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Chow Foods

Ballard's Hi-Life morphs into Valentinetti's

If you know anything about Chow Foods, Seattle's Neighborhood Restaurants, you know they like to be neighborhood hang outs vs. destination spots. You also know they are destination spots because people love them. Yet when restaurants stay around long enough, sometimes things have to change to meet the needs of a changing demographic.

Seafood arrabiata

And so we have the latest change from Peter Levy and Chef Anthony Hubbard - a goodbye to Ballard's Hi-Life and hello to Valentinetti's in late October 2019. The Hi-Life opened in the large 1911 firehouse in 2004 and had a great run. "The writing was on the wall early last year," says Peter. "Declining dinner counts tell the story. When we opened, Ballard was a family neighborhood; it's now a very different town with lots of young adults and techies. Hi-Life wasn't resonating as much with the newer residents.

"Anthony and I were talking about how we'd always wanted to do an Italian restaurant. When we thought about what we wanted to be here, our immediate thought was offering a menu to accommodate a 'mindful eating' clientele. For us that means more attention to dietary restrictions. Anthony lives with dietary restrictions. We offer gluten-free pizza crust and bread for sandwiches, and we don't charge extra for it. Why penalize folks for wanting to eat what is right for them? We source great ingredients, always cage free eggs, seafood from the Monterey Bay website so we know it's sustainable, naturally-grown beef and pork. Preparation is simple; our great ingredients should shine. We also have two different-size portions on all of our pastas and salads, so you can come in and get a small salad, a small pasta, have a glass of wine and be out for under $30."

Firehouse Benedict

Most Chow spots serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At Valentinetti's, dinner is available daily throughout the restaurant. Breakfast and lunch are available Monday-Friday in the bar. Weekend brunch still has some Hi-Life favorites as well as new items. Lunch items include soup, salad, an assortment of sandwiches and a selection of pinsas. For dinner, lots of antipasti along with pinsas, pasta, and a handful of entrees.

Valentinetti's offers 'food of the people' including pinsas with dough made with non-GMO flour made of wheat, soy, and rice, then put through a cold sourdough fermentation process. It creates a crispy-soft crust, then they top it with various ingredients like butternut squash, buffalo mozzarella, guanciale, walnut pesto, and their excellent beef and pork meatballs. Examples of their antipasti are a beet salad with hazelnuts, pickled beet greens, whipped ricotta, black pepper honey; brick oven meatballs; sautéed calamari with Tutto Calabria parsley salsa, arugula, and lemon; and a cheese/charcuterie plate that is as delicious as it is pretty. It also comes in two sizes.

Brick oven meatballs

Named after Aurora Valentinetti, a theater arts professor at the UW known internationally for her work in the ancient art of Puppetry, the restaurant will do periodic puppet shows starting in early 2020. Aurora, who is now 98, is the adopted godmother of Peter's wife Betty and her sister Rita. Rita met Aurora when she was at the UW and Betty met her when she followed her sister to Seattle from North Carolina.

"We had this big space with the Hi-Life and wanted to create a bit more of a cozy atmosphere, so the dining room now has a raised area along with the original booths, plus both high and low tables to change the seating dynamics. We changed the color palate and lighting. During breakfast and lunch hours, we close the curtains between the dining and bar areas. We also moved things around in the kitchen to make things more workable." They've kept bar seating and counter seating in front of the kitchen. Near the front door, they had a window system that closed off an area used as a private dining room. They have opened that up and made it a hangout area with fireplace, couch, chairs, and outlets so people can charge their devices. This is a special spot, but the whole restaurant has a warm and welcoming feel.

Ballard, and everyone else, now has a moderately-priced Italian spot in Valentinetti's. It fits that niche between a quick pizza spot or fine dining with approachable dishes and a cozy atmosphere. It just might be your new favorite.

Photos courtesy of Chow Foods

Connie Adams/January 2020

5425 Russell Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107

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