A creative chef lays down his utensils

Beard award-winner Scott Carsberg has closed Belltown's Bisato, working with discipline to the very end.
Renowned chef Scott Carsberg prepares one of the final meals at Bisato.

Renowned chef Scott Carsberg prepares one of the final meals at Bisato. Ronald Holden

They say the Italians have passion but no discipline, creativity but no follow-through. It's a silly stereotype, and it certainly doesn't apply to Scott Carsberg, West Seattle native but Italian by temperament.

For the past two decades, Carsberg's dedication to his craft — Italian cooking at its highest level — has been unequaled in Seattle. In today's world of celebrity chefs, he's an unassuming throwback. 

Unlike a lot of would-be "chefs" who spend a month lounging around an agriturismo in Tuscany or doing a stage (informal apprenticeship) at some pasta palace in Milan, and returning to the states with a newfound "passion" for Italian cuisine, Carsberg really did make his bones in classical kitchens. He made the rounds of American and European capitals, growing especially fond of the Italian style. He worked at Settebello before setting off on his own, where he was able to develop his own approach to cooking, marrying the rigor and restraint of French cuisine with Italian inspiration and attention to ingredients. 

In person, he could pass for a fry cook at Mel's Diner. ("I have a mug only a mother could love," he told me when I took his picture some years back.) In 1992, 20 years ago, he and his wife, Hyun Joo Paek, opened their own place in Belltown, Lampreia. It was a formal, prix-fixe establishment in what was then a relatively rowdy part of Seattle. In 2006, Carsberg won long-overdue recognition from the James Beard Foundation as Best Chef, Northwest. And after he transformed Lampreia, three years ago, into a more modest, Venetian-style wine bar called Bisato, he won Best "Authentic Italian" Restaurant in North America from Birra Moretti.

Belltown residents like yours truly would see Carsberg sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside his restaurant, grabbing some fresh air during his afternoon prep, greeting passersby. Sometimes gruff, sometimes charming, but always approachable.

Then, a few weeks ago, the bombshell: Carsberg and his wife announced they were closing permanently. Time for a break, Carsberg said. But to the end, even as the menu reprised "Bisato's Greatest Hits," the place maintained its quiet dignity. Three unhurried servers under Paek's stately direction, a stream of reverential patrons ordering butternut squash soup, sea urchin risotto, braised short rib. Carsberg himself hovering over every dish, with intensity and focus, for a full-throttle, thoroughly professional finish to a 20-year run.

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 19, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Scott Carsberg, Lampreia, and Bisato were the absolute best in this city, and probably many larger, restaurant-conscious cities on any continent. Always underappreciated, always misunderstood, he was loved by his loyal diners, and often vilified by those who didn't care for, appreciate, or want to pay for his insanely original and almost always delicious offerings. If we're fortunate enough to see anything like it again we will be very lucky indeed.

Once I attended an evening winter solstice event on Sunset Hill with my family. A very locally-famous chef/entrepreneur/radio personality arrived in the company of several acolytes. He struck up a conversation with my daughter.

Chef: "What restaurants do you like?"
Daughter: (who was 19 at the time) "Well, I really like Lampreia."
Chef: "What are you, some kind of food snob?"
Daughter: "No. But I can tell you exactly where Scott Carsberg is at this very moment."

gabowker

Posted Fri, Oct 19, 11:16 a.m. Inappropriate

I've lived in Seattle all my life, and as an adult have chosen to take most of my meals in restaurants. I appreciate fine cooking but over the years have come to put an equal premium on a pleasant atmosphere and gracious service. I have had few unpleasant experiences in Seattle restaurants, but among the most unpleasant have been my two visits to Lampreia...both times served uninteresting food by a patronizing and condescending server who seemed to go out of his way to make my guest and me feel unwelcome. Carlsberg has plenty of fans, but I can assure you that there are many of us who, while not exactly happy to seem him close, will not miss him or his restaurants in the least. And please don't tell me about his being "misunderstood" or my "not getting it." I "got it" the first time...and after the "second verse" (same as the first) there was nothing more to get. Fine dining is more than just fine food, and that's one thing that Carlsberg and company never seemed to "get."

TaylorB1

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