Wine and espresso aren’t often mixed into a single drink, just as you generally don’t find a German running an Italian restaurant. However, at Capitol Hill’s new trattoria, Corretto, both of those unique combinations somehow work out seamlessly to create an authentic Italian food experience.
“I’ve had the advantage of working for nothing but Italians for the last 15 years. I don’t know why,” laughed Gretchen Allen, the General Manager and Wine Director of Corretto. “I guess we just get along. Apparently my Germanic organization and order works really well with them. And we never made them as angry as they are with the French.”
And Allen definitely doesn’t think that her German background hurts her when it comes to picking the wines for Corretto.
“Actually, I have an advantage being a non-Italian,” she said. “Because it’s not personal to me. I don’t think about where I’m from in Italy when I’m choosing wines for the list. They feel obligated to choose something from their home region, while I just choose what’s best.”
Corretto has a prime location, at 416 Broadway Avenue East, across from QFC. It has been officially open since April 4, when all of the branding changed from the last trattoria that was there, Panavino. While some of the décor has stayed the same, the menu has changed dramatically, and Allen’s organizational nature is clear when you look at the extensive wine list. After 26 years in the culinary world, and years of studying toward becoming a Master Sommelier, her passion is evident.
“When I pick the wines, I think about how I can take someone on a journey through Italy without having to ever leave Seattle,” she told me, her eyes lighting up. “And I don’t pick wines because they have prestige. A good wine needs to have that umami characteristic where it’s so good you almost can’t even talk about it. And if I ask why you like it so much you’ll say, ‘I don’t know. I just like it!’ That’s the magical part of wine that brings people coming back for more and more.”
A petite, and pretty brunette, you’d never guess that Allen was old enough to have two kids, one a junior in college at the University of Oregon.
“People tell me I look young a lot!” she told me, laughing. “And I always joke it’s because of the wine. I drink it every day. It’s a preservative.”
Choosing to believe Allen’s claim, I tried the namesake of the trattoria, a corretto, which generally is a mix of espresso and grappa. I went for the “Il Futurismo,” a combination of an herbal liquer called Braulio, espresso, and bitters. I was worried that it would be too sharp and bitter, but, instead, the drink was sweet, smooth, and decadent.
“People should know when they come here that we are trying hard to be an authentic Italian trattoria,” Allen said. “That means we are going to have amaros, wine cocktails, beer, and digestivos. You’d find those drinks at a restaurant in Italy, and usually in that order.”
While you can certainly stop by Corretto for a coffee or glass of wine and an appetizer, Allen said that a proper Italian meal should take about two hours. Chef Laura Licona, the former sous chef at La Spiga, crafted a menu that allows for anything from nibbling, to a five-course meal.
“Laura is great. She’s Basque and was raised on a farm. Her cooking is interesting; she almost never uses cream, only uses as much butter as she needs to, and is restrained on vinegars,” said Allen. “All of that is imperative for me when doing wine pairings.”
Just as the drinks at a trattoria have order, so does the food; the Corretto menu has a classic Italian progression. You usually start with an antipasti, or appetizer, dish like Bruschetta Caprese or Vongole En Brodo, which is steamed manila clams in a rich broth with crispy pancetta.
You then have a primo, or first course. It’s a hot food that is usually heavier than the antipasti, like Corretto’s Rigatoni Al Sugo, which is tube pasta with house marinara.
Next comes the secondi, the course involving meat or fish. Corretto has interesting choices like the Bistecca Alla Griglia, a grilled hanger steak with a light brandy pan sauce and swiss chard salsa verde.
After the secondi is a contorno, or side dish.
Finally, you eat your cheese and fruit, or dessert, and follow all of it with coffee or a digestive, like Corretto’s homemade Limoncello.
After drinking my corretto, and before I left the restaurant, I felt like I had to ask Allen the most obvious question that you should ask a wine expert: What’s your favorite wine?
“People always ask me that,” she said. “And I always say, ‘Whatever’s in my glass.’ Because when you’re drinking wine it’s always about the social aspect. So it’s who you’re drinking the wine with that makes it so delicious.”