Usually, fine dining restaurants in Seattle follow the same format - a big multi-course tasting menu featuring as many local ingredients as humanly possible, with at least one dish plated on black slate. At most of these spots, besides the possibility of picking between two entrees, whatever you’re having for dinner is decided before you even sit down.
Bisato, at first glance, seems to be that kind of restaurant - a fine dining Italian place that serves three different tasting menus. And yet, it’s not mandatory to participate in any of them. In fact, you shouldn’t. When you make a mix-and-match dinner from a la carte items instead, you get one of the most outstanding special-occasion meals in Seattle.
The kitchen, at this Pioneer Square spot, is smack in the middle of the restaurant. If you look over from your table, you’ll notice the five people working in the open kitchen are organized but also extremely relaxed. That translates to the rest of the space, which is decorated with slabs of salumi and a charcuterie slicer instead of framed art and blown glass vases. You wouldn’t be out of place dressing up for dinner here, but you’d also feel comfortable wearing something a little more casual.
It might seem like you’re missing out by not ordering the $120 five-course option, $150 seven-course option, or the omakase-style option where the chef cooks whatever he feels like, which usually costs about $200. Instead of getting any of these, you’re better off choosing around four items per person off the a la carte menu. Some restaurants make individual items of their tasting menu available to order on their own - not Bisato. Nothing off their a la carte menu is on any of the tasting menus. By ordering a la carte, you’ll also avoid the restaurant’s only miss - a dainty pile of dungeness crab and apple butter that’s described as “the Northwest on a plate,” but unfortunately tastes like when seafood gets mixed into Thanksgiving apple pie.
It’s not that the tasting menus aren’t good, we just think the a la carte options are phenomenal - even though the portions are small. Yes, the ricotta gnocchi is literally one gnocchi. But the fluffy cheese center, spicy ’nduja sausage, and sweet arugula pesto work together to make this one of the best gnocchi dishes in the city. You only get two little squares of focaccia with the “bread service.” But it’s incredible focaccia served with olive oil from Bisato’s own orchard in Italy. The short rib is comforting and rich without being so heavy that we want to hibernate under a duvet cover after eating it. Even the radicchio salad garnished with basil gelato is a home run. Ice cream on top of greens sounds like an underwhelming April Fool’s prank, but it’s like having an extra cold, extra sweet, and extra delicious herb dressing. Everything is executed to perfection, from the brioche roll with a baby artichoke baked inside to a simply grilled veal chop that we’d eat over a steak any day.
The freedom to have a choose-your-own-adventure kind of dinner is the best part about Bisato. Even if someone in your group puts their foot down and refuses to stray from the tasting menu, the entire table isn’t forced to partake. You might even get a small sample of something from the tasting on the house if you’re the only one at your table ordering a la carte. But it won’t work the other way around. That ’nduja gnocchi and short rib is all for you.
Like Keanu Reeves or your own jokes, most burrata dishes are pretty easy to love. Bisato’s burrata is better than most, though. It’s covered in a Jackson Pollock of three sauces (squid ink reduction, tomato puree, and arugula pesto) on top of a plate-sized slice of mortadella.
If you’ve ever eaten salad with ice cream on top, it’s likely that you were a small unsupervised child. This is one of the best salads we’ve ever had, and it’s just radicchio with balsamic, olive oil, parmesan shavings, and a little scoop of basil gelato. As it melts, the ice cream turns into part of the dressing, and we’re only sad that you can’t buy this stuff by the pint.
You’ll expect a bowl of gnocchi (plural), but instead you’ll get a single pasta dumpling topped with spicy crumbled sausage and arugula pesto. It’s a pretty small bite of food, but it’s phenomenal, and absolutely the best thing here. Get two orders.
Just ordering a few small plates and ending with the cod kasu is not a bad idea. The fish is buttery, marinated in the leftover bits from sake, and served with some strawberries that go really well with it all.
The short rib is braised in Barolo wine and served with a creamy potato puree. It’s a simple and elegant dish done well. We like to think that it sits and reads Thoreau by candlelight when nobody’s looking.
The crust is light and crispy, and the filling is at that ideal blend of tart and sweet. It’s the best dessert here.