Sunday, April 29, 2007

Eating. wild mushrooms.

Sunday means brunch, and we head to Volterra, in the Ballard neighborhood. I have come to think of my city as a series of linked villages, each with its own core of restaurants and shops and Sunday farmer's markets. I am familiar with the newly-revitalised Columbia City; it is close to where I used to live. Queen Anne is part of my childhood, when we spent more time at the Seattle Center. Madison Park is home to some of my favorite restaurants, and Capitol Hill is where I work and live and where I now spend most of my time. Downtown is my playground, down to the Pike Place Market and over to the Belltown neighborhood that I know well and yet rarely venture into. Ballard is foreign territory, a new place. I don't quite know how to get there, I don't know my way around. But here we are, on the brick streets lined with trees and funky shops (every neighborhood has funky shops) and cafés and restaurants (again, every neighborhood has its local coffee shop and hot restaurants).

For brunch I momentarily consider pasta, but it is only 10 o'clock in the morning, too early for that earthy wildness of wild boar ragú. I order Eggs Benedict, which comes with wild mushrooms and a Hollandaise sauce faintly touched with truffle oil. It is soft and fragrant and irresistably savory, just enough to leave me wanting more. I distract myself with a bite of my mother's sun-dried tomato frittata, a taste of A.'s chestnut pancakes, and return to my own creamy eggs, the smooth truffle-scented softness of poached egg against the crunch of toasted English muffin. I love the wild mushrooms, the faint muskiness of truffle oil, just enough to meld the flavors of egg, mushrooms, Hollandaise, without drowning each seperate ingredient. But there are more wild mushrooms ahead, because it is not yet noon.

Dinnertime comes, and we head to Nishino, which, if you've been playing close attention, you will know is one of my favorite restaurants. Without my father to guide us I find myself ordering dishes with reckless abandon, to the consternation of my mother, who murmers quietly in my ear that I have ordered too much. We start with baby squid sautéed with green asparagus and morels; the morels are garlicky and intense against the sweetness of the asparagus, roughly textured against the slippery tenderness of the squid. It seems a waste that there is no bread to sop up the buttery juices, I think. I wonder if the staff would notice if I brought my own baguette with me next time. There is a heavy metal pot filled with a savory broth, pieces of sweet black cod and soft white tofu, some kind of wild-tasting green wilting in the heat of the soup, and some kind of unfamiliar mushroom, frilly and pale. And at last comes the Dynamite, a dish of sliced geoduck sautéed with tiny sliced mushrooms (they are so perfect they seem to have come from a can - although they taste fresh) and perhaps some finely diced onions; some mayonnaise has been spread on top and the entire dish run under the broiler until the top is browned and bubbly.

There is sushi, which is as always, excellent, and endless cups of green tea, but all I can think about is the wild mushrooms that have appeared again and again, in all forms, all day...

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