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Big changes at Armondo's Cafe in downtown Renton
One of our oldest and dearest friends in Renton is changing; and although change can sometimes be difficult, we have to let them grow and expand their wings if they are going to stay healthy and vibrant and soar to new levels. Who am I talking about? Armondo’s Café Italiano, in business in Renton for 25 years.
Armondo’s has hired a new executive chef, Tom Small, with seriously impressive credentials. They unveiled a delicious and exciting new lunch menu — and they are announcing plans to kick up a notch just about everything they do. I had lunch there recently, and I’m telling you it was outstanding.
Let me first start with the food and the new menu layout. Armondo’s previous menu was an “American Italian” menu; now it is an “Italian Italian” menu. Armondo shared with me that the philosophy is that everything in Italy is based on simple fresh ingredients that change seasonally. Therefore, the menu there will change four times per year as well. The menu is also designed for people to share (you can order small or large plates), and there is a new emphasis on family dining where you can share many different menu items.
We tried several dishes. The clams were just about the best anywhere —simmering in a tomato-based sauce. They were served with fresh baked daily rosemary flatbread, which was to die for. We tried the minestrone soup, which was frankly the best — and most creative minestrone soup — I have ever had. In my humble opinion most restaurants make minestrone that tastes like it came out of a can, so I quit ordering it years ago. No longer. We tried the warm seafood salad; the small plate was loaded with fresh clams, shrimp, mussels and white beans. This should be a menu stand-out this time of year. The arugula salad with fennel and orange was a lovely, summery salad. And, the last item we tried was fusilli pasta with fennel sausage, white beans and arugula. The sausage was perfection.
In addition, their paninis are extremely popular — the Sicilian tuna and chicken pesto are popular sellers, as is the house-made gnocchi. I have it on good authority from my friend, Bruce, that the chicken cacciatore, and the honey/balsamic one-half chicken (available at dinner) are some of best things he has ever eaten.
Chef Tom Small, as I mentioned, has some serious cooking experience, having served as a chef in some of California’s finest restaurants. Armondo describes Chef Small’s philosophy this way: “He has a passion for local and seasonal products as well as a firm foundation in technique and classical cuisine.” The chef describes the new direction as being seasonal, simple, and local. In fact, most Tuesday’s he can be seen wandering the Farmers Market looking for this week’s menu.
When the menu changes each season, in keeping with Italian tradition, each new menu will be rolled out with a special celebration. (Watch for some of these announcements on e-mail and on Facebook.) And, in addition to all of these exciting changes, they will be offering two or three cooking classes and chef’s tables per year. I am willing to bet these will be enormously popular. I’m sure some of you will miss some of your favorites that were on the old menu, but I’m proud of Armondo for trying to stay current and change with the culinary times, and keep his restaurant vibrant in challenging economic times with lots of competition. I encourage you to try something new. Try the new lunch menu soon, and keep your eyes pealed for announcements about the new dinner menu which will be rolled out on Friday.
Armondo’s has been a Renton favorite for 25 years and I’m sure for another 25 more to come!