Small-town hero

After the falls, try bowling, biking, or amazing Italian food in Snoqualmie.


8150 Railroad Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie, 425-888-6621 lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner daily ACCORDING TO American popular myth, small towns are all about family. Happily grubby kids roaming free without bike helmets, Gram and Gramps a vital part of the younger generation's life, Mom and Dad with plenty of time to relax and enjoy their days free from worry about deadlines, taxes, and office politics. A small town is different than a suburb: Personal preferences that stray from the norm are tolerated as "eccentric" rather than censured by whispers or legislated by the condo board; people walk places rather than drive; there is an actual "downtown"; the houses aren't all identical. Thirty miles outside Seattle lies one of these fabled little towns, which just happens to hold one of the state's biggest tourist attractions. We all end up at Snoqualmie Falls sooner or later; the parents visit from Iowa, your old college roommate wants an easy day trip, or you just need to play hooky and get out of the city for an afternoon. The falls themselves and the "rainbow walk" at the bottom are always gorgeous, but the area's got more to it than that lovely-yet-terribly-expensive lodge. Its name is simply Snoqualmie, and it's full of treats, including a new Italian restaurant that brings all those myths about small-town families into sparkling reality. A day in Snoqualmie is a very lazy day. You can bring your bike—miles of smooth-paved paths run through a very Merchant-Ivory profusion of wildflowers and blossoming trees—but don't plan on a power workout. Think big straw hat, think vintage Schwinn, think pulling over to make a daisy chain. Or skip the bike and stroll along the river. Sit at a picnic table under a shady tree, or play—no kidding—horseshoes. Chat with the fishermen, go for a little wade. The tourist draw in the town proper revolves around the old trains, and these rusting elephants of the Industrial Age are far more intriguing than that innocent Thomas and his cheery engine friends would have you think. Go for a short ride in the antique cars, or sit and admire the engineer's hand signals as they switch out the engines. If your tastes run to indoor activities, you're in a very simple, satisfying heaven. Which to try first: the local microbrewery or the bowling alley? They're just two blocks from each other (in this town, everything is two blocks from each other), so you can happily indulge in Snoqualmie Falls Brewing's latest creation—they'll fill up your half-gallon cooler for just $7 (8032 Falls S.E., 425-831-2337,—before stumbling over to bowl the best game of your career. The Adventure Bowling Alley (7940 Railroad Ave. S.E., 425-888-1377) has about eight lanes, a fine assortment of neon-toned balls, and the old-school challenge of keeping score by hand. In addition to a designated driver, you might want to designate a sober mathematician. AT THIS POINT, you've seen the entire town. You've even wandered in what passes for an alley, where you've noted a bustling Italian grandma kissing the kiddies goodbye. You've walked by a man in a crisp white shirt, sucking down his last cigarette before heading into work. You've noted some impossibly luscious smells. You've found Gianfranco. You may never leave. This tiny, exceptional restaurant is something of a shock: Yes, small towns are cool, but fine dining? Like Il Paesano, an earlier venture of the family, the menu is comforting Tuscan at its finest. The bruschetta ($5) is a crispy, juicy, garlicky marvel, served hot. How can it contain the essence of summer? The ubiquitous Caesar salad ($5.95) is a revelation. How can each bite taste of entirely different flavors? Even the simple bowl of herbed olive oil for dipping is a wonder. How do those bits of garlic still have such bite? More importantly, how can this family be convinced to sign adoption papers and let you take up residence in the kitchen? Penne Gianfranco ($13.95) is based on their "famous Gorgonzola sauce," which has all the pungent flavor a famous blue cheese sauce should have, with a surprisingly delicate texture; clearly, Gorgonzola fairies are at work here. Vitello saltimbucca is tasty enough to comfort the baby-cow-eating guilty conscience and does justice to the name, which translates to "jump in the mouth." Wine, butter, sage, and proscuitto melt together to form a sum far greater than even those glorious parts. The wine list is a creature of surpassing beauty, with all sorts of unusual Italian treats ranging from $20 to $95 a bottle. Pass on dessert, and you'll regret it. The house-made gelato ($6.50)—especially the lemon, served in a hollowed-out lemon rind—is the sort of frozen treat that inspires yearning sonnets. How can you be sure that something so cold, so teasingly tart yet sweet, is returning your affections? The classic small-town hobby of eavesdropping is a special that isn't listed on the specials board. Hear about daughter's plans for college and her recent trip to Italy. Learn that Gian Franco himself is taking a day off—his first in months. Order a cappuccino and witness a giggly foam-building fest in the kitchen. Listen to the locals chat about the new buildings going up around town. Notice that regular customers are allowed to order family style, and peacefully contemplate the joy of small-town living—and eating.

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