photo (c) Emily Stevenson
The Ballard restaurant scene is nothing short of a culinary orgy, densely packed with eateries boasting new innovative styles of local and international cuisines. With a new trendy restaurant seemingly opening every other week, I’ve always wondered how a quaint little Italian restaurant could possibly compete for service on Ballard Ave. However, the charm and authenticity of Volterra speaks for itself.
I should mention that I’ve lived in Florence, and when you’ve eaten your way through the Tuscan region of Italy, everything just fails in comparison. Once your taste buds savor the real un-Americanized thing, you’re screwed. But Volterra’s managing partner Michelle Quisenberry assured me I’d recognize flavors and dishes her and husband chef Don Curtiss brought back after their wedding in the region they named their restaurant after. “Volterra was inspired by the Tuscan hilltop town of Volterra where my husband and I were married,” she said. “While the neighborhood has experienced tremendous growth over the years, our vision for Volterra has remained the same.” Don is the brains behind Volterra’s menu, traveling to Italy once a year and blending traditional dishes with seasonal northwest ingredients.
When Michelle isn’t managing things for the restaurant, you can find her knee-deep in SIFF affairs, having recently wrapped a busy tenure as Board President. She received rapid success as the producer of the documentary The Glamour & the Squalor, based on the life of long-time friend and Seattle music legend Marco Collins. “We had our world premiere at SIFF in June which was incredible and just returned from Outfest in Los Angeles, the world’s largest LGBT film festival, where we won Best Documentary, so it’s an exciting time. “
In 2004, Michelle and Don opened the flagship Volterra restaurant in Ballard, and they’ve tried to create an atmosphere where guests feel right at home. “We want people to feel comfortable dropping in for a salad and glass of wine after the gym, dinner out with the family or celebrating a special occasion,” she said. I can’t say I would pop in here after the gym, but if you’re looking for a cute patio to share a bottle of wine with the girls, or intimate date night, make a reservation here STAT. To celebrate the restaurant’s 10th anniversary, Volterra has put together a four course menu of their favorite dishes over the years, and it is absolutely delizioso!
We started our meal with a cup of oil soup, which didn’t really sound too appetizing by name, but Michelle sold us on it after describing the night her and Don stumbled upon the dish in Italy. “We were out one night with our friend Chef Kathy Casey, and we were served this beautiful freshly pressed bowl of olive oil,” she said. “It was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, and it’s become a very popular item at Volterra.” I’ll admit I was picturing a bowl of soggy bread floating around in an oily substance, but this cannellini bean soup was much more than I could have imagined. This lightly seasoned dish was swimming with smoked pork jowls, big crusted chunks of housemade croutons, and a hefty drizzle of olive oil.
Next we savored the Taylor shellfish clams and Cascioppo sausage, simmering in a spicy tomato basil broth. If you’re a lover of all things from the sea, you MUST order this app; the salty broth cuts perfectly through the sausage and clams and is a great dish to share.
The pork jowls and wild mushroom tagliolini was crazy, lightly tossed in a creamy, nutty truffle butter sauce, sprinkled with sharp organic parmigiano – bon appa-fuckin-tit!
For my carnivorous friends: One of Volterra’s unique signature dishes is the wild boar tenderloin, glazed in a decadent gorgonzola mustard sauce. Sure, there is a pleasant pairing of veggies, but you’ll wish they were replaced with more boar. I really, really wish you could substitute a veggie medley with more bloody boar. MMM.
Even if you’re bursting at the seams, a traditional Italian meal isn’t really complete without tiramisu. Americans tend to ruin this beautiful dish by making it too rich, booze-soaked, or booze stingy, but the Volterra staff have really nailed the right combination of lightly soaked layers of spongy cake with airy custardy goodness, drizzled with a chocolatey sauce, and sprinkled with dark chocolate flakes. Taste Volterra’s Favorites menu now through the end of the year, and come hungry – Pancia mia, fatti capanna!