fontanaWhat it is about jets of water cascading into the air from a simple fountain that suddenly puts one’s spirit at ease?

The last week here in Seattle has been one of blistering heat—with a record-setting 103 degrees on Wednesday. I had made plans to have lunch with one of my clients at a small restaurant here in Belltown, La Fontana Siciliana. It was a place I had often walked by, but never actually eaten a meal at, yet it had always intrigued me. Yesterday, I found out why. The restaurant is nestled in a small courtyard on the ground floor of an unremarkable stripped down Italiante building, and entered by passing under an iron pergola. Given the day’s heat, there was no question but that we would sit in the open air courtyard. On closer examination, the courtyard itself mimicked the building’s tw0-tone brick design, with windows on the upper floors looking dim and stifling in the afternoon’s heat. The fountain that bestowed its on the restaurant was equally simple—octagonal, a hodge-podge mix of pottery ringing the edge, peeling paint visible within. Were we in Rome, perhaps there would have been some incidental touches in this restaurant’s setting that would have softened the effect of the whole, or perhaps it would at least have appeared that way to a foreign visitor. Everything would have been judged more harshly in city with a history of exceptional fountains.

But yesterday, none of this mattered. The simple fact that we had entered an enclosed space, made cool with greenery and trickling water was enough to create an oasis in the city. Yes, the noise of jackhammers, taxicabs, and accelerating buses was still audible, but we were shielded from it all by the simplest of design tricks—a partially enclosed space.

Why don’t we do this more often in this county? It’s such an easy fix—creating spaces where people can relax and refresh. In America’s cities, it seems to be rare. If there are special places you’ve visited that have helped you recharge, tell us about them.

There’s one last thing I haven’t mentioned that helped enhance the experience enormously—the food, and the service. La Fontana’s owner, Mario Fuenzalida knew just how much to attend to us and when to leave us alone. For our lunch, we began with Insalata Cesare, here served as a romaine wedge with a drizzle of dressing and lemon,and ordered two risottos: risotto primavera with pesto and risotto ai funghi. Both were sublime. From what we could deduce, they were simply made but perfectly prepared. Although I’m sure the mushroom risotto cannot be exactly duplicated, this recipe from Epicurious, a site I like, seems close to what we enjoyed.

Before leaving, a visit to the restaurant’s interior revealed small library desks individually lighted and accented with family antiques. A definite future dinner location. But today, in the 103 degree heat, it was all about the fountain.