Thursday, October 28, 2010

Restaurant Week

Restaurant week is over. From its humble beginnings in a charming Victorian house in Queen Anne to its farcical finale downtown with me, alone, sprawled across the wet sidewalk at Pike Place market in a 200 dollar dress, assuring a nice looking, concerned older woman that not only was I okay, I was 'PERFECT!'

The week swam by, illuminated by the glow of candlelight in darkly lit dining rooms, flavored by cardamon and truffle salt,  and filled with thin stemmed wine glasses, menus, waiters, musicians, a dozen different creme-fraiches, small square plates with little stacks of meat, rum soaked cherries atop a ruffle of beef on toast, (lots of things presented on toast,) running through streets, catching buses, barely coherent street maps, television actors and the stomach flu.

Now that it's over, I feel as if one of us has been conquered. Either restaurant week or myself, I'm not entirely sure. Although I can say, with some amount of certainty, that restaurant week is over and gone, and I am still standing. There were times over these past seven gastronomically challenging and spiritually stretching  days where I wasn't sure that this would be the outcome.

Trouble Begins
 Queen Anne is a mysterious place. Perched high on top of a very steep hill above Seattle center, it's a neighborhood that you never 'just find yourself near.' Although once you do find yourself there as I did on Monday night (late, and running) it's just delightful.

Queen Anne is famous for having two 1'st streets right next to each other. Side by side. Meaning you can make arrangements to meet someone, say, your friend Little Ben, on 1st street in Queen Anne, and then stand there shouting into your mobile phone: "Yes, I AM here..NO YOU'RE NOT because I AM HERE AND I DON'T SEE YOU!" As somewhere in a downtown sky scraper, a maniacal city planner is laughing.

Despite having only a vague idea of the restaurant's whereabouts, despite my lack of smart phone, despite having circled the circumference of kid's outdoor soccer game four times before landing a parking spot, I arrived at Emmer&Rye only 15 minutes late. Lisa and Miranda, who are never late, who manage to work full time jobs, coach full time teams, and play on a professional ultimate team, were already there. Because they have smart phones.

Emmer&Rye is a little Victorian house with three small dining rooms of polished, cherry wood tables.  Our 25 dollar restaurant week special included appetizers, entrees, and desserts. We elected to get one of everything on the appetizers list and share them. Things started to go wrong immediately, when they all arrived at once and the beet salad was arbitrarily placed in front of me. "Sharing" in Miranda and Lisa's world, it turns out, means passing the tiny plates in a circle, eating one bite of each, and then returning the plate to the original owner. Not the every-man-for-himself feeding frenzy that I had in mind. Afterward we all sampled, I had about two bites of lettuce left on my plate while Lisa had a whole bowl of soup and Miranda had an entire plate of potatoes.

I felt a stab of concern. I'm not an overly crazy eater, it's just that when I'm hungry, I'm really hungry. None of this, 'hey- want to split one appetizer and one entree?' things certain friends and even a waifish exboyfriend have suggested.  No, I do not want to split an amount of food that's intended to feed one. Or, okay, fine- but only if you guarantee we can go out to another restaurant right after this and finish what we started.

But I managed to cool my jets. Fancy restaurants worldwide pride themselves on serving mere specs of food ("fancy bites" I've termed them), but somehow between all the courses and the amuse-bouches that the waiter brings out between meals, you managed to walk away full.

My entree was very, very small indeed. Delicious. Some sort of cracked wheat cake with some wilted something or other for garnish. It was gone in a few bites. I compensated by drinking lots of wine and looking around, wild eyed, at the entrees of the other diners in the room. Believe it or not, every single table in the place was inhabited by three young women.Why, it must be restaurant week.

When dessert appeared on our table, I was shocked. The first 2/3 of the meal had been these tiny little bites. And now here we were served three completely normal sized desserts that stood out like those two regular  sized children of the midgets in "Little People, Big World."  Salted Carmel brownies, butterscotch pot-de-creme in it's little boat with an oatmeal cookie raft stuck in the middle, and ginger cake with a garnish of seasonal fruit coolie. And here I was, armed with a fork, and still famished. I threw caution to the wind and went to town. This was a mistake which would cast a pall over the rest of restaurant week.

After dinner, I went alone to Kerry Park where there is a view of Seattle that will make you really want to be the recipient of an on-sight marriage proposal.

Later that night after I had gone to sleep, I woke up from terrible dreams. Cannibal dreams. I pulled myself out of bed and padded down the hall to the bathroom where I drank hand fulls of water from the faucet, wondering where I had gone wrong. You expect these sort of dreams, they are a natural companion to the  homeostasis desecration and sensory overload of Restaurant Week. But never this early in the game!

I chalked it up to the giant desserts, and the amount of sugar spinning through my bloodstream. In the past few weeks I'd barely eaten any sugar or butter, as a preparation.

Either way, I figured, I'd feel better in the morning. Sleep it off, girl. Sleep it off.

Perfect Friendship

I remember being at an Indian restaurant in Ballard. I remember that Jake was with me and was telling me about Jupiter. The tika masala arrived but it was not masala at all, just some sweet, redish sauce over lumps of chicken. I tried to send it back but the heavyset woman insisted that this was impossible. I picked at my rice instead. As Jake told me stories of teaching astronomy to prison inmates, I decided that if I had to choose one person to be stuck with in a Chilean mine for 67 days, just one person, it would no doubt be Jake. We both drank cup after cup of chai which was constantly being refilled for us after two sips. As a result, I couldn't fall asleep till 3am. Instead I sat in the bath tub drinking sparkling water, and then got out and dried off and emailed Jake about how much I loved him. He wrote me back:

"Chymistry, for example, has its philosopher's stone, geometry its quadrature of the circle, astronomy its longitude; and mechanics their perpetual motion.  [...] morality has its chimera too, and that is disinterested, perfect friendship." - de Fontenelle, 1683

 Back on track.

