Named for a 16th-century monastery 50 miles west of Venice, San Fermo in Ballard is probably the first new restaurant in a long time that wants to make its name in rustic, homey Italian food.
Instead of focusing on the current trend of modern, interpretive Italian dishes, co-owners Tim Baker (Percy’s & Co.), Scott Shapiro (Melrose Market), and Wade Weigel and Jeff Ofelt (both of Bimbo’s Bitchin’ Burrito Kitchen, Cha Cha Lounge, King’s Hardware and Percy’s fame) have transformed the conjoined (and formerly pea green) historic Pioneer Houses on Ballard Avenue into an utterly charming, upscale pasta house. The 50-seat San Fermo, which abuts the Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays, is now a glossy white stunner with black accents and a similar indoor color scheme.
Executive chef Sam West (he also runs the kitchen at Percy’s a block away) and sous-chef Zach Wagar (formerly of Spinasse) offer solid, traditional entrées, such as rabbit cacciatore and osso buco, but you’ll want to go straight for their handmade pastas, which change daily. Delicate, ricotta-filled duck ravioli ($17) swim in traditional rosemary broth with shallots; weighty, wavy mafaldine carbonara ($16) is tossed with fatty guanciale (pork cheek), which puffs up to an irresistible crunch and, along with fresh egg, coats the wide, ribbon-like noodles beautifully.
The antipasti ($12) — an ever-changing medley of seasonal, marinated and pickled vegetables, fresh cheeses and inventive cured proteins — is also a sure thing, especially when paired with a bottle of rosé and enjoyed on one of the restaurant’s two killer outdoor patios. Central to the north patio and its neighboring ivy-covered brick wall is a sagging crabapple tree studded with beehive lanterns.
Spending warm nights there (and on the smaller south patio) listening to an eclectic range of music — from Billie Holiday to M. Ward to Creedence Clearwater Revival — while eating fresh, simple, approachable Italian food was among the highlights of my summer. Luckily, heaters and blankets will keep it going this fall.