Monday, February 26, 2007

Eating out. Palace Kitchen.

One of my favorite restaurants is Palace Kitchen, one of Tom Douglas' four or five restaurants. Lola is Greek-inspired cooking, excellent in its own way, but you have to be in the mood for it. Dahlia Lounge is his flagship; I find it pretentious and over-hyped. Etta's Seafood is simpler and homier; near the Pike Place Market, it used to be one of our Sunday brunch destinations. I would order their tuna-sashimi salad, which was drizzled with a soy vinaigrette and came with wedges of green-onion pancakes, or perhaps the corned beef hash, which was somehow always a little disappointing. (The newest Douglas restaurant is Serious Pie; I haven't been there yet). Palace Kitchen is my favorite above all of them. I have been eating there since I was in high school, and it has never let me down.

My father is leaving Seattle, dismantling the lab which he has run for some twenty years. He is taking the remaining students - post-doctorate fellows, graduate students, college students - out to dinner to say good-bye. The Yao lab, as one former member put it, is all about food. My father would pile everyone in one of a series of vans - the present one is an electric-blue Volkswagen Eurovan - and they would go out for lunch or dinner together. Or there would be lab parties at our house, potlucks in winter, barbecues in summer. All of that is finished now.

I am early, the first one there, and settle in at the table to peruse the menu and look around the room, dominated by the huge bar in the middle of the room and the open kitchen at the back. Everyone arrives, and we confer about appetizers and drinks and what we want for our main course. R. orders steak tartare, others order salads and soups, and I cannot resist the smoked beef tongue. My father orders the chicken wings, which we always have, spicy hot, the skins blistered from the heat of the grill. The beef tongue is tender and flavorful against a bed of lentils, which fall off my fork and roll around my plate. I steal a bite of R.'s steak tartare, savor my smoked beef, dip some bread into a pool of olive oil.

Several of us have ordered the flank steak, grilled and sliced, drizzled with foie gras butter, and served over braised greens and mashed potatoes. James has been coaxed into ordering the whole grilled trout; he looks rather nervous about contending with the bones, and when his dish arrives he gazes at it with a sort of apprehensive desire, like a cat trying to lap up a pool of spilled milk without getting any on his whiskers. The waitress comes back with another plate, and a knife and fork which she deftly uses to debone the fish for him, at which he gives an audible sigh of relief and digs in. I do this all the time, she tells us, saving his ego. James, I say, when he asks for any advice as to how to eat it, if you feel any bones on your tongue, DON'T swallow. Fortunately, he manages to escape unscathed.

I feel as though I've eaten an entire cow, but dessert beckons. There is a small glass of blood-orange granita, cold and slushy and slightly artificial tasting, which is strange. It takes serious talent to make completely natural ingredients taste like cough syrup. Then there is a piece of chocolate-covered peanut brittle, crunchy-sweet and addictive, but there is just enough to leave me wanting more. I save the maple ├ęclair for last, light and creamy and perfect, again just enough to leave me wanting more. Every time I come here I wonder why I don't eat here more often, and I promise myself that I will try.

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