I love brunch. It brings to mind long, leisurely late morning-early afternoon hours at the table, in cozy little restaurants with bare wooden tables, or restaurant dining rooms with white tablecloths and miles of buffets. When I was growing up we would often go out to brunch on Sundays. Saturdays belonged to Chinese school and tennis lessons and piano lessons; Sundays meant lounging around in my pajamas reading the comic strips in the Sunday paper, eggs or pancakes and bacon or bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, or crossaints from the French bakery in the market. When I was learning to drive, on weekends, we would drive (with me at the wheel) along the winding road by the lake to the Arboretum, where we would go for a walk, before heading off to lunch and shopping. Usually we went to the Pike Place Market, stopping at one of our favorite restaurants for steamed mussels or eggs Benedict or quiche and a salad, and then browse among the stalls for local produce, bread, flowers.
Today we head to the Fairmont Olympic hotel, formerly the Four Seasons, an imposing edifice that fills a square block and is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. Elegant and traditional and perhaps a little stuffy, not sleek and modern like the other hotels that have sprung up more recently, spiffy young upstarts challenging the grande dame. A. pulls up swiftly to the entrance where liveried doorman usher us inside out of the rain; an escalator carries us up to the grand lobby. Past cozy groupings of chairs and little tables (for afternoon tea, or drinks), up a few steps, and we are in the Georgian Room, a high, vast, square room painted a pale yellow that creates its own aura of sunlight and warmth. White moldings curl around the walls like lace; four towering square planters sprouting palm trees anchors the space. Across the room, a huge group of giggling young women are having a baby shower, passing presents around and ooh-ing and aah-ing, waving champagne flutes. Other people are having afternoon tea already, silver cake stands piled with pastries and sandwiches towering over pots and cups and saucers. But we are here for brunch.
The service is polite but glacial, that is, glacially slow. A plate arrives with my lunch neatly arranged on its pristine white surface. A small bowl of bean soup, with crisp lardons, a bright romaine salad tossed with shavings of cheese, and a toasted bagel with a slice of smoked salmon and egg salad. (Brunch should by law include smoked salmon, eggs, and bagels, and bonus points for getting them all together at once). The egg salad has bits of truffle and perhaps some truffle oil as well, giving it a moody intensity against the creamy egg and salty salmon. A. passes me a piece of her giant shrimp, wrapped in prosciutto and grilled. (It is my firm belief that wrapping something in prosciutto immediately raises it to another level of culinary nirvana). They have forgotten to bring bread, and it doesn't arrive until our plates have been cleared. And the bread is the best part of the meal, fresh and light and airy, with a dense, crisp crust, perfect for breaking apart and spreading with sweet butter. I love brunch; it is like eating breakfast, but only better.