Heaping bowls of perfectly al-dente pasta, zingy fresh salads, PNW seafood, free-flowing wine and vials of garlic-infused olive oil; it is no wonder that Assaggio has been a local Seattle favorite for more than 25 years.
Helmed by the affable chef-owner Mauro Golmarvi, Assaggio Ristorante has been bringing the regional flavors of Ancona to Seattle for almost three decades. Ancona is a charming port city on Italy’s Adriatic coast, where Mauro went to medical school. Destiny, however, had other plans for him and he started off as a self-taught chef there. As a young boy in Rome, Mauro learned cooking from the best– his mother Naji. Her kitchen, with its homely cooking and delicious smells, beckoned to him. At 11, his first culinary creation was a frittata. By his own admission, he did have two true instructors though. Mauro says, “My stove and my oven are my Gods. They are not fancy, but they are mine, and they allow me to express my soul.”
We went for dinner recently, and it was a luxurious lesson in Northern Italian cuisine. In true Italian style, nothing is understated here, not even Golmarvi himself. With his larger-than-life personality and twinkling eyes, Mauro Golmarvi serves up an experience to remember. Golmarvi believes deeply in beauty and artistry, and that clearly reflects in every facet of Assaggio. The restaurant screams Italian luxury, with its ornate chandeliers and gilded furniture.
Italian renaissance design is suffused with modern elements and Seattle touches here—checkered tablecloths, a bronze pig statue from Pike Place Market, beautiful frescoes reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel in Italy, a myriad of awards and accolades and personal memorabilia and relics all coexist in perfect harmony here. The decor is a testament to how much Mauro cherishes his family, and how his personal life is woven into the very fabric of his restaurant. As an extension of the same philosophy, he considers his customers to be family and Assaggio to be a big dining room.
Named for and inspired by the Italian way of life—Assaggio is all about the importance of meals with family and friends, slowing life down and enjoying each other’s company. Everything here is authentically, unapologetically Italian. One look over the sprawling restaurant and you’ll see bouffant-haired ladies clinking glasses of chianti, a gentleman asking for his regular of the last two decades, a family enjoying wood-fired pizza or a young couple sharing mini doughnuts. This is a place for people of all ages to enjoy a delicious meal. Golmarvi is in the restaurant six days a week, greeting guests with crushing bear hugs and belly laughs and topping their wines personally.
We started off with the ‘Francesca’ (wild greens, green apples, pears, gorgonzola, candied pistachios, balsamic vinaigrette), a hearty salad named after Mauro’s daughter. Golmarvi’s daughter is his favorite sous chef in the world and going to be an integral part of the business soon. The menu has all Italian classics, with a nod to Seattle’s local produce and fresh Puget sound seafood. The seafood here is sweet and tender, with a taste of the ocean. We tried the sautéed calamari (with capers, kalamata olives, and juicy Roma tomatoes) and the Anconian Brodetto (mixed market seafood finished off with saffron cream). To wash it all down, Assaggio has a serious wine list, that combines the best of local and Italian wines.
Can’t choose just one pasta? Assaggio has the perfect solution to this very first-world problem. They offer pasta-tasting plates, where you can select three of show-stopping pasta dishes. We tried spaghetti puttanesca, orecchiette with Beecher’s cheddar cheese and truffle oil, and penne in vodka sauce. To finish, you can’t miss their luscious tiramisu—a divine concoction of espresso, cocoa and mascarpone cream. It is the best we’ve ever had. We’d go to celebrate special moments over this pudding, again and again.
Warning: Assaggio’s authentic Italian menu might ruin American-Italian restaurants for you. Personally, it was a big refresher after seeing so many chefs at Italian places go heavy on the garlic. Assaggio focusses on freshness, light sauces, and subtle spices. The quality speaks for itself, with the best local ingredients that Mauro has been sourcing from farmers and fishmongers for the last 25 years. The cheese is imported from Italy, directly from families in Italy-sometimes in their 2nd or 3rd generation. Pasta is rolled out fresh every day and simmer their fish stock from scratch. The result is sublime, traditional Northern Italian food. Pro-tip: Wear your stretchiest pants for a meal here!
In a candid conversation, Mauro tells us about Assaggio’s early days, his connection to Seattle and shares a simple but special ‘Cacio E Pepe’ recipe. Buon appetito!
Seattleite: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Mauro Golmarvi: I grew up in Italy, then moved to Rome to go to Medical school. During that time I worked at one of the oldest most famous restaurants in Rome. I started as a dishwasher but watched everything the chef was doing. One day when he was sick, The owner put me in the kitchen to help and told me to make carbonara. Luckily, I knew how to make it (after watching the chef all the time). The plate came back wiped clean and after that success, I have been cooking ever since!
