Friday, July 25, 2008

"That caviar is a garnish."

Last night I had the pleasure of dining at Steelhead Diner near Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle at the corner of 1st Ave. & Pine St. I had received an invitation from their public relations representative in late June through my company and she and I set up a time for me and a guest to come and familiarize ourselves with the restaurant. I told her I would be very happy to accept. I was pleasantly surprised to get the invitation in the first place and eagerly awaited for July 24th to role around. Fortunately, those three weeks since I received the initial email passed quickly.

My plus one for the evening, Luke, and I meandered about Pike Place Market and the adjacent park prior to walking into the blue-tinged light of Steelhead at 8:00PM. We waited for a few brief moments before the host came over and asked if we were with the other people crowded at the doorway. I said no and told her my name. She perked up and with visible direction whisked Luke and I over to a table right next to the bar. Waiting for us there was Connie Adams, the PR agent who had contacted me about this evening and the owner of the restaurant herself, Terresa Davis. I immediately felt welcome and privileged to be there.

The blinds were closed behind our hosts, but later in the evening, a waiter lifted these to reveal the incredible views possessed by Steelhead of the Market and Elliot Bay as the sun went down turning the sky a purple, mango and orange hue. Luke and I later concluded that the table was probably the best seat in the house, perched at the edge of the dining room overlooking the water.

Almost immediately after we sat down and introduced ourselves, the food started coming and it didn’t really stop until about two and a half hours later. First up was a beautiful spread of their savory appetizers including a SLICE OF CAVIAR PIE with Traditional Garniture—I confessed that I had never actually had caviar before and that really the only association I had with caviar was the scene in You’ve Got Mail in which Meg Ryan’s character briskly informs Tom Hanks, “That caviar is a garnish.” In reply, Hanks simply spoons off more caviar onto his plate. I came to a very positive verdict on the side of caviar and would definitely order it again. The additional small plates we shared were CRISPY CHICKEN SPRING ROLLS with Green Papaya Salad & Whirred Ginger Vinaigrette, a JUMBO LUMP DUNGENESS CRAB CAKE with Crispy Parsley & Sauce Louis and a platter of hot FRIED SMELT with a mustard sauce. Each dish had a distinct flavor and was just as delicious as the next making it nigh impossible for me to choose a favorite starter.

Prior to eating, I had been eyeing the mojitos that our hosts were already sipping on when we arrived and when the waiter came to take our order, Luke and I knew what we wanted to drink. Terresa informed us that in fact they had actually been drinking Steelhead’s signature, “No-Jito” sans alcohol but Luke and I opted for the “Mo-” variety—Steelhead also has a “Cos-No-politan” for those looking to have a non-consequential libation.

The entrée selections of the evening involved a flavorsome GREEN BEAN dish, crisp, delightful POTATO LATKES With Chive Sour Cream & Apple Sauce, a WATERMELON SALAD everything-KFC-wishes-it-could-be-SOUTHERN FRIED HALF CHICKEN with Buttermilk Gravy & Wilted Spinach, a large portion of an OLIVE ENCRUSTED ALASKAN HALIBUT and a BRAISED BEEF dish, which was loaded with flavor. I could have eaten ten of the latkes and if I had not been so full, finished up those green beans!

Topics of conversation throughout the dinner ranged from business information, a who-knows-who in the hospitality industry, to queries about Luke and my respective educations. Inevitably the latter subject led me to talk about my Senior Thesis project which I had completed for my English Honors Seminar the topic for which was, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and also the cultural experiences I had while presenting the paper at Slayage Conference 3 in June. Terresa later said that she had not been aware of the academic potential of the show, so I was happy to be the one to assist in making that revelation! We also talked about Luke’s Architectural studies and his related interests that had been long in brewing. I was so happy that Luke was able to come with me to such a great evening and I could not have asked for better chemistry between the members of our dinner party.

At a few points during dinner, I asked Terresa and Connie about each of their professional backgrounds and how they came to be in the restaurant industry and Steelhead especially. It turns out Terresa and I went to the same university—though I was at that particular institution for only just over a year. Terresa, hails from Australia, but has had tremendous restaurant experience here in Seattle working in management at Wild Ginger, accounting at Oceanaire and spending a fair amount of time with Tom Douglas Restaurants. Her husband and business partner, Kevin, is the head chef at Steelhead having worked previously at Sazerac and Oceanaire before eyeing the space formerly occupied by Vivanda and turning it into Steelhead in early 2007. When they presented their concept—a Pacific Northwest-oriented diner—to the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority and the Market's Historic Commission, their ideas were met with great enthusiasm and having finally made it in to see the real thing, I can certainly see why. Steelhead lives up to that vision and satisfies a unique and much-valued position in Seattle’s dining culture. It is a place locals can return to and continue to enjoy and a spot that tourists coming up through the Market can come to and have a great meal in a friendly, relaxed environment.

Dessert was just as welcome as everything that had come before—food and company included. We all partook of the MINT CRÈME BRÛLÉE and the must-have BLACK VELVET Quadruple Layer Chocolate Cake with Coconut, Almonds & Olympic Mountain Coconut Ice Cream. Cappuccinos accompanied.

After dessert we took a quick tour of the restaurant, going to the outdoor patio first which I could see would be a great place to eat and sip a mimosa during their Sunday brunch. They also have a private dining facility that, when not reserved, serves as additional space for their à-la-carte guests. An open kitchen with stools in front of the counter is a great spot for solo-dining or guests wanting to feel like a part of the action or to say a quick hello to Kevin in the kitchen.

Shaking hands with our hosts and parting ways, Luke and I both knew that we had experienced something wonderful.

Seeing Terresa and Connie there waiting for my guest and I at the table made me feel so honored be there and it was a feeling that was never lost during the near three hour dinner. The incomparable blend of consistently good food, comfortable atmosphere, superior service, and fantastic conversation made for an evening that exceeded our expectations and turned a meal into a veritable gourmet event.

Many, many thanks to our gracious hosts. I expect to return quite soon!

UPDATE: Apparently by "soon" I meant less than 24 hours later as I went back to eat at Steelhead for dinner on Friday night. Great sausage sandwhich and poutine!

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