Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dinner out. Palomino.

It is nearly seven o'clock when we stumble out of work, and there are only three things on my mind: food, shopping, and a mojito. Not necessarily in that order. There is only one hour before the stores close, but it only takes an hour to find all manner of adorable things that I cannot live without. Pale cream stoneware mugs, sprinkled with dabs of color, for coffee or juice or milk. There is a little cup shaped like an owl for pencils or toothbrushes or cotton swabs and hairpins; I've found tiny bowls for nuts or condiments or sipping jasmine-scented tea after dinner. My kitchen cupboards are filling up slowly with little finds like these; it is a little more like a home now.

With a sense of elation and excitement I leave the shop and head to dinner a block away, at Palomino. The restaurant is on the third floor of a shopping mall; it is part of chain, with outposts in various cities. It is soulless and corporate and sprawling and noisy, without the cosy intimacy or inventiveness of small restaurants that serve seasonal ingredients in ever-changing menus. But I love it. The menu is always the same, which is part of the appeal. The food is consistently good, the waitstaff are all extremely nice, and they give you free parking, which is rare in downtown Seattle.

The vast restaurant is bustling when we arrive, and instead of waiting for a table C. and I head to the bar, where you can order the full menu. I need a mojito. It was a really long day. My drink comes in a tall glass, icy and beaded with condensation, minty and cool and exactly what I needed. The day fades away as I drink it, as we chat and muse over the menu. I order grilled salmon instead of my usual pasta; I feel like something extravagant tonight. Some bread arrives, rosemary-scented focaccia served with a tomato salsa studded with bits of cheese and olives, sweet and salty at the same time.

Our dinner arrives, piping hot and enticing. My salmon is crisp around the edges and moist inside, with a smooth tartar sauce crunchy with artichokes. There are mashed potatoes and a salad with some sort of vinaigrette and crumbled bits of creamy gorgonzola. It is all immensely satisfying, the tender fish and crisp salad and comforting potatoes. C. slides a bite of her veal short ribs over; they are rich and slightly sweet and fatty and totally addictive. I return to my fish, which soon disappears, and reflect on why I like this restaurant so much, even if it is part of a corporate and soulless chain (not that there's anything wrong with a chain restaurant). Eating here is rather a little like shopping at Banana Republic; it's not cheap, but it's not too expensive, either; it's not particularly interesting or exciting, but I always walk in knowing that I'll find something that will make me happy.

Dessert arrives, a plum cobbler, hot and sweet and full of ripe fruit. There is a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting into a cool sauce. We are full and happy as we stumble off of our stools (at least, I stumble) and head home. The day is over.

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