as provincial. It's no overstatement to say that Settebello helped Seattle forge its new identity. In time the peripatetic Bardinelli closed Settebello, opened and closed a few other properties, and moved to California; then he came back. Last year he quietly opened Sans Souci in a big, sleek space in the back of the upper floor of Bellevue Place, kitty-corner from Bellevue Square. There he presides, impossible to miss with his shock of white hair, looking far classier in his jacket and jeans than most restaurateurs do in full dress, roaming pantherlike through what is many evenings a nearly empty restaurant. Apparently, even after nearly two years, few people know Bardinelli's back. It's a shame. The best of the food at Sans Souci, a tribute to the cuisines of the French and Italian rivieras, has the same gravitas of his former successes. It's a menu of classics, with pastas and meats the standouts, but the starters are also impressive. The vitello tonnato ($9.75), slices of papery pounded veal swathed in tuna sauce and scattered with capers, is toothsome and unusual and elegant, with a gentle briny bite. Escargots ($9.95) are tender and savory in their herbed butter bath. A spinach salad ($7.50) is spot on, rich with bacon and its drippings, and a French green bean salad ($7.95) featuring pine nuts, bits of bacon and salami, and flecks of Italian parsley mixed in with the cold beans is equally well-executed and delicious. A simple minestrone ($6) shimmers gently. Pastas, all house-made (and the best bargains on the spendy menu), recall the golden age of Settebello. Paglia e fieno alla Romeo ($11.75) is a tangle of strands in a dreamily creamy sauce sweetened with peas, deepened with mushrooms, and salty with prosciutto, its lid a sheet of burnished cheese. A square of lasagnetta ($11.75) is a brilliant showcase for the delicate pasta, with layers of a verdant asparagus and artichoke pur饬 all wrapped in tangy and deep b飨amel and tomato sauces. SOME MAIN COURSES at Sans Souci, however, revealed failings. A waiter unmistakably sneered when I ordered roast chicken ($15.75)—a tender, golden presentation, redolent of rosemary, that the chef luckily has more regard for than this server. (This was one of two plates that came with sauce slopped across their edges, a misstep a place of this pedigree ought to be above.) An order of stracci e pesce ($18.75) had flawlessly cooked sea scallops and Chilean sea bass stranded in a bland, tepid saffron sauce. But a complaint swiftly brought a much more vividly flavored—and terrific—new order of the same dish. Without question, Sans Souci can do great things. A plate of pork medallions in caper sauce ($16.95) shines, its meat highly flavored and butter tender. Osso buco ($24.50), a meal I remember enjoying more than once at Settebello, is the same braised meat with the same almost creamy consistency, here in a savory jus over mellow saffron risotto. Simple, solid preparations like this once made Bardinelli the toast of the town and could do so again. But first he needs to whip a lazy kitchen into shape. Lack of flavor in a dish and serving what must have been day-old bread are errors easily avoided—as is arrogance in the service, from the sneer about the chicken to a roll of the eyes when asked about wines by the glass (of which there is not a sufficient selection, by the way). This same fellow heralded the chocolate cake ($6.50) as "absolutely the best in town," and though it was delicious, it wasn't. (It wasn't, strictly speaking, even cake: more like a very dense mousse.) The fruit tart ($6.50) and cr譥 brl饠($6.50) are better. Perhaps this surfeit of attitude explains the empty tables, or perhaps it's the tucked-away location. But Bardinelli's Sans Souci, flaws notwithstanding, is a very promising place—as it should be.

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