By Don and Peg Doman
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During the seventies I spent many evenings in the Proctor District's Family Tavern planning ways to improve our community with my friends in the Tacoma Junior Chamber of Commerce . . . and drinking beer . . . and playing pool. One thought that never occured to us was to renovate the tavern and make it into a dining pleasure. That idea was the brain-child of Alfredo and Justine Russo.
The Family Tavern was the ideal site that Alfredo and Justine were searching for. They ripped out the old bar and put in a new one. Justine loved the idea of starting new and decorating everything her way. They opened three years ago as the Europa Bistro (2515 North Proctor). They have been doing well every since. Business is excellent. Europa Bistro has been a participant in Zoobilee for the last three years and are looking forward to Zoobilee 2004.
The small sidewalk eating area reminded us of a romantic dinner Peg and I had outside a hotel in Seattle. Open air eating is always nice . . . and sociable. Kitty-corner from the Europa is Starbuck's where you can enjoy your coffee almost anytime of day on the corner of 26th and Proctor. Just down the street is the Metropolitan Market where Peg and I have eaten many times under their awning. And of course, open-air seating is a feature of many European restaurants. From the tables outside you can enjoy the general hubbub of the neighborhood, visiting with your friends and once a year, watching the Junior Daffodil Parade.
Europa Bistro has Tuscan decor. There is gold ochre and umber on the floors and walls. Sage green chairs sit around the tables. Sunny Mediterranean scenes of lavender fields and Tuscan hills are the subjects of two nice prints on the wall. Flowers greet you as you enter the restaurant.
Alfredo Russo is from Carinola, near Naples. He and Justine have lived in Tacoma for eight years. They met at a Seattle restaurant where he was chef and Justing used to come in with her friends. Alfredo was the chef responsible for the turnaround Italian menu at Luciano's on Ruston Way. Justine worked there also as pastry chef. They want the feeling of a big, friendly Italian family gathering at their restaurant: boistrous, lots of laughter, lots of smiles. As part of that family Justine loves to have kids around. She doesn't mind that they play with plates or even drop and break one.
The sample that Europa Bistro will be providing at Zoobilee this year is their Prosciutta wrapped prawns. The plate we were served had four prawns on it, but I think in the sample there might be only one. For our tasting event Alfredo had not received his ordered eggplant, so we settled for an excellent bed of zucchinis, peppers, and tomatoes.
The vegetables were excellent, and the prawns wrapped with the Italian prosciutta ham were outstanding. They were alltogether sweet, salty and crunchy. They were cooked perfectly. No wonder that Justine says, "Alfredo is a magician in the kitchen."
Each table has a bottle of olive oil flavored with herbs and spices. Besides adding a nice touch of golds, browns and reds, the olive oil is a nice accompaniment to Justine's wonderful bread. The olive oil left a nice little tingle on my tongue.
On a nice summer day, it would be very pleasant to sit outside on Proctor (holding hands with Peg), eating bread, dipping it into pools of the flavored olive oil paired with Roma tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Oh, yes, and a few bottles of wine . . . red Italian wine. In between sips of wine we could wave to our friends and invite them over to share a story or two.
The prawns for Zoobilee will be served on a bed of eggplant resting on a pasta waffer. This should add an extra crunch and another depth of taste. Peg and I thoroughly enjoyed the sampling at the restaurant and I'm sure we will sample a few more at Zoobilee on July 16h.
We'll have to visit the restaurant, also. I want to try the clams and mussel appetizer with the lemon and white wine broth. I like food were you can extend the flavor of the dish by dipping bread into it.
Peg wants to try the grilled salmon. Europa Bistro also takes part in the Proctor's Farmer's Market. Where they feature homemade Italian sausage sandwiches.
Justine and Alfredo like to do every thing from scratch -- from choosing their location, decor, menu and desserts.
Although the kitchen and the other working space is small at the Europa Bistro, Alfredo and Justine have been able to make a big impact on dining in the Proctor District. The restaurant is family friendly, food friendly, pocketbook friendly, and . . . well, just friendly.
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