Name: Torre Caffe.
Location: 119 N. Commercial St., on the ground floor of Bellingham Towers (across the street from Mount Baker Theatre). 360-734-0029.
Quick bite: I ducked out of the drizzle and into this Italian cafe for lunch last week, drawn here by a craving for lasagna. Depending on the day, the eatery serves one made with a bolognese (meat) sauce or a vegetable-pesto version. I was with two other companions. We all picked vegetable-pesto lasagna, which included a simple salad topped with shaved Parmesan, for $10.
Owners Pasquale and Luisa Salvati hail from Genoa, Italy — the birthplace of pesto — and Luisa makes the pasta for their lasagna. So I expected something above the ordinary, and I got it.
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Torre Caffe’s lasagna featured mozzarella, ricotta, pesto and small pieces of string beans. A sprinkling of pine nuts topped each slice.
The lasagna, baked until the cheese on top was golden brown, was rich and filling but not dense, offered a well-balanced ratio of pasta to cheese, and the bright pesto flavor seemed to unfold and keep going until it blended in with the creamy cheese. The beans themselves were a delightful surprise.
We tried to parse the dish as we ate, concluding that everything about it was, simply, just right. One of my two lunch dates — she’s part-Italian, grew up in the Boston area and is picky about her Italian food — called it when she declared that the pasta was not store-bought. (This was before we learned that the lasagna noodles were made in-house.)
As we finished and pushed ourselves away from the table, my other lunch companion summed up our contentment best: “This is the ultimate, rainy day comfort food in my book.”
Side note: Treat yourself to a cannoli for $3.68, a dessert made up of a deep-fried pastry shell filled with sweetened and whipped ricotta that’s silken on the tongue with chocolate sprinkles on the edges. Pair it with any espresso drink made at Torre Caffe — the Salvatis, who use Seattle-based Caffe Vita beans, are proud of their coffee — to brighten any gray, rainy day. During our lunch, we also noticed that the soup and panini combo was popular with other diners.
The story of... The Salvatis opened Torre Caffe — torre is Italian for tower — in early 2005. The family-owned business includes daughter Antonella Salvati who, along with boyfriend Ryan Walker, is training to one day take over the business.
Ambiance: Casual and cozy. It’s the kind of place where all the regulars are greeted by name.