Recently, I made the short trek down 2nd Street to Trattoria Colea, the newly opened Italian restaurant that has taken the place of South Fork Grill, where I was greeted by chef/owner Makaiwi Wachter. We sat down to chat in a space that much resembled the South Fork, but had a few noticeable changes in décor. Throughout my time with Makaiwi, I was enlightened on the origins of Italian cuisine, his thoughtful strategy in creating a menu, and his dedication to his customers.
Makaiwi wasn’t always a chef. Originally from Vancouver, WA, he worked in the front of the house in restaurants until 2005, until he decided he wanted to be making the food, too. He and his family moved to Walla Walla to allow him to pursue his interest in food and wine and to give his children a charming community and an engaging school system to grow up in. He worked at The Depot and ran the kitchen at the Wild Horse Casino before taking over at South Fork Grill in November. Makaiwi didn’t think the menu embodied his own culinary interests and wanted to focus on a cuisine that would make the most of the seasonal bounty of the area, so he transitioned the restaurant into the family-run Trattoria Colea. His wife and kids, though busy, all lend a helping hand when they can.
Since its opening, Trattoria Colea has sought to find the balance between presenting time-honored Italian dishes and more Americanized Italian dishes to cater to diners of all types. Makaiwi has worked hard to incorporate customer feedback into the menu, changing a dish like the Spaghetti and Meatballs, for example, to make the meatballs a bit spicier. He has also taken his pasta back to its original Asian, not Italian, roots to create a noodle that holds up well in the sauce. Asian noodles like Udon incorporate alkali, which prevent them from becoming mushy in liquid. Many customers tell him that the homemade pasta (just about everything here, for that matter, is made from scratch) is the best they’ve ever had. Additionally, he offers vegan options like polenta as well as a gluten-free pasta to cater to dietary restrictions. For lovers of something more traditionally Italian, he recommends the Bolognese, though his current favorite dish is a beautiful presentation of Squid Ink Ravioli stuffed with Dungeness Crab and served with a Fennel-Orange Pesto Cream Sauce. By balancing traditional dishes like Bolognese with more creative approaches like the Squid Ink Ravioli, Trattoria Colea is able to appeal to customers of all types. Notably, customers seem to love the very affordable prices, too.
With all of this in mind, it seems obvious why many customers have already become regulars. Customers new and old can look forward to an upcoming weekly Lasagna night and more. Without a doubt, this increasingly popular establishment will continue to ground itself in tradition and made-from-scratch items while offering new and creative approaches to Italian cuisine.