You have to wait at least half an hour to get a table at Carta de Oaxaca, your back against the brick wall on the dark streets of Ballard Avenue, avoiding eye contract with the homeless people who will ask to pet your puppy, if you've brought your dog along, and then pick her up in a manner that's very bad for a long-backed dog.

Tres Modern and lit by countless glowing portraits of Mexican men and white cotton puff flowers against a bright blue background, Carta is all action and no leisure. Once you're seated, you are packed in so tightly at a communal table and one must be constantly vigilante that one does not put one's elbow into the neighbor's taco plate. 

Tonight's dinner guest was Chris Forsberg, we call him Fozz. Fozz and I coached not one but two high school ultimate teams to not one but two national championships. Something I'm going to brag about till my overzealous eating habits finally do me in. Just in the last few years, Fozz had become a fixture at my Vermont home during the Christmas holiday. I do not know how that happened, but we're all glad it did. Especially my father. Fozz is a bio-statistician who knows all about structural equation modeling, and my dad is all about the structural equation models. Both my parents think he's just a dream and always wonder in the morning, "That bottle of rum that Fozz bought? Wasn't it full yesterday? How many hot toddies did you two...drink?" And I'll look at the nearly empty bottle and say, completely truthfully, "I had one. Actually, I had half of one." 

Yes oh yes Fozz brings the good time. But I still wasn't feeling very good. I looked around the room at the other diners and said mournfully,  "Here I am on the third day of restaurant week and I haven't been feeling very well at all. I can probably order the meatball soup and that's it."  I hung my head.

What Fozz said next changed the course not only of the entire meal, but also the next day's lunch.

"Lina," he said, "Sometimes, it's okay to order two entrees. Just order the soup for now, and whatever else you want, see what happens, and you can always eat it tomorrow."

An hour and a half later, we celebrated another victory at The Fir Tree.

Unbearable Speed.
There appears to be a negative correlation between the hipness of a restaurant and the amount of illumination inside. The Local Vine- way trendy, ultra organic, uber local, on the fringe of both capitol hill and down town, was practically a mine shaft. Dressed in a grey dress with black leggings, my body disappeared in the dark and for the entire evening I was just a head, constantly intaking food and wine, floating above a table of gleaming silver wear and scores of wineglasses.

The girls at the table were impeccably dressed,  white-bright smiles and flat ironed smoothed hair glowed in the pearly lights of white candles. A surprise happy birthday party for Brittany Jacobs. Although, all of us were late because the parking on capitol hill is, well, it almost isn't. At all. When Natalie brought Brittany inside and was led to a long, set out table with nobody there. "Surprise," she had said, giving a limp gesture to the empty table. "Happy...birthday...." Until one by one we arrived, yanked back chairs, swept hair out of our face, and said, "sorry, sorry, parking. parking."

The tiny plates fancy bites were killer. We ate mini deep dish macaroni and cheese with curled apple strings, lollipops of lamb, chantrelle bruchetta. Bottles of wine would appear on the table and then disappear and be replaced by more. The beautiful waitress, dressed all in black, melted into the background and all we could see were her white hands, appearing like a magician or a mime to fill our glasses again and again.  We had entered Restaurant Week Warp Speed.

At some point in the evening a bucket of truffle popcorn was set before me and I completely lost my cool. Truffle popcorn is light, crispy, infused with that indescribable element of truffle oil,  and can be eaten by the fist full. I demolished it, destroyed it, annihilated it, inhaled it. I became protective of it, turned away from the other girls. At some point during this- this vision- a young man appeared, dropped his phone number next to me, smiled graciously, and walked away. Too enraptured to be surprised, I watched him leave and thought, I've done it. My life has officially achieved lift.

On and on and on. Eating and drinking. Flushed faces leaned in closer to tell stories of increasingly theatrical value. Climbing trips were planned, dance lessons scheduled into notebooks, and improv classes discussed. Wine brings a warm, drowsy feeling to the entire body and I could have fallen asleep there, cheek resting against the bottom of the empty popcorn bucket, where trace elements of truffle salt still lingered.

After I payed my portion of the alarming tab, I stepped outside onto the wet sidewalk and jumped into an incredibly expensive blue car. Britta, my college ultimate coach, raised her eyebrows at me. "Hey, kiddo," she said. "You like it? It's new." We took off down first hill towards down town. Besides my father, Britta is the only one in the world who gets away with calling me Kiddo. And even though she always drives, I don't think I've ridden with her in the same car twice.

The Palace Kitchen, open late. Britta, a self proclaimed vampire during the winter months, is a regular here. She knows the menu by heart, told the waiter to bring us 'just whatever you think we'll like.'

I tried to chew on a piece of bread dipped in olive oil and discovered that, once swallowed, it had no place to land. I croaked something about having absolutely no room left. Britta eyed me the same way that she did when we were 14-14 against Stanford in the semi-finals of regionals. "I GOT NOTHING LEFT COACH!" I'd say. And she'd say, "LIKE HELL YOU DON'T! FIND IT! FIND IT NOW'

A silver cauldron of lavender fondue was placed in front of me. And somehow, like an animal, I found the strength to attack. 
It happened.

I do not remember Friday.
Rainn Likely
Restaurant week reached its terminal stages and I ate dinner with Rainn Wilson. He chewed gum very deliberately.  Saturday will be its very own post.


Adriana Iris said...

now i am going to pop some popcorn and drink a beer, salud!

NWGreenGal said...

You are the BEST writer Lina! I was eating up your tales of eating up--delish!

Hope you are well,


Cole said...

It was really nice running into you. Stop by again soon. You're doing a great job with this blog...