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Flavors of Tuscany

By Keegan Prosser on May 2, 2013 – No Comment

STORY AND PHOTO BY LINDA BALL

Giovanni Nardone is a long way from his hometown of Caserta, in the Campania region of Italy. Now a resident of Bellevue, he worked for a food company in Canada and is the founder and CEO of Nardone Wine and Food, which imports fine wine and food to his warehouse in Kent. A trained chef — as is his wife Michelina – he couldn’t find anywhere in the Seattle or Bellevue area to get fresh, authentic Italian food. So he convinced his son Fernando Nardone, with his wife Cindy, to open a restaurant he could eat at, or else he was going back to Italy.

The result is Montalcino in Issaquah – not to be confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany. Montalcino is a lovely village known for its Brunello di Montalcino wines, made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape.

“Dad will come here and eat after leaving the warehouse in Kent,” Fernando says. “Mom sings opera quite well, and sings to the customers.”

With a vineyard in Montalcino, the Nardone family produces an excellent Brunello along with other vintages. So how does an Italian family end up with a restaurant in Issaquah?

Fernando says they came to support their newest distributor, Click Wholesale. The winery is just a small part of the family business; they are the exclusive importer of over 2,000 Italian wines.

“This is a new market for us,” he says.

Montalcino has been open for a year and a half, and has gained a following for its authenticity. The chef, Davide, trained with Michelina, learning her recipes. There is a test kitchen at the Kent warehouse, where they taste the food they import, and experiment with recipes.

Everything that is prepared at Montalcino is fresh. The only freezer is for ice.

“That’s how mom grew up — they went to the market every day,” Fernando says.

Fernando supports using organic food, although it costs more, because he is conscious of his customer’s health.

Antipasti, or starters, include bruschetta with fine cured Italian meats and cheeses, and several salads including caprese, for which he uses only fresh buffalo mozzarella flown in from Italy, and heirloom tomatoes.

Buffalo mozzarella is made from the cream of the buffalo, creamy and delicious.

“Buffalo is a tough thing — if it’s not fresh, we don’t serve it,” Fernando says.

Pasta dishes include gnocchi, pasta el pesto with funghi (mushrooms), lobster ravioli, wild boar pappardelle and pasta gorgonzola. Michelina’s lasagna is one of the signature dishes along with sea bass when it’s in season, served lightly grilled in a light sauce.

“A lot of people who’ve been to Italy come here because they’re better educated (about Italian food),” Fernando says. Also on the menu is the bisteca – a 24 ounce porterhouse steak, or wild boar sourced from farms in Oregon and Eastern Washington, for meat lovers.

Then, top off the meal with Michelina’s award-winning tiramisu with a fresh Americano.

Even at $87 a bottle, the Nardone Brunello di Montalcino Poggio is the most popular wine on the almost all exclusively Italian wine list. Poggio means “hill,” reflecting the name of the vineyard, Nardone, which sits on a hill in Tuscany.

And “if you must drink non-Italian” there is a Napa Merlot on the wine list; Giovanni goes over to Napa each year to make the wine.

Montalcino is a great date restaurant since it is small and intimate. But with a capacity of just 39 people, reservations are definitely recommended.

Fernando says they fill up most evenings. He has hosted people from all over the Puget Sound area, including Bill Gates, Paul Allen, some of the Seahawks, and even Justin Timberlake.

Montalcino has been rated the number one restaurant in Issaquah among several local food reviewers. Fernando and Cindy, with their children Fabiano, and daughter, also named Michelina, live in Issaquah.

“We love it here – there was just a restaurant problem, but we solved that,” Fernando says.

Montalcino is is located at 15 N.W. Alder Place in Issaquah and is open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner every night beginning at 5 p.m.