Tropea Ristorante Italiano
8042 161st Avenue NE
Redmond WA 98052
A Remarkable Experience Hidden Away in Redmond
By: Grant Y
Tropea Ristorante Italiano is named after the hometown of owner Lorenzo Scordamaglia. Located in the southern Italian province of Calabria, the city of Tropea is known for its postcard-perfect beaches and rich seafood tradition. Though this Redmond restaurant lacks the majestic reefs and pristine white sand of its namesake, the secluded charm and superb dishes will conjure an experience you wont soon forget.
Hole-in-the-wall enthusiasts will delight in the fact that Tropea camouflages itself by hiding in the most ordinary of Redmond strip malls. Sharing a building alongside such prominent draws as the Mexican shop-mart and a copy and print shop, Tropea is nearly invisible to all but the most astute passerby. Even a row of tall hedges is placed to mask the restaurant's exterior, creating a secretive nook to keep the non-adventurous at bay.
Once stepping through the daunting foliage however, the scene immediately transforms into rustic, ivy-covered archways accompanied by classic Italian music. Inside, the peach speckled walls are adorned with proud photographs of family, friends and paintings of Scordamaglia's hometown. In the rear of the restaurant, vines converge into a wall of red and white wines stacked floor to ceiling. The numerous house specials are inconspicuously scribbled in chalk high up on opposing walls and change frequently. Glancing throughout the interior, the illusion of dining in an exotic locale is momentarily interrupted by a small TV that seems to broadcast an endless series of soccer games.
Our waiter, Saul, was extremely cordial and when asked for recommendations, enthusiastically guided us through the house specials with a knowledgeable ease. One almost wonders if Saul doesn't double as a chef during downtimes given his intricate knowledge of ingredients and use of hand gestures to explain the style of preparation. Only upon asking however, does Saul humbly explain that he has been working at Tropea for over half a decade and has had ample time to polish his craft.
After putting in our orders, we were treated to a generous basket of bread, accompanied by a marvelous olive oil spread. Loaded with chopped garlic, parsley, spices, and other herbs, self-restraint was required to keep us from squashing our appetites prematurely.
The first dish to arrive was my Linguine del Caspieto ($17.95), comprised of linguine, chunks of Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, goat cheese, basil, prosciutto, artichokes and herbs, covered in a creamy white sauce. The result was a pleasant texturing of flavors, as the sharpness of the goat cheese matched well with the palette of the artichokes, while contrasting the smooth richness of the sauce. The linguine was cooked al dente, providing the dish with a variation on mouth feel between the pasta, sauce and sausage. This dish was quite delectable and gives good enough reason to come back, though it fails to out-do Tropea's Linguine Martino (smoked salmon linguine) ($21.95) or Bruschetta di Mare ($8.95), which I can only describe as heavenly.
Steve ordered the Vitello don Bosco, which consisted of veal, mushrooms and house tomato sauce served over pasta. The veal, portioned into thin slices, worked well to absorb the red wine infused sauce, delivering a bodied flavor to the tender meat. Southern Italian cooking is often defined by its use of tomato-based sauces. After careful tasting, Steve gave high marks to Tropeas slightly chunky, herb blended version.
The last dish was the Vitello di Alesandro ($19.95), another house special that combined veal, prosciutto, mushrooms, penne in a white cream sauce. Trish's thoughts on the dish can be succinctly summed up in one word: fantastico!
At higher caliber restaurants, it's not uncommon to encounter modest portion sizes. This is not the case at Tropea, where portions are quite filling. Priced at $15 to $20 per plate, we all thought that it was an excellent value compared to similar offerings elsewhere.
Lastly, customer service is prided on at Tropea. Throughout our meal, service was perfect, with timely check-ups, filling of water and clearing of dishes. Even with three servers attentively watching over a dozen tables, Scordamaglia makes it a point to emerge from the kitchen every so often to check up on his customers. Humorously, Scordamaglia does not make any pretenses about checking up on soccer scores before heading back to the kitchen. Neither does he admonish his servers for doing so either, showing their love for the sport.
If Scordamaglia seems to know what he's doing, it's probably because he does. Before opening Tropea in 1996, he was co-owner and manager of Calabria in Kirkland for nearly eight years. Before that, he worked as a waiter at Settebello in Capitol Hill (the genesis point of many current Seattle restaurants) and prior to that, a trained Italian chef and waiter on an Italian cruise line. When he finally opened Tropea, Scordamaglia took head Calabria chef Martino Tomya with him, causing a flock of loyal followers to follow them out east to the new Redmond location.
Having experienced Tomya's cooking, we can finally understand the irresistible draw he and seems to have woven over the regulars over the years. Though Tropea may not have the upstart vibe or palate exploring flavors of its downtown Italian counter-parts, what it has is simple and traditional Italian dishes to savory perfection.
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