Your best friend gets almost everything right. He makes up an “emergency” to rescue you from a bad first date, but first texts, “Just hide in the bathroom till I get there” when your phone is face-up on the table. He takes the reins planning your birthday bonfire on the Oregon coast and even buys your cake on the way, but the drive is four hours and the cake is made of ice cream. He laughs at your jokes, but way too loudly.
San Fermo is like that reliable friend you can count on for a great time, even if it sometimes involves a few small missteps. There are more than enough Italian restaurants in Seattle, but we still keep coming back to this one.
It’s the new house on the block in Ballard, despite actually being the oldest house on the block. San Fermo is located inside the shell of a historic home, preserved since the 1800’s and sandwiched on the main drag in between a trendy gelato shop and an art gallery. Like any good old colonial home, there’s a vine-covered, tree-shaded wraparound porch - and it’s exactly where you should be doing your appetizer eating and wine drinking. On the inside, it has a dimly-lit, vibey swagger that’s perfect for catching up with said friend over strong brown liquor cocktails and big bowls of pasta.
Speaking of, the homemade pastas are all worthy of your time and stomach real estate, from the spaghetti bolognese to an amatriciana (with tomato, red pepper flakes, and guanciale) that’s easily one of the best we’ve ever had. The farinata is another of our favorite things here - it’s a grilled chickpea flatbread served with cold tomato confit, olive oil, and spreadable cheese that tastes like burrata and sunshine. For dessert, the pistachio affogato makes us sad we can’t always drop a casual scoop of gelato in our morning coffee.
The only drawback? Just like your buddy who always means well, some of the dishes occasionally need a little more thought. The spaghetti would sometimes benefit from hopping out of the boiling water one minute sooner, the caesar salad could use a little salt and cracked black pepper, and the creamy, bacon-y bucatini alla gricia has to be eaten at warp speed to avoid the fat separating from the rest of the sauce. That said, it tastes insanely good, and you’re probably going to want to do so anyway.
On a night when the restaurant-experience gods are smiling down upon you, San Fermo easily could be the best new spot in Seattle. The setting - in the thick of the Ballard Ave hustle but still charming as hell - is perfect, and the upscale Italian food is exactly what we needed on that street amidst the many Southern cocktail bars and gastropubs. The sum of San Fermo’s parts is so great that we easily forgive the minor, infrequent mistakes. Plus, their ice cream is still frozen, so they could teach your friend something.
This needs to hit your table. It’s a grilled flatbread made with chickpeas and served with tomato confit (a cold tomato sauce) and housemade cagliata, which is what would happen if ricotta and burrata had an illegitimate child and then doused the child in olive oil. A bite with all three is the Italian appetizer that you never knew you were going to crave for breakfast the next day.
A valiant effort on a creamy plate of leaves: the red wine-soaked croutons are different and have a nice tart thing going on, but the dressing is a little basic. Make sure you call someone over for some fresh cracked pepper to jazz it up.
A solid bolognese that’s even worth eating outside on a hot summer night, and although we can’t put our finger on why, the saffron in the spaghetti does more than hike up the price. Our only note for the suggestion box: this pasta would have benefited from one minute less in the boiling water.
Winner. This pasta is by far San Fermo’s best, if you can catch it when it’s on the menu. With tomato, guanciale, a kick from red pepper flakes, red onion, and a fresh pile of parm on top, this is better than a hug from someone you enjoy hugging.
Do you like risotto? You will love this risotto. Simple, creamy, full of saffron, and topped with a pile-o-parm. Get at it.
This bucatini with guanciale, red onions, leeks, black pepper, and pecorino is stupid good, but the longer it takes for you to eat, the more the butter/oil separates from the sauce, which ends up being more like bucatini alla grease-ia.
Good lord. This is just pistachio gelato, a shot of espresso, and some biscotti, but the simple coffee-soaked cookie and gelato in the same bite is what you want for dessert.