Valentinetti's in Ballard: kid-friendly Italian food (+ puppets!)
The Innes family enjoys finger-puppet play and no-nonsense Italian cooking.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Editor's note, Jan. 20, 2020: We have learned that Valentinetti's has closed.
On a chilly November weeknight, my family of four ducked into the cozy atmosphere of Valentinetti’s, a new Italian restaurant in the historic, 1911-built Ballard firehouse. The restaurant is named for Aurora Valentinetti, a 99-year-old former University of Washington professor of puppetry with a gift for no-nonsense Italian home cooking.
Restaurant owner Peter Levy and his wife Betty (Aurora’s goddaughter) plan to host periodic puppet shows in Valentinetti’s honor. On the night we were there, the only puppet spotted was the finger puppet that came with my daughter’s Italian soda, much to the relief of my puppet-averse kids.
Although the décor is new, the Hi-Life, the firehouse’s previous incarnation for 15 years, was still front of mind for our little diners. Both kids fondly remembered the slab of cookie dough with sprinkles provided there, the baked result delivered at the end of the meal. My son Noah, 7, asked about the DIY cookie the moment he sat down. According to Anthony Hubbard, co-owner and executive chef of Valentinetti’s, many kids come in with this nostalgic request. The staff are pondering an Italian twist on the make-your-own cookie to meet the demand, and welcome suggestions.
When evaluating a restaurant for child-friendliness, there are three non-negotiables: A welcoming space for any unsavory behavior your child may manifest at mealtime; affordable, kid-friendly menu items that stretch beyond chicken nuggets and mac and cheese; and a quick turnaround. Valentinetti’s delivered big on the first two criteria, but unfortunately fell short on the last.
Noah arrived with his meltdown clock ticking and ordered right away, but his food arrived with the rest of ours, about 45 minutes later. In hindsight, we should have clarified with our friendly server that we wanted his food first. Given the benefit of the doubt (the restaurant had just opened), one can assume that by now the kitchen is running like a well-rehearsed puppet show.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Pinsa is Valentinetti’s take on pizza.
Although the food’s overall quality was high, the younger members of our crew missed aspects of the (Americanized) Italian classics. Noah passed on the garlic bread because the fresh garlic spread on top looked “too garlicky” (heaven forbid!). He also contended that the spaghetti sauce was a “little spicy” (questionable), but then proceeded to eat the whole thing. Anya, 9, enjoyed her Margherita pizza, but found the mozzarella patches to be a bit sparse. Both kids loved the roasted broccoli side dish.
My husband and I enjoyed what we ate and drank (thumbs up for the Manhattan). I was pleasantly surprised by the extensive gluten-free pasta and pizza options offered at no additional price. The centerpiece of the menu is pinsa, a Roman-style oval pizza cooked in a 700-degree brick oven. The dough, which undergoes cold fermentation, is made from imported wheat, rice and soy, and therefore is a promising option for those with non-celiac food sensitivities.
It’s no easy task to create an inventive menu that still appeals to kids’ habituated taste buds. Overall, Valentinetti’s is a great addition to the Ballard food scene: a bit of the Old Spaghetti Factory with a trendy, healthy twist.
Valentinetti’s, 5425 Russell Ave. NW, chowfoods.com/valentinetti