The opening of the Kirkland location of Volterra in September 2012 was part of an outstanding run of Seattle-based restaurants setting up shop east of Lake Washington. Like Monsoon, Cantinetta and Black Bottle before it, Volterra, which opened in Ballard in 2005, had a steady book of business from Eastside eaters. But owners Don Curtiss and Michelle Quisenberry noticed that Eastside guests began to visit less frequently as it became more difficult to get to Ballard through traffic, tolls and bridge closures. The couple fielded request after request for an Eastside location.
The clamor to bring Curtiss’ delectable Tuscan cuisine to the Eastside was loud enough for them to take notice and begin the serious discussion of expanding their business. Within a day of putting feelers out about spaces on the Eastside, they received word of an opening from the proprietors of a new building that were actively seeking Seattle chef-owned restaurant tenants.
“Kirkland immediately felt like the right fit for us. There’s the farmers market, it’s a big walking neighborhood … it felt like it would be home for us,” said Quisenberry, Volterra’s managing partner. The Kirkland location is in a new building with a very modern space, while the Ballard spot is housed in historic brick building. Despite some small aesthetic and size differences, the Eastside restaurant is essentially an extension of the Seattle brand. “It just made sense to take what we had built in Ballard and bring the same food, the same level of service and warmth here to Kirkland,” she said.
The Seattle location received acclaim from practically every publication in the area quickly after opening. Bon Appétit named it the “Toughest Reservation in the City,” and Food Network star Rachael Ray, who identified with Curtiss’ Sicilian background and the couple’s wedding in Volterra, Italy, called it one of her favorite restaurants on the planet. The Food Network star gushed about Volterra’s special salts, the fennel salt in particular. According to Curtiss, you can see jars of the fennel salt in Ray’s kitchen during “30 Minute Meals,” and when the Food Network reruns the Seattle show, the couple sees a big influx of orders for the salt.
House-made pastas, charcuteries and authentic meat and fish dishes dot the mostly Tuscan-themed menu at Volterra Kirkland, too. If you’re a cheese lover, start with the Burrata con Prosciutto di Parma. If you’ve never had burrata, it’s a fresh mozzarella that’s usually filled with cream. Volterra opts to use ricotta. The texture of the mozzarella has enough bite but is not chewy, and the saltiness of the mozzarella and the prosciutto is in harmony with the sweet creaminess of the ricotta. Polpettine D’Angello con Zucca (lamb meatballs) with roasted spaghetti squash, goat cheese cream and topped with Calabrian chilis and Castelvertrano olives is also incredibly popular. Volterra is one of the first restaurants in the area to serve Piedmontese beef, which comes from a breed of cow that evolved in the Alps in Northwest Italy. These cuts are known for being incredibly lean and tender, but full of flavor. Volterra offers hearty and delicious tenderloin on its dinner menu, but don’t overlook the insalata con bistecca (grilled Piedmontese flat iron steak salad) served with romaine hearts, gorgonzola, red onion, diced tomato and Castelvetrano olives tossed in pork jowl and shallot vinaigrette. The salad is fresh and light but the incredible flavor will leave you satisfied. It’s an unexpected surprise on a menu full of hits.
Don’t forget the pasta. Tagliolini con guanciale e funghi selvatici (pork jowls and wild mushrooms) is house-made organic egg pasta tossed with smoked pork jowls, locally harvested wild mushrooms, truffle butter and organic cheese. This rich and earthy combination is a perfect lunch option. Also popular are the agnolotti di melanzane (roasted eggplant pouches). The house-made organic egg pasta are stuffed full with roasted eggplant, ricotta salata, roasted garlic, and basil tossed in a spicy tomato ragu topped with Sicilian Pecorino pepato. They look like little jewels, but the real treasure is what’s inside. Together with chef de cuisine Andrew Gribas, Curtiss and Quisenberry are equal-opportunity providers when it comes to pasta. They offer freshly made gluten-free pasta as substitutes for all pasta dishes on the menu. The pasta is made with separate pots, work space and machinery and the staff is also well-versed in the restaurant’s gluten-free options.
Volterra’s menu will change three or four times a year, and will include daily specials. The restaurant has always been known as a dinner house (the Ballard location offers dinner and brunch on weekends), but Curtiss and Quisenberry see more potential for diversity of service at the Kirkland restaurant. According to Curtiss, the to-go program is phenomenal. And lunch service is getting busier as more locals learn about Volterra. “You could come here and have a half a bowl of pasta and glass of wine on your own, and then there’s a whole family across the restaurant celebrating a 60th wedding anniversary,” Curtiss said. “We want our restaurant to be a place that people come back to for many different reasons.”
The Story behind the Name
He was a chef with years of experience in Seattle restaurants like Prego and Il Fornaio. She was in finance, working with high-tech startups. She helped open the Experience Music Project and worked with local chef Kathy Casey on developing the bar and restaurant there. Casey introduced Curtiss and Quisenberry and they started dating. Quisenberry accepted a consulting gig that took her to Europe for a year, and Curtiss decided to tag along. While she worked, he explored and immersed himself in his craft. Curtiss honed his skills in their apartment, cooking dishes for her clients. Today those dishes occupy Volterra’s menus. In 2004, the couple returned to Europe and married in a small Tuscan hilltop town called Volterra. They wanted to carry the memory of that place with them and share it with others. A year later, Volterra, the restaurant, was born.
When You Go
121 Kirkland Ave., Kirkland
Monday through Thursday, 11:30am – 10pm
Friday and Saturday, 11:30am – 11pm
Sunday, 9am – 9pm