I quit Medical School and continued cooking and learning about the business of Restaurants. In 1984 I made the decision to come to the United States and follow my dreams of someday opening up my own Restaurant. After the big earthquake in 1989, I was looking for the next place to go and friends told me Seattle! So I drove up on Valentine’s Day that year and the first thing I saw the Pike Place Market. After that, I was sold on the area. In the early days, I worked in many of the Italian restaurants in Seattle and the Eastside and in 1993 was approached to open my own place on 4th Ave in Seattle. I have been here in this exact spot ever since.
Seattleite: What were your earliest connections to food?
Golmarvi: My earliest connection to food was as a young boy watching my mom cooking in the kitchen. I was always interested in what was going on. We had our own garden and she grew all sorts of vegetables. She gardened and canned, made all her own sauces, the smells coming out of the kitchen were incredible. My mom was a very good cook. She made cheese, yogurt, bread and she taught me everything. The first thing I cooked (I was about 11) was a frittata.
Seattleite: Could you tell us about your journey with Assaggio?
Golmarvi: Back in the early ‘90s, I was working at a little Italian restaurant in West Seattle and one of my customers approached me to see if I was interested in opening my own place. He had a hotel on 4th Avenue in Seattle and was looking for a restaurant for the commercial space. At that time, 4th and Virginia was not a great area to say the lease. There was a 7-11 on the other corner and Steve’s Broiler and that was about it. Seattle closed down at about 7:00 every night. I opened on November 5th, 1993 and slowly but surely, my crowds began to grow. Then the Seattle Times critic at the time, John Hintenberger reviewed me and we made Top Ten restaurants of the year, after that, I was on my way. I can’t believe it’s been 26 years now!
Over the last 25 years in Seattle, people have come up to me to tell me how Assaggio has touched their lives and share their beautiful memories…First dates, marriage proposals, anniversaries, 1st birthdays to 100th birthdays. We have a big family here and I love to see them and give them a big hug when they come in to see us.
Seattleite: How has the Foodscape of Seattle changed from 1993 to now, in your opinion?
Golmarvi: In 1993 there was definitely not the variety of foods we have now. Seattle itself has changed so much. I could never have thought my neighborhood would change so much. And I have seen many Restaurants come and many, many go. Now with Amazon just a block away, I think every block has seen all the old buildings replaced by shiny towers. I call it a culinary corner because of all the restaurants around us.I love all the diverse tastes and influences, there are so many choices.
Seattleite: You started out as a self-taught chef. What were the pros and cons of this?
Golmarvi: The benefit was to know the ingredients and to have learned so many things back home over generations. I would like to know more techniques- for instance, I would love to learn how to make bread or pastries.
Seattleite: What are the basic tenets of Italian food and hospitality?
Golmarvi: Simple foods and the quality and honesty of the ingredients. What makes a meal special is when you serve it from your heart, like in your own dining room. Then it is easy to give great service, be friendly and really care—like for your own family.
Seattleite: What are the dynamics of working with your own family w.r.t Assaggio? How do you inspire each other?
Golmarvi: We all work very hard here at Assaggio, many of my staff have been here for over 10 years, so we all feel like one big family. Having my daughter Francesca here lights up my days and of course, many of the customers have seen her grow up. Now that she is almost done with college it will be nice to have here around more. My wife, Connie and her family have been coming to Assaggio since we opened 26 years ago. We like helping and being around each other, being kind and learning from each other. I love having my wife and daughter here. I feel like I have a great team and we have each other’s back.
Seattleite: What is your philosophy when it comes to food, and life?
Golmarvi: I try to keep things simple and honest. In my food and my relationships – What you see is what you get.
Seattleite: Assaggio is all about Northern Italian food. How is the food different as compared to other regions of Italy?
Golmarvi: Where I grew up in Ancona, it is on the Adriatic and we had a lot of seafood. Fish, mussels, scallops, very much like what we have here in Seattle. So, we are more focused on seafood, we use less garlic and have lighter sauces. I love all the available fresh seafood we have here. We are lucky to be just a few blocks from the market, that is my happy place. I love salmon and crab. My wife says we have the best salmon here in Seattle. I think she’s right.
Seattleite: Can you please share a simple recipe that’s close to your heart?
Golmarvi: Cacio E Pepe—it is a very traditional Roman dish. Use the best ingredients you can—it is so simple yet powerful.
1 pound spaghetti
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/3 cup grated Pecorino
In a large pot bring 6 quarts of salted water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve a 1/2 cup cooked pasta water. In a large sauté pan heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add pepper and cook for one minute. Add reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta, remaining olive oil and Parmesan Reggiano. Reduce the heat to low and stir until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and add the pecorino. Stir until the cheese melts and serve.