Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Eating out. Steelhead Diner. And other adventures.

My friend M. arrives just as it begins to rain. At the airport I hear her voice on the phone for the first time since she graduated college a year ahead of me, six years ago, and leap from the car to find her on the sidewalk outside the luggage concourse. It surprises me that even from a distance I recognize her immediately, that she looks the same. But then how many hours did we spend together all those years ago, listening to techno and Russian pop music, how many meals did we share in dining halls and cafés and various off-campus apartments, how many cups of tea or coffee or icy shots of vodka did we drink together? The people you know well are always the same, from across a hundred feet or six fleeting years.

M. has never been to Seattle before, and I want her to see all the things I love, beginning with the view of the city from the freeway as we drive towards her hotel. I have thought this out in advance - perhaps a stroll through the sculpture park, a visit to the newly expanded art museum, and a walk around the Pike Place Market before dinner. One out of three is not bad. The visit to the sculpture park is scrapped due to a) the rain and b) I am confused by the one-way streets and cannot get to the parking garage due to traffic. Our visit to the museum is curtailed by the need for a snack, more specifically a cabbage-and-onion piroshky from the tiny Russian bakery in the market (we were, after all, brought together by an interest in Russia - in my case due in part to someone I will refer to only as the White Russian). By the time we have eaten our piroshkys - warm, brioche-like dough wrapped around a filling of sautéed cabbage and onions and baked until golden - and walked to the museum, it is ten minutes to closing, leaving us just enough time to run into the museum for some little trinkets.

Our wanderings take us down to the water and the piers with their shops and fast-food stands. I haven't been here in years, and the last time I was at the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop I was probably about four feet tall. At the end of the day, most of the tourists have gone; it's just the two of us and a few stragglers. It is exciting to see my city through someone else's eyes, to watch them experience a place you have loved all your life. I am glad to see M. in my hometown, glad to find that the parts of us that we show to the world may have changed - at least I feel mine have - but that we are the same people to each other, and that I might have just seen her yesterday instead of before I was old enough to legally drink in this country. But night is falling, the stores are closing, and we head back up towards the market to the Steelhead Diner.

Inside is part old-fashioned-diner and part trendy-modern restaurant, with a menu to match. Our minds are made up quickly - two appetizers, and an entrée to share. There is a perfect crab cake, all fat lumps of crabmeat, heaped with a pile of crispy fried parsley, floating in a pool of sauce Louis. I have no idea what sauce Louis is, but it was creamy and smooth and slightly tangy. Then there is a slice of caviar pie, a base of cream cheese beaten with what seems like sour cream and mixed with hardboiled egg and onion, the white surface hidden beneath a bright rainbow of caviar, dark grey, orange, golden, red, surrounded with more bits of onion and egg and capers, ready to spread on the accompanying toast. Next comes perfectly battered fish and chips, with homemade tartar sauce fragrant with - what is it? - dill.

It seems impossible that we can eat more, but I have just enough room for a golden lemon cake that looks like a small castle, hidden beneath a swirl of intense lemon curd and a cap of soft whipped cream. I steal a bite of M's dark pound cake, a slice of poached pear heady with red wine. There is hot mint tea, and more conversation; I drink my tea and think of how Mary Cantwell wrote that when you ate alone, it left you free to concentrate on your food, and I think of how when you are with other people, your attention is divided between each bite of the food before you, and your companion. And a shared past.

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