Friday, August 03, 2007

Eating out. Café Presse.

About a month ago Café Presse opened about four blocks away from my apartment, almost directly on the way to and from work. This is extremely dangerous, because it has been all too easy to stop by on my way to work in the morning for breakfast or on my way home for a snack or dinner. I have now eaten there many times; there have been many steaming cafe-au-laits sipped and brioches buttered and eaten, more croques monsieur consumed in those weeks since the café opened than in my whole life. There have been innumerable sandwiches that are mostly baguette-and-butter with a whisper of jambon cru (like prosciutto, only...French) and a smear of mustard. The sandwiches always come with exactly three cornichons. (I suppose two would be too few and four too many).

Tucked away next to a self-storage place Café Presse is a long, narrow room (apparently a corridor leads you past the kitchen and to another dining room in the back) with banquettes along one wall and a bar on the other. The tables are too close together and I (neither particularly slim nor graceful at the best of times) nearly always bump into something on my way to sliding onto the hard wooden bench. But once in I can relax, look down at the menu printed on thick yellow paper, with its short list of selections that I have come to know almost by heart. I can look at the bottles lined up along glass shelves behind the bar, against the slightly old-fashioned-looking pale blue patterned wallpaper that clashes gently with the tables, whose smooth tops are the sludgy color of pea soup. There are bottles of Ricard and Lillet, all kinds of vodkas and whiskies and scotches and bourbons and gins. Glasses of all shapes and sizes glint next to pottery pichets that come in small (demi) and regular (the owners of Café Presse have another bar-restaurant-café near the Pike Place Market named for those little pitchers - Le Pichet - the older sister to the new baby).

I have eaten at the bar, perched uncomfortably on a high stool of dark wood with my book and a dish of falafel. From my seat I could watch the bartender pour bourbon over ice, hear the quiet ssssssst as the golden liquid hit the ice, see the faint cloud of mist that rose above the glass. But usually I sit at a table against the wall; in the morning I can see the sunlight sparkle across the burnished gleam of the brioches, and at night I can watch people drink martinis or glasses of rosé as they think about the night's meal. Tonight is no exception. I order a plate of salami, which comes with a square of butter, a heap of grey sea salt, and a handful of pink-and-white radishes. There is a plate of bread and more butter, and another of tomatoes, sliced and dressed with a sort of onion mush and a scoop of tapenade. All sorts of tastes and textures come together as I eat my dinner; the radishes have a crisp bitterness mellowed by the sweetness of butter and sharpened by the crunch of salt. The tomatoes are ripe and sweet against the soft bite of onion, the salty savoriness of the tapenade. The bread is good, a tender and slightly elastic crumb beneath the crackling crust, and I fold the translucent slices of salami between pieces of bread.

I need something sweet, and they have chocolate mousse tonight, which comes in a bowl heaped high with whipped cream. It is rich and dense and creamy and the taste of chocolate fills my senses. The walk home seems to be over in a flash.