Here is today’s Drop-In Dining report from today’s GO section. Drop-In Dining is a continuing series where a TNT staffer drops in unannounced and eats on the TNT’s dime, then writes up a report about the experience. Have a restaurant you would like us to check out? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flying Tomato Italian Grill
10224 198th St. E., Graham; 253-875-0770.
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 am.-10 p.m. Fridays, noon-10 p.m. Saturdays and noon-9 p.m. Sundays.
By Bill Hutchens
The Scene: Cozy hearth-cafe dining meets trendy pasta kitchen. The one-room dining area is dimly lit but warm, quiet and inviting.
Type of food: Tuscany reinvented. Dishes range from build-your-own wood fired "pisas" ($11.99-$20.99) to fancy schmancy seafood and steak (with pasta, of course). All of the basic – and many not-so-basic – pasta dishes ($11.99-$19.99) are here, too, so you can order your spaghetti and meatballs or tricolor tortellini or go for the Marco Polo, fettuccine alfredo with white shrimp and scallops.
Menu highlights: The Flat-Iron Steak ($24.99) is served with sun-dried tomato steak butter, rigatoni and mizithra cheese (add caramelized onions and mushrooms or marsala wine for $3). And the Wood-fired Honey Smoked Salmon Fettuccine ($18.99) comes with huge chunks of tender honeyed salmon. The Dessert Trilogy ($9.99) is a sampling of cannolis, tiramisu and a dessert-of-the-month (currently a lemon sorbet) – or sub in some spumoni.
People in the kitchen: Owner and chef Gary Walker was a part-owner of popular University Place eatery Mama Stortini’s. He moved with that restaurant to Puyallup before he sold his shares to another partner, took some time off and then started up the Tomato. Born in Italy, he learned his culinary ethics from his mother, who could "make something out of nothing," he said. The Tomato is closer to home, smaller and easier to manage, he said, and almost everything is made from scratch. "It’s comfort food," he added, "with great tasting flavors and great family value."
Dishes sampled: Our Flat-Iron Steak was tender and juicy at medium rare. And, as mentioned, the large bites of honey-smoked salmon overwhelmed the fettuccine – in a good way. The Flying Famous Cheese Bread ($7.99) and the toasted sun-dried tomato ravioli filled with smoked gouda ($7.99) were favorites from the appetizer menu. And our big fat calzone ($9.99) was "the biggest fattest calzone ever," according to one young member of our group.
Service: Fast (really fast) and friendly. Our server took care of several full tables at once but was absolutely on-the-spot with beverages, appetizers, main dishes and stuff we didn’t think to ask for (such as extra napkins and extra butter for the bread).
Most unexpected moment: When the "dishes" came out, they were more like platters, piled high with pasta, even when pasta was the secondary component of a meal.
Wild card: After your meal, spin the big wheel at the front desk to win a free menu item for your next visit. For a while, Gary said, his dark humor got the best of him, and the wheel had a "You Lose" segment. Hitting that spot earned spinners a $5 gift certificate to Olive Garden.
Pictured here is Owner, Chef, General Manager Gary Walker with one of his signature dishes, lasagna. (Darren Breen / The News Tribune)