Last week, we circled around Pioneer Square, trying to find parking. Sometimes this can be an annoying task, especially in that area where the spaces are tight and few. However, we were cheerful, singing even.
We were headed toward Salumi. Most everyone who loves food and heads to Seattle ends up at Salumi. (Usually you'll end up in a big line stretching down the street, too.) Salumi is the mecca of cured pork, at least on the west coast of this country.
Certainly by now you must have heard of Salumi. Artisan cured meats, done in the authentic Italian fashion, in a tiny rabbit warren space that smells of warmth and pork and soup and love? Oh, and the owner and still its muse is a man named Armandino Batali, whose son you've probably heard of, since he's Mario Batali.
You know, that Salumi.
Here's a tip for you. If you're going to Salumi, find parking half an hour before the doors open, because you want to be there before the crowd hits.
We arrived at 1 and look how little is left.
I'm happy for Salumi that their porchetta and muffo sandwiches sell so well. However, if I had shown up at 1 expecting a full menu, I would have been disappointed.
Luckily, we were there under slightly different circumstances.
We were escorted to the long communal table, at the back of the crowded common room, and seated at our reserved places.
Don't you love that the special reserved signs are hand scrawled on napkins? There's no pretension to this place. None. You have to squeeze past customers ordering their lunch to sit down. The tables are narrow and close together. The decoration is a hodgepodge of old prints and sometimes out-of-focus photographs. Most of them are just a little crooked. You can watch the line cooks fixing food for you, only a few feet away, not in a spaciously planned open kitchen, but because there's no more room. People on all sides elbow each other when they pick up their sandwiches and eat with gusto.
If you're looking for a quiet, expansive dining room where you will never be disturbed by other people's conversations or presence? You're going to look elsewhere.
If you're looking for some of the best cured meats you'll ever eat, in an atmosphere of contented sighs and happy laughter with people who don't care about pretension either and just want to eat well? You're going to want to go to Salumi.
How did we come to be at a reserved table, able to eat some of the dishes crossed off the chalkboard list at the front?
This man, one of our favorite people: Jon Rowley.
Jon is one of the loveliest and most humble people you're ever likely to meet. And also one of the most passionate. He is on a constant quest to find the best flavors, at the peak of their most generous offerings. Whether it's Copper River salmon, peaches in August, or oysters in Paris, Jon knows the best foods to eat.
(You can watch Jon with Ruth Reichl on this episode of Adventures with Ruth on Gourmet.com)
All this to say that if Jon wants to meet at Salumi, you know your lunch is going to be good.
However, when we sat down and started chatting with Jon, we did not expect what happened next.
That's Armandino Batali, the owner of Salumi. He was joining us for lunch.
(Tell truth, both Danny and I were a little too awestruck to talk much at first.)
Jon and Armandino are old friends, buddies in food and adventures. It was an enormous pleasure to watch them dipping bread and drinking wine together.
They slipped into conversation like easing into warm water: simply, happily.
Danny and I were content to listen, while we watched our daughter pick up slices of salumi and start eating.
Of course, with great salumi like this, everyone is happy. We all started chatting, as we reached for more salami and mole, cotto and smoked paprika. Each bite tasted bright and distinct, even in the midst of another slice. We started to forget where we were and with whom we were sitting. We started eating great cured pork meats and talking about the food.
And then this porchetta arrived. It took all my resolve to wait to take this photograph before diving in with that fork.
Tender. The right kind of chewy. And look at that line of fat, waiting on the side.
That little coin of sauasage on the back of the plate back there? That's cotechino, a fresh sausage made with pork meat and skin. Popular in northern Italy in particular, cotechino is served with lentils for New Year's Eve. The big coins (cotechino) and little coins (lentils) signify good luck and wealth for the new year. Who couldn't use that? But really, we felt lucky enough to be eating this on a day in March. We didn't need another reason.
And then more plates of salumi. And then more food. Everything arrived on small plates, with just the right amount of tastes, well paced for the conversation. You should have seen the smiles on our faces.
I stopped taking photographs after awhile or asking what each meat was. We simply sat back and experienced the generosity of the food.
Our daughter ate everything, quietly nibbling and taking it all in.
We felt that way too: watching and grateful.
It was a marvelous lunch. We were so honored that Armandino joined us. He's a character, as you might imagine. Fascinating. Kind.
Thank you for lunch, Armandino. And Jon.
After the leisurely spread of great foods and good company, we didn't know there would be more.
Armandino took us on a quick tour of the curing rooms.
Oh, it was like a trip to Disneyland (but without the annoying lines for rides). We could have spent hours in there.
Pancetta hanging from the ceiling, huddled together as though they are cold.
We'll take the whole room, please.
We saw room after room of beautiful pork slowly turning into cured meats.
These are culatello. “That's the heart of the prosciutto,” Armandino told me, and I instantly wanted one.
Really, if you love pork and cured meats, this is where you want to be.
We were more than honored to see the meats being cured. Not everyone has this experience.
But lunch at Salumi, without reservations, after waiting in line, pressed against other people at the table? It's an extraordinary experience.
We hope you can be here soon.
309 3rd Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98104-2620