Do you guys know Serafina? On Eastlake? This place was hot shit in like 1994, when everything was made of focaccia and sundried tomatoes and every restaurant wanted to be Spago. Gorgeous space, and the food’s glorious—it’s just definitely Of an Era. Serafina is where John Keister would take The Worst Girlfriend in the World for a fine Italian pasta dinner and then she’d, y’know, throw it in his face and kick him in the nuts. Today, the space is virtually unchanged and retains a nineties version of sultry that’s kinda back in fashion. Low light, dark marble counters, middle-aged men in tucked-in shirts and women in pearls and big hair and bodycon. Table-clothes, gigantolor dishware, artistic sauce drizzles, grill marks on the bread. It’s a whole vibe. 

At this point, and I say this about every restaurant in Seattle that’s over about seven years old, I’m just thrilled that Serafina is still with us, after all this time, in this rapidly gentrifying H. G. Wells novel we live inside of.

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Sweet, neighborhoody Serafina has been at Eastlake and East Boston since 1991.

About a decade ago, I lived in the U District and my bestie lived on the other side of the University Bridge, and on summer days, we’d take a ceremonial walk. Starting at my place near 43rd and Roosevelt, we’d cross the century-old bascule bridge, marvel at the sailboats and otters and Canada geese with their strings of goslings all conducting business in sparkly Portage Bay. Maybe we’d stop at Le Fournil for a flaky French thing, before dithering down Eastlake Avenue. The goal was to end up at either Serafina or its gardeny little sister, Cicchetti, across the courtyard, for cocktails and small plates of arancini and bucatini and meatballs with green olive-studded red sauce, where we’d get lit and joyfully complain about our lives. 

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Just seeing these globe lights at the bar gives me an emotion. 

She and I’d both recently returned to Seattle after stints in New York City—we’d initially followed men, but then both came scurrying back home to the gentle weather, comparably low rents, and minimal eye contact of our hometown, with our type-A East Coast boyfriends in tow. Being New Yorkers, the dudes weren’t impressed with Serafina or Cicchetti. That shit’s on every street corner in NYC, they said, ignoring the huge lush garden that obviously was not commonplace in the gray grid of Manhattan. But we thought it was pretty, so fuck ’em, we’d go together. It was real therapy, a hidden delicious place in which to talk shit. Chick-etti: it’s where chicks hang out. 

Secret, back-alley Cicchetti’s been closed since the top of the pandemic and is available only for private parties currently, but the same stuff’s at Serafina on the main drag, so I guess it’s fine. Since forever, there’s been a drink on the mutual cocktail list called the Amalfi Breeze, and it couldn’t be simpler: vodka, limoncello, Averna (a dark-brown amaro), and more lemon poured on top, served in a coupe with a big old lemon wheel floating in the middle like an inner tube. And you can get it at Serafina all the same.

I’ve always loved this thing. The Amalfi Breeze is tart and herbal, but also round from the relatively sweet amaro, with a touch of honey-caramel. Refreshing and light, like a Lemonhead candy rolled in myrtle and juniper and roasted over a campfire. Some bartenders at Serafina are heavier-handed with the Averna than others; I ask them to lay it on thick, so the drink turns a pinky-brown. I like to fuck with the glass a little, spin it around and watch the lemon oils swirl on the surface, like a rainbow in a parking lot puddle. The light needs to be right for this, and it can’t be too warm in the room or the goniochromism trick won’t work. You need some luck.

Shit, I forgot to ask what kind of vodka they use. Meg van Huygen

I’ve never been to Amalfi, but if Rick Steves has taught me anything, it’s that they got lemons. Italy’s Amalfi coast is reportedly lousy with lemons the way Seattle is with Himalayan blackberries—fruit spills down the hillsides and into the gutters, and what they like to make the lemons into is limoncello. 

Well, okay, here at Serafina, they call it limoncello on the menu, but the Amalfi Breeze is technically made with limoncino–Limoncino dell’Isola, made about 200 miles north of Amalfi. Limoncino and limoncello are fundamentally the same, and people traditionally make it at home anyhow, so it’s not an exact science. The main diff is that up north in Calabria, where they say limoncino, they use small Calabrian lemons instead of the massive joosy lemons you find in your limoncello on the Amalfi coast. As well, limoncino doesn’t usually come in the yellow Hi-Liter hue that many other limoncellos do, but that’s not a hard rule, just a tendency. 

If I’m ever in a room with a Calabrese lemon and an Amalfitano lemon, maybe I could compare and contrast their nuanced flavor profiles, but until then, I can’t purport to be able to taste the difference between the two. Or the third, probably Californian lemon that was floating in my drink. It’s a melting pot of lemons up in here and I welcome them all into my bloodstream.

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Little Calabrian lemons, used to make limoncino, fit in the palm of your hand.

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Monstrous Amalfitano lemons, used to make limoncello, do not fit in the palm of your hand. Well, depends on the hand.

Along with Il Bistro in the Market (article forthcoming, I’m sure), Serafina is also where I first learned about amari and how they’re all different, and I’m still learning about them today because there are still a hundred thousand more amari out there to try. Sera-cchetti’s cocktail list has always leaned on Averna, and so it kinda became my preferred amaro. Averna comes from Sicily, and although amari are bitter by definition (the word amaro means “little bitter”), this one is pretty chill about it, and they’ve added orange, licorice, and caramel to the mix—three of my fave flaves. A “womb glass” of Averna on ice with a citrus peel and basil/or sage muddled in—termed “The Averna Ritual” by their able marketing team—is one of my best desserts lately. Especially since it’s a digestif and I have a greedy little habit of cleaning my entire plate whether I mean to or not, ahem.

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If you like Averna, here’s another, lighter Averna-based cocktail at Serafina: with soda, lemon, and sage-infused simple syrup. A special for Restaurant Week! I don’t think it has a name though.

Like every restaurant in the universe, the future of the lovely Italian-American sisters, Serafina and Cicchetti, is uncertain. Serafina’s keeping pretty normal hours right now; the website says Cicchetti’s scheduled to reopen in fall of 2022, but that’s right now, and word on the street is that it may not actually happen. Serafina also suffers from staffing issues—again, like everyone—and I’m not mentioning this to threaten y’all, just saying… in an ongoing global pandemic, you can’t rely on your neighborhood spot being open for dinner whenever you want your imported Italian cocktail and your snacky bruschetta, even if it’s been there for 30 years. If you like a restaurant, you gotta go there. It’s use it or lose it, more than ever before, and I’d be crushed if we lost this gem.

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The so-called Averna Ritual: serve over ice with an orange peel and/or some seasonal herbs, but fuck ‘em up a little first.

I quizzed the bartender on some history behind the Amalfi Breeze, or at least who invented it, and he said he hadn’t worked at Serafina very long and just knew that it’s been served here for ages. That’s all I really know too. But the fact is that there’s not much to it—it’s not a concept drink and barely even a craft cocktail, and it doesn’t have a point to make. It’s just a nice, stiff, classic bev that tastes like listening to Scarlatti. Get one with your bestie on a cold day and complain about your life over a burrata plate at the bar together, under the sepia-toned globe lights, beautifully.