Il Terrazzo Carmine, the iconic, classic Italian restaurant in Pioneer Square, turns 30 in October. With new restaurants popping up all around it, the old man has shown the new guard what’s up by spawning a cicchetti bar.
Intermezzo Carmine (409 First Ave. S; 206.596.8940; Facebook) was opened in a former rug shop next door to Il Terrazzo this past June by Carmine’s widow, Maria Smeraldo, who took the reins at the older restaurant when her husband passed away two years ago. Intermezzo is more casual, trendier, smaller and a touch more elegant. “I feel [Il Terrazzo] will never be my place—it will always be Carmine’s restaurant,” Smeraldo says. “Intermezzo is a start for me and the kids to really express who we are.”
It’s not a first for Smeraldo, who was running a tapas bar called Café Felipe in Pioneer Square in 1985 when she met and fell in love with Carmine. They married, and she gave up her restaurant to stay at home with the couple’s two kids (both of whom work at Intermezzo).
She tapped Il Terrazzo chef Juan Vega to also run Intermezzo. He’s been part of the Il Terrazzo family for 15 years, the last two as executive chef, and can often be seen hustling between the two restaurants.
The menu is a small one, with about 15 items, ranging from seafood and salads to pasta and sandwiches. There are only about six cicchetti (small dishes or snacks). The food’s wow factor isn’t high here, but together with some of the most attentive (and attractive) staff in town, it will be a place you will certainly want to return to if for no other reason than to feel appreciated and pampered.
A lovely seasonal antipasto selection of roasted red peppers, zucchini, Broccolini and fennel drizzled in olive oil ($8) is a beautiful dish that won’t disappoint. The pastas, however, just might. The carbonara ($12) needed some sort of creamy binding agent to cut the dryness of the pasta, which the egg didn’t accomplish on its own. And an overly al dente bucatini ($12) marred an otherwise fine pasta isola. The perfectly cooked, just-right chewy braised octopus ($12) was nearly overpowered by the wild taste of the black rice risotto—but it was still enjoyable—while the lamb chops ($15) with roasted leek butter hit all the right notes: tender, caramelized, juicy.
The menu, the décor and the music at Intermezzo are a little trendier than its older sibling’s, with large, bird-caged chandeliers and a hotel-lobby bar sexiness to it that always makes you feel like you’re waiting for a date. And even though it’s not a hotel, cushy barstools, oversize chairs and the comfiest of plush banquettes will tempt you to sleep over. If you keep up with restaurant trends, you probably won’t find anything here innovative, but you’ll likely appreciate the playful feel that emanates from Intermezzo, like a little brother or sister breaking the rules for the first time.