Renowned chef Scott Carsberg prepares one of the final meals at Bisato. Credit: 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.