Dueling Italians

Or: how not to judge a restaurant by its facade.

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but we propose an addendum: Don't judge a restaurant by its strip mall. Especially in Edmonds. Stella Mia, which has a same-named sister restaurant in Bothell, is lodged between a grocery store and a German-looking breakfast place called Pancake Haus. It's the kind of restaurant where Sinatra's on the sound system not as an ironic, post-Sopranos commentary on Italian dining—he's just there 'cause he's great. His silky voice accompanied us to our table, where our attentive, handsome waiter made sure we were good for water, then wheeled over the specials board. Stella Mia's regular menu, endearingly traditional, was hard to ignore; when's the last time you ate at a place that served five kinds of chicken, five kinds of veal, and a fettuccini Bolognese that packs veal, pork, and beef? In wintertime, this kind of meat bonanza would be just the thing, but this was a warm summer night. Two seafood specials turned our heads: the fettucine di mare ($19.95) and the tilapia picatta ($16.95). We also asked for a half-carafe of house montepulciano ($13.95), a smooth red that made a low-key complement to our flavorful fish dishes. Restaurant picattas are often too tart, and Stella Mia's tilapia was no exception. The fish itself was quite good, but its sauce of capers, white wine, and lemon pushed the citrus note too hard. The pasta dish, on the other hand, was dynamite. A subtle cream sauce that may or may not have included saffron—it was definitely saffron-colored—shared the plate with a whole lot of wonderful fish. Calamari, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams . . . it was like someone had taken the sea, held it over the plate, and shaken it vigorously. Great stuff. We were the last twosome of the night to leave—we'd been joined in the dining room by a few older couples—and when we did, our quiet, thoughtful server closed up behind us . . . and drove away in a massive black SUV. In the parking lot, we stared up into the starry sky, smoking and talking about how people aren't always what they seem. Kinda like restaurants. On the other hand, at Villa Cosenza in Bothell, you'd be advised to go for the ambience, and stay for the ambience. Housed in a turn-of-the-century brick villa, the dining room is altogether charming: subtly lit, grand, and formal. Trees and strings of white lights fill the patio. Live jazz can sometimes be heard from the full-service bar. Parking is ample. It's all very romantic. Unfortunately, the food does little to impress. First of all, there's not much in the way of house signatures; most of the relatively small menu is comprised of tired old dishes that might be better suited for the Olive Garden. The menu's saving grace is the portobello-Gorgonzola appetizer ($8.95), made with fresh mushrooms sautéed in a homemade cream sauce. Beyond that, most of the menu falls flat in terms of flavor. The salads—the Caesar, with its romaine, Parmesan, and dressing ($6.95); and the house salad, with its greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, and vinaigrette ($6.95)—both taste store-bought. The veal picatta, thinly sliced and absolutely drenched in lemon, butter, and white-wine sauce, isn't bad—if you don't actually want to taste the veal itself, that is. Priced at $17.95, it's less than desirable. Another issue is the lack of sauce options. Marsala, Gorgonzola cream sauce, marsala, Gorgonzola cream sauce . . . at least the decisions come easy. Theoretically, the portions are just right, enough to fill but not to stuff; in this case, however, a well-portioned dish is too much of a not-so-good thing. Topping off the experience was the fact that our waitress took 10 minutes to seat us in a deserted dining room, then proceeded to rattle off the specials without any detectable enthusiasm. Villa Consenza is really very lovely to look at, and that might be worth a visit, but we suggest going for drinks and an appetizer, sans entrée. nboland@seattleweekly.com; nschindler@seattleweekly.com Stella Mia Ristorante Italiano, 546 Fifth Ave. S., 425-771-7950, EDMONDS. 5–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat.; 4–9 p.m. Sun. www.chefbruno.net. Villa Consenza, 17121 Bothell Way, 425-398-1474, BOTHELL. 4–9:30 p.m. Tues.–Thurs. and Sun.; 4–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat. (lounge open until 2 a.m.) www.villacosenza.com

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