Have you seen that little house on Ballard Avenue that’s smack dab in the middle of all of those commercial buildings? You know the one, because it always looked out of place and it still does. Well…now that historic-home is a restaurant!
“A house, you say?” Yes. “That’s now a restaurant?” Yes, and it’s absolutely stunning!
This place screams unique. It’s next to multi-purpose buildings that have spray-painted nonsense on the exterior. If you ask me, this represents Seattle as being a leader in creativity while also fighting to remain rooted in its restless hipster lifestyle. And my fabulous friends, D and C, took me here for an early birthday dinner!
This year I had not planned any big celebrations due to my crazy work schedule. I had to work on my birthday, and it was a Saturday. Truly it was no big deal. When you’ve been an event coordinator at a university, you become used to missing all kinds of social events. I never minded it because I really love what I do.
On the contrary, my absolutely caring friends still wanted to celebrate. So early in the week they sent me a text that said, “We want to take you out for an early birthday dinner at San Fermo. When are you free?” Amazing friends, right?! I obviously took them up on their offer. After some back and forth about a day and time, we were set for dinner on a Thursday evening.
Thursday evening finally rolled around and guess what? It was raining all day. What summer? We live in Washington where rain is something we’re pretty familiar with, so the weather doesn’t deter us from much. It, especially, won’t stop us from celebrating my birthday!
I’m sorry to say that I didn’t capture any photos of the interior. It was quite dim, and not a ton of natural light was coming through the windows. I will, however, do my best to describe how beautiful this home is.
When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the huge open kitchen at the front of the house. Usually when you walk into a restaurant with an open kitchen, you’re staring directly at it from the entrance— meaning it’s at the back of the building. San Fermo’s kitchen is at the front of the house, directly to your left, which is not typical of restaurant layouts (or at least the ones that I’ve been to).
On top of the kitchen counters and along the shelves are stacks of beautiful bowls and plates, all of different sizes, colors, and patterns (perhaps just like the dishes at your grandparents’ home?) In fact, as we were waiting for our dinner D was hoping that she would get a pink bowl. Spoiler alert: Her dish was blue.
With the white interior walls, you would think that the place would be bright all the time. It was quite the opposite as all of the furniture was dark, which created a lot of contrast in the decor. That, plus the wood accents created a warm environment. I can only imagine what the space looks like as daylight shines through the windows. Toward the back of house is the pint-sized bar, no bigger than my apartment kitchen. With better alcohol, however, it is cozier and more spirited than my home.
As I mentioned earlier, it was raining on the evening we dined here, so unfortunately their patio was closed. It wraps around the right side of the home and it looks like a place waiting for you to have a good time.
After gawking at the décor for several minutes, we finally ordered. We started with ANTIPASTI (pictured at the top). This included spicy capicolla, salame gentile, marinated zucchini, house pickles, pecorino Toscano, and burrata. Those of you who know me must be asking yourselves, “I thought you don’t eat pork, Bianca?” Semi-true. The reality is that I will eat it from time to time, and this happened to be one of those times. Just don’t offer me a pork chop.
Can you guess what my favorite things on this board were? The zucchini and house pickles! The marinated zucchini ribbons were unexpectedly luxurious. If I’m not mistaken, they were simply marinated with olive oil and basil. In contrast, the pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery cut the richness of the meats and cheeses so well. If you love tangy, sour, and salty you’ll love the house pickles.
Have you had burrata? It’s a cheese that looks like mozzarella, but it’s not. Burrata does, however, have a thin wall of mozzarella, which is filled with a cloud-like mixture of cream and soft, stringy curd. It is buttery and spreads nicely on bread, which we also had. Though my description may not entice you to try burrata, I would still highly recommend it if you like cheese.
D ordered the BOLOGNESE. Ground veal and pork simmered in tomatoes over perfectly cooked noodles. She was actually debating between this and the dish that I ordered. She ultimately chose the Bolognese as our waitress described it as a traditional Italian dish done very well. Our waitress was right. Served over al dente spaghetti, this dish was quite lovely and very reminiscent of something an Italian grandparent would cook for you at home.
C’s dish: CARBONARA, another classic Italian dish. Usually made with pancetta or guanciale (a cured meat made from pork jowl or cheek, similar to bacon), pecorino, and egg. I always refer to it as a breakfast pasta, because why not? And look at all of the pecorino piled at the top!
San Fermo changes the type of pasta they use in each of their dishes. For this evening, the carbonara featured mafalde, which is a ribbon pasta with waved edges like the ones often found on store bought lasagna sheets. The textures that the mafalde provided in this dish made it that much more desirable. The chew of the thick ribbons added an extra layer to such a simply dressed dish.
Last and not least, my dinner: FRUTTI DI MARE. While the waitress was comparing this dish and the Bolognese for D, she had said that the frutti di mare had a visually stunning presentation. So I ordered it. Plus, I love seafood. The noodles of this dish were squid ink bucatini. Bucatini noodles are like spaghetti that are hallow in the middle. It is also much chewier than spaghetti. The squid ink is not as intimidating as you might think. If you’re going to have seafood pasta, why not have as many ingredients from the ocean?
The salmon, clams, and calamari were beautifully cooked. Often times I find at least one of the ingredients in a seafood dish to be overcooked (usually the calamari or fish). Everything was perfect, and the broth underneath was really light. And just to say, I got the pink bowl. Happy birthday to me!
The next time you think to yourself, “I really want a home cooked meal, but I don’t want to cook,” go to San Fermo. While it won’t be quite like your parents’ or grandparents’ home cooked dinner, you will certainly appreciate the warmth and hospitality of this home…err…restaurant.
San Fermo Restaurant | 5341 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107