Saturday, December 01, 2007

Eating out. Steelhead Diner.

I thought I'd walk down to the Pike Place Market for lunch today. But where should I go? Café Campagne for quiche? Etta's for the tuna sashimi salad? Maxmilien's for the moules marinières? Or perhaps I should go to the Steelhead Diner. Which is where I wind up, walking down Pike Street, across downtown, past shops and restaurants and throngs of holiday shoppers. The market smells of fried dough and roasting meats as I make my way past tiny cafés and souvenir shops and something called the Falafel King. I can't quite remember where the Steelhead Diner is, but the neon sign of a fish signaled that I had found my destination, up the hill from the market proper.

It is early for lunch, and things are quiet. The waiter tucks me into a small table at the far end of the restaurant, an L-shaped space with a counter that looks into the open kitchen, another long counter down the middle of one leg of the room, and another long bar facing that. There are booths and tables along the other leg of the room, some facing the windows that look over the market and the water beyond. I have my back to the wall, looking over the rest of room, a small window into the kitchen giving a glimpse of white-hatted chefs. I sit back and count the fishing flies that decorate the stretch of booths facing me and think about my lunch.

There are so many things to choose from - should I have the crab cake, which we had last time, or a sandwich? Fried chicken or grilled fish or salad or the caviar pie? At last I settle for the razor clam chowder and the petrale sole; the chowder is light and creamy and rich with the scent of bacon. The bread is the same as last time, something studded with all sorts of grains and seeds, and another bread swirled with cheese and herbs, and I still don't like either. I suppose the past decade of crusty rustic loaves has spoiled me for any other kind of bread.

The fish is simply cooked with lemon and capers, piccata-style, the fish lightly floured and fried before being sprinkled with pine nuts and the lemony sauce. I drink my pomegranate lemonade - sweet and tart and a clear ruby in color - and eat my fish and watch a stream of diners flow in. (It is now closer to the time that normal people eat lunch). It is all extremely tasty, and before I know it the plate is empty. And then I order dessert. (I did walk all the way here, and will be walking all the way back. Uphill). Should it be cake? Or a tart? Or the brownie sundae?

I have the pumpkin crême brulée. It comes with with a piece of praline, the sugar crust a deep gold. The custard is like pumpkin pie filling, only lighter in taste and texture, sweet and spicy against the almost-bitter burnt sugar. I walk out into the cold as if I were floating on air. And then, as I head homewards, it begins to snow, giant flakes the size of a fingernail drifting swiftly down until everything is dusted with white. Including me. I walk in the front door completely covered in snow - I had left three hours earlier wearing all black, and return frosted white - and my doorman laughs at the sight of me.

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