I could tell the battery was wearing down. The lights were dimming intermittently, the engine was chugging when it should have been humming and I was beginning to hear clinking and clanking when there should have been purring.
Grapefruit, mache and blackberry salad at the Fairmont.
Thank goodness a kind samaritan offered a helping hand in the form of a free pass to a day-long writing seminar in Seattle, given by Dianne Jacob of "Will Write for Food" fame, one that came with a room at the graceful Fairmont Olympic, the grande dame of the city's historic hotels.
Dave, self-sacrificing guy that he is, volunteered to putter around the Emerald City's beer halls while I was otherwise occupied, then meet up for cocktails and dinner. After a lunch provided by the hotel's chef, Gavin Stephenson, featuring dried, shaved grapefruit slices on the salad and pop rocks in the dessert, we hit a little speakeasy my brother had told me about called the Zig Zag Café (top photo) that was tucked down a stairway behind the Pike Place Market.
Zig Zag's Manhattan.
With the rain pouring down it was hard to locate, but we found its dark doorway and were ushered to a corner table with a good view of the bar where we could watch the tango between bartenders, servers and customers as they noshed, shook and drank. A place where the classics reign, I ordered a Manhattan, my new favorite cocktail, and Dave had his usual martini (dry, up, olives). They were perfection.
A day spent in a brightly lit hotel meeting room receded further into the background with every sip, and by the time I bit down on the whiskey-soaked amarena cherry it had stopped raining outside and the sun was slipping into Puget Sound.
We'd decided on a little place called Lark for dinner, a spot that came highly recommended (thanks, Langdon!) and was just a short drive up the hill from the hotel. Not in the mood for a big, fancy (and expensive) dinner, I knew the simple storefront was just the ticket when we drove up, and walking in it was clear we'd made the right choice.
For some reason it reminded me of a boathouse, though there was nary an oar or float in sight, with unfinished wood rafters and a simple, open room with artwork on the walls and sheer curtains to break up the space and muffle the sound. Seated on a banquette in the back against the windows, with tables near enough but not too close together, it was busy without being bustling and intimate but not dark.
Already well-cocktailed, we ordered a moderately priced bottle, a Mas Que Vinos Ercavio tempranillo, a full-bodied and earthy Spanish red. We also started with a half dozen Penn Cove oysters from Whidbey Island, fresh oysters being something we seemingly can't avoid ordering when we see them on a menu. Firm and briny without being meaty, these came with a lemon granita that, to my mind, would have overwhelmed their lovely brightness, so we shared it as a palate-cleanser before the next course came, a carpaccio of Yellowtail with preserved lemons and green olives.
Farro with mushrooms and ramps.
I'm guessing the olives were cerignola or something like them, slivers that gave the softly textured fish a bit of bite but adding only a mild saltiness. Someone in the kitchen has a deft hand with the subtle of interplay of flavor and texture without being precious about it. Which was evident in the next course, as well, a Bluebird Grain Farms farro with wild ramps and mushrooms that came in a tiny cast iron pan. An easy grain to over or undercook, this was toothy and richly flavored, the color of warm earth and tasting of spring.
Our mains, mine a hefty duck leg confit that was probably the best version I've had from that bird, meaty and luscious with crispy, salty skin, was served with lightly dressed, sliced new potatoes and watercress. Dave opted for the pork belly, a square of fatty pig that came with spring peas and quartered bulbs of spring onions sitting on braised greens drizzled with a mustard jus. Need I say his knees were buckling?
I also have to say that the service here is exceptional…friendly and casual yet efficient and knowledgeable. Our server was well-informed about the wine list, the entrées and sources of ingredients, but only engaged when asked. With a menu this incredible and varied, and ingredients treated with such loving respect, it'll be hard to not return on our next trip up north.
Details: Fairmont Olympic Hotel, 411 University St. Phone 206-621-1700 or 1-888-363-5022.
Zig Zag Café, 1501 Western Ave. Phone 206-625-1146.
Lark, 926 12th Ave. Phone 206-323-5275.