5411 Ballard Ave. NW
Date of visit: February 16, 2014
Several years ago, when my nephew, a world-traveler, came to Seattle on a work-related visit, he and his colleagues invited us to dinner, asking us to choose the spot. We wanted the space to be intimate and the food delicious, so we told them we’d meet them at Volterra. Even with a GPS, it took them awhile to find the place, but once they arrived, we had a great dinner and a fun evening. My nephew loved it. He said, “I could have predicted I would like it. That’s how I always know I’m going to be eating in a good restaurant when I’m traveling: if it is hard to find and has no parking, it will be a great dinner!”
Great meals are common at Volterra. There are dishes at Volterra that are so memorable, we have had to order them take-out because someone we loved had an urgent ferocious craving for them—most notably Volterra’s sausage and clams appetizer. In the many times we have dined at Volterra, we have never left our table unhappy. As if the food weren’t enough to satisfy, the wait staff are beyond wonderful, too. It is as though Volterra’s owner has a kind of sixth sense that makes it possible to identify the most interesting, warm, and generous applicants when staffing the place.
Parking, however, is mythically horrible, as my nephew noticed. That is not Volterra’s fault; it is Ballard at night, after all. However, for the wheelchair diner, parking problems are not just an inconvenience; they can present serious obstacles to getting out and about—hence, the missing half-wheel from my rating above.
Parking: There is street parking in front and near the restaurant, as well as a small pay-for parking lot kitty-corner across the street, but all of these spaces are nearly always full, even if you are dining at an unfashionably early hour. The restaurant website advertises parking in “’Ballard Landmark’ Public Parking Garage.” This garage is about a block away from Volterra, and for wheelchair travelers, it’s a little sketchy. There are handicapped spaces right next to the elevator room in the parking garage, but the door to the elevator room is not automatic and the room, itself, had no lighting when we were there. The elevator takes you into a space shared by residents of the building. You’ll be turning left and heading down a short corridor that leads to the doors to Ballard Ave. These doors are automatic, but they didn’t work when we were there, opening a little when we pushed the button and then–haha, fooled you!–closing again as we approached them. Once you get through those doors, you turn to your right and head up the slightly inclined street for a block, cross it, and Volterra is close by on your left.
The little stretch of Ballard Ave. that Volterra occupies is a better choice, if you are lucky enough to find parking spot there. Even one reserved-for-handicapped parking spot in that busy stretch would make life easier for wheelchair visitors to Volterra or any of the other places nearby.
Entrances: There are no stairs at the front door to the restaurant, but the threshold in is quite high. You enter the restaurant in the beautiful bar area, and there is always a hostess there who hurries over to help with the door. The passage through the bar to the dining room is wide and easy to navigate.
Tables: Tables are fairly close together inside the restaurant, but there two easily-accessed tables as you enter the dining room and another easy-to-get-to space at the end of the long L-shaped banquette that runs along two walls of the space. Wheelchairs fit under the tables easily, and servers have ample room to get around you.
Restrooms: Any of the seating spaces noted above gives you easy access to the restrooms, which are unisex. I have only used one, and it was great—grab-bars around the toilet, easy-to-reach toilet paper, and a close-by sink.
Photos of interior space online: A few on the restaurant website and more at Google Images.
Photos of entrances online: Yes at Google Images.
Reservations taken: Yes. When you call to reserve a table, let them know that you will be coming in with a wheelchair. Tell them Spoken Wheel highly recommended them!
What the wheelchair pusher has to say: The entry threshold is a little high, but other than that, everything is wonderful. Bathrooms are good. People are wonderful. Sidewalks out front are great. Other than parking, which is the problem for everyone along that street, it’s a delightful experience.
Overall: Four and a half wheels–good access except for the entryway and occasionally parking.
Photo credit: http://volterraballard.com/