New Neighbors

Burien's new Italian restaurant has location and flavor tucked into its shirt pocket.

A FRIEND JOKES that every neighborhood I move to mysteriously becomes the Next Great Place for restaurants and food. West Seattle had a thriving dining scene long before I got there, but it just so happens that the city of Burien is experiencing some very positive urban renewal, well timed—though completely by chance—with my change of zip code. Can I help it if I have good luck? Osteria da Primo owners Carlo Guida and Lindsay White's timing was much more purposeful. The couple, who function as chef and manager, respectively, met in Italy when White was studying abroad. She stayed, they traveled, they ate. Knowing too much more than that can only lead to envy. Suffice it to say they gathered recipes—some from their travels but most from San Lorenzo, Guida's hometown in the region of Calabria—and then came back to White's native Burien and started planning. With a huge new town square going in just across the street, they've scored the perfect location. Except for the fact that you really can't get proper Calabrian pepper this side of First Avenue South. Guida is experimenting with what is available domestically. A note on the menu mentions the Calabrian habit of carrying "hot peppers in their shirt pockets so that they never have to go without spicy food." Never, not even in Burien. The kitchen encourages you to request its own special blend of peppers (sweet, hot, and swimming in olive oil) if you'd like to add heat to anything, but several dishes, such as linguine ai gamberi diavolati (pasta with prawns in a spicy red sauce for $15), are starred, denoting their southern Italian spice. The bistecca di manzo alla rugentia (thinly sliced sirloin sauteed in a sauce of tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, and red wine for $16.50) we enjoyed on one visit was starred and had a wonderfully smoky, hot heat brought on by crushed red peppers. Although the olives in this dish seemed to be from a can, their mild flavor actually served the zesty, stewlike sirloin preparation quite well. Earthy and rich with lots of tender bits of beef, the dish was somewhat like an Italian version of Mexico's carne asada. Diners select which of the contorni they'd like to accompany their meat or seafood dish. With the steak, we had piselli e prociutto: green peas, prosciutto, and black pepper. Buttery and sweet despite the coarse black pepper and salty ham, the generous pile of peas was a perfect balance to the heavier main course. On another visit, we had spicy rapini (bitter greens) sauteed in garlic with our well-prepared but overly oily salmone aglio oglio, or salmon sauteed in garlic and olive oil ($17). In general, the olive oil seems portioned with a heavy hand at Osteria da Primo, but it isn't that dishes are greasy. Even our arancini di riso (breaded risotto balls, filled with mozzarella for $5.50 as an appetizer) was relatively light, considering it went through the deep fryer. Pastas, on the other hand, are done excellently al dente; the spaghetti in cartoccio (spaghetti in a bolognese sauce baked in the oven after cooking with mozzarella and béchamel, $13) had a nice, just-firm consistency despite the fact that it is essentially cooked twice. The chef's wife is vegetarian, so the pasta offerings include plenty of meatless choices. Perhaps for this same reason, salads, served after larger courses as in Italy, are especially well done. Be sure to try the panzanella, or bread salad ($6). Splitting the difference between special event-worthy (the imported wines are notable, the space is exceptionally well taken care of) and casual (I once spied a 3-year-old watching a movie on a personal DVD player while her parents, in flip-flops and shorts, dined), the restaurant is staffed by an easygoing crew, and the vibe is exceedingly friendly. There are very few pretensions in Burien, and none at Osteria da Primo. ALONG WITH THE larger urban renewal, Burien's main drag is experiencing a pizza renewal. Chain-pizza dialers as well as West Seattle's foodies would be smart to catch on: Both Maplewild Bakery (Fridays only), further out on Southwest 152nd Street, and Osteria da Primo serve exceptional pies. Picking up a Margherita ($8.50) and a quattro formaggi ($11.50) to take home one evening, I was surprised at how feather-light the takeout boxes were. The crust (made with fine, imported Italian flour) on these delicate pies is paper thin, and the toppings are accordingly sparse but wonderfully flavorful. The mozzarella-and-basil pie burst with simple, garden-fresh flavor, and the sauceless four cheese was rich and tangy with fontina and Gorgonzola added to mozzarella and Parmesan. Lucky for us, these traditional pies—cooked to a bubbly brown perfection in about four minutes—have found a home in South King County. Osteria da Primo, 631-B S.W. 152nd St., 206-246-5561, BURIEN. 3:30–9 p.m. Tues.–Sat.

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