Stalking the Wild Sausage

Pino Rogano's Italian hideaway is well worth the hunt.

PINO ROGANO's NEW CAFE is not necessarily easy to find, but then again, Pino Rogano himself has not always been easy to find. You might pass by Da Pino, the restaurant and work space on Rainier Avenue where Rogano makes the salamis, meats, and sausages that he sells to some of the city's top chefs, several times before noticing the small sandwich board outside or locating the handwritten address scrawled on the side of the building. For the past few years, Rogano's artisanal meats and Italian specialty items have made appearances on antipasti plates and in main courses at Matt's in the Market, Dandelion, and Lampreia. Servers and chefs at those restaurants have always been happy to share their source with eager clients, but for a few years, this meant trekking to Renton, to Restaurant da Pino. And for the past year, after selling off his part in that business and working to remodel and ready his current space, Rogano has been without a commercial storefront altogether. All of which make his tidy, modest restaurant all the more appealing and worth the hunt. INSIDE DA PINO, there are seven small tables split between two small rooms, and happily, none of them is dressed with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. Several clusters of fake plastic grapes do hang among some wine bottles on a shelf, but this is the only visual clue that you're in an Italian cafe. As yet (he's only been open since the end of summer), there are just paper take-out menus on the counter next to the cash register and a small specials board. (A liquor license is forthcoming, and with it, a larger menu.) On my last visit, that board offered lasagna with Italian sausage and béchamel ($9.95), served with a side salad, and that didn't sound like something I should turn down. Perfect tomato sauce and bits of basil cut the luscious heft of the béchamel, and just a modicum of mozzarella and parmesan are used, so the dish isn't gluttonous. A generous greens-only salad, dressed in a lemon vinaigrette and parmesan, made the meal shareable; the famous sausage made it exceptional. On the same visit we tried the polpetta sandwich ($6.95), incredibly tender, melt-in-your-mouth veal and beef meatballs with mozzarella and tomato sauce on a thick roll, and the melanzane ($7.95), wonderfully charred grilled eggplant and roasted peppers dressed with olive oil, smashed garlic, and mint. Both were simple (Rogano, who is from Calabria in the South of Italy, does things traditionally and has no designs on redesigning Italian cuisine) and fantastic. Previously, I sampled Da Pino's pasta e fagioli soup (thick and surprisingly rich with olive oil, cannelloni beans, and fresh vegetables for $4.95) and the lovely caprese salad ($7.95). Some would say it's crazy to visit the sausage man and order a soup and salad, but Rogano's moist and delicious fresh mozzarella is peerless in this city and, trained as a chef with many years of experience behind him—not to mention many family recipes—he can knock your socks off with or without a loaf of pancetta in his hand. But you say you'd like that pancetta? At $8.50 a pound, he offers this baconlike ham both cooked and dry-cured; both varieties are coated in pepper and sealed with a bay leaf. His signature sausage, which is all-pork and about 18–20 percent fat, goes for just $5.50 a pound. After calling his restaurant clients to see what they need for the week, Rogano tacks on an extra 50 pounds or so to sell from his shop, so there is always a fresh supply of small-batch, artisan-made product. Rogano also makes a variety of specialty salamis and meats for his clients; for Scott Carsberg at Lampreia it's culatello, a prosciutto made from the upper part of the pork leg. Rogano uses all-natural pork and veal, organic beef from Skagit Valley, and he even makes dry-cured salami with wild boar. "Believe me, it's wild," he told me over the phone, "I once found a bullet in it." Using his grandmother's method, he cures imported pecorino cheese with the must of crushed grapes to create pecarino Calabrese; another variety is cured with red peppers, and both sell for about $9.50 a pound. Because so much of what Rogano does takes time—the curing and the aging are many months-long processes—and because he is essentially a one-man operation, it's best to visit Da Pino's without a specific shopping list. (And with an empty stomach, of course.) Go at lunch time, have a salame e provolone ($6.95) and some housemade limoncello cheesecake (made with lemon liquor for $4.50 a slice), and then see what he's got on hand. Da Pino, 4225 Rainier Ave. S., 206-356-8502 RAINIER VALLEY. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. daily.

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