I liked everything about Il Corvo before I ever ate there. The story: a fastidious craft-oriented pasta geek leaves his slick exec chef position at a trendy restaurant to set up what is, essentially, a pop-up in a gelateria. The concept: a few dishes prepared fresh daily by hand, using lovingly-accumulated antique collectible pasta-making equipment, priced within easy reach of budget-constrained diners like me. The principles: Il Corvo’s only open for lunch, Monday through Friday, so that chef Mike Easton can spend time with his family. This singleness of purpose bespeaks a degree of confidence that makes Il Corvo very appealing. If you’re only offering a few dishes and you’re not serving dinner, every plate had better be good enough to make people want to come back. And they do.
When I had lunch at Il Corvo, I was neurotically certain that if we didn’t get there early we wouldn’t get a table (Procopio is a small space), so I was the first person at the restaurant. (I chatted shyly with Easton about leaving Seattle for London and Procopio’s mango gelato, which beats the pants off the mango gelato I’ve had anywhere else.)
That day, the menu looked like this:
It was difficult to choose, but eventually friend A and I decided on the malloreddi and the linguini. The portions at Il Corvo are not huge – more like primi piatti you’d find in a restaurant in Italy than the heaping starchy piles served by many American Italian restaurants. It was the right amount for our appetites that day, but in an I’m-going-to-eat-this-slowly-so-my-brain-can-catch-up-with-my-stomach and I-have-to-remember-to-share kind of way.
The linguini was the best plate on the table. The marzipan sweetness of the chestnut nicely offset the woodsy flavour of the porcini, and the sauce was beautifully balanced, neither heavy nor insubstantial, and clung to the silky pasta. It was a nearly perfect dish. It would have been flawless if, mixed with the sauce, there had been some pieces of fresh porcini to add a level of decadent surprise, texture, and umami flavour. It’s not for nothing that porcini is called the king bolete. But the dish was delectable. I had to remember to be very polite and share rather than gobble it up all by myself.
The malloreddi had a nice earthy funk from the romanesco cauliflower, although both of us thought the cauliflower was a trifle overdone. Also, like the linguini, the dish would have benefited from a bit of texture to contrast with the delicate pasta.
To be sure, the star of the show is the pasta, and Easton does have a deft hand. His pasta is wonderfully light; even the malloreddi was neither stodgy nor dense, but delicate and yielding, yet al dente. This takes considerable skill. Seattle has been going through something of an Italian food renaissance lately, and whilst it was once surprisingly difficult to find well-made fresh pasta, this is no longer the case. Even among the formidable competition, Easton’s pasta holds its own.
Of course I left room for Procopio’s mango gelato.
It was as good as I remembered: splendidly flavoured of ripe fresh mango and perfumed of mango essence, evocative of summery memories of eating messy juicy chunks of fruit. Delicious, and a perfect follow-up to a meal of autumnal pastas.
Even with my gelato, a post-lunch espresso, and tip, our bill was just under $30. It’s hard to think of a better deal for pasta of this quality in Seattle, even at lunchtime.
Il Corvo, Seattle
1501 Western Avenue, Suite 300 (Pike Street Hill Climb), 98101
Phone: Couldn’t find one, but the number at Procopio is 206.622.4980, and on Twitter Easton is @ilcorvopasta
Price per person: Under $15
The verdict: I’d eat here again