The pandemic has left most of us hungry. We crave social contact, enriching experiences beyond our front doors and great food that doesn’t involve making it ourselves. That’s precisely why Storia Cucina should be your next destination! The new Italian eatery, designed by architect Daniel Ewald, on Bellingham’s Grand Avenue (formerly Michael’s Books), delivers a fun, casual atmosphere coupled with great food that’s reasonably priced.
Owner Jonathan Sutton left his restaurant in San Francisco to return to his Pacific Northwest roots earlier this year and planned to open Storia Cucina with Chef de Cuisine Arlen Coiley on March 18. The pandemic wreaked havoc with their opening and it wasn’t until May that they were able to begin offering a to-go program.
Last week the restaurant finally opened for indoor dining, with six tables inside and a couple on the sidewalk. It’s all ready generating buzz in the county for its cool cocktails, amazing pizzas and pastas and all-round fun environment.
First, the space is truly beautiful, with a handsome bar whose seats will be put to good use once the pandemic is behind us. A whimsical mural covers an entire wall while large images of Sutton’s niece Olive – a toddler having an amazing time with pasta – decorate the opposite wall. An open kitchen at the back of the restaurant is illuminated by a large skylight and adds a feeling of openness and transparency to the restaurant. Customers can also head next door to Thousand Acres Cider House for ciders and Storia’s pizza.
“My goal was to bring something new and affordable to the community using good quality ingredients,” Sutton confided. “That’s something chefs are battling with these days, when everyone wants things done faster and more affordably. My goal was to find great yet affordable ingredients that allow us to make beautiful food.”
Sutton and Coiley source their flour from Cairn Springs Flour in Skagit Valley and use it as the base for their pizzas and pastas. Mozzarella comes from Ferndale Farms, meat from Carne Meats, fresh greens from Mama Bird Farms on San Juan Island and seafood from Taylor Bay Shellfish. Sutton is especially proud of his sourdough starter, which dates back to 1971 in San Francisco and has been kept alive ever since. The yeast-free dough, made a day ahead so it can rise slowly, makes a fantastic thin-crust pizza that’s soft and filling without feeling like a stone in your stomach later.
The menu is full of comfort food: rich tomato soup meatballs, focaccia, generous one-size pizzas ($12-$17) and cool pastas like pappardelle Bolognese ($18), squid ink gnocchetti ($22) and lumache pomodoro ($14). All the pasta is made in-house and during happy hour, 3-6 p.m., you can get a $3 ‘tigelle,’ an Italian street sandwich, a $10 margherita pizza and discounts on beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages.
The chefs are also happy to offer free scarpetta. Italian for ‘little shoe,’ the scarpetta is a piece of bread you use to ‘mop’ up extra sauce left on your plate from your entrée. It’s an Italian thing, and a great way to enjoy every last bit of your meal!
We loved the marinated beets ($6) topped with pistachios and shaved radish, and relished the soft texture of the margherita pizza, made with san Marzano tomatoes. Our cacio e pepe, a bucatini pasta with pecorino, was a testament to how great a simple dish can be when it’s well made. Handmade, the bucatini pasta is a hundred times better than any store-bought pizza and in a category all of its own.
Transforming the old Michael’s Books space into Storia Cucina was an effort build on friendship and trust. Sutton is an accomplished ceramist whose beautiful, handmade candle votives, milk jugs, cups and saucers are used by guests. His ceramics teacher, Pinkney Templeton, created the mural on the interior wall while Coiley and his father took care of the carpentry.