Vacations have proved disruptive to me. That may be because I have always lived in the most exciting or beautiful areas of the country and quickly long to return to my base whenever I leave it. On my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I found a few places that teased the senses and others that dulled the spirit sending mixed feelings on quickly jaunting home.
When checking into the Mayflower Park Hotel- a classic with exceptional service, a convenient location and a reasonable rate, I was anxious to explore the culinary intimacies of the city.
The concierge directed Kranston and I to Pike Place Market. One of the suggestions was to try Etta´s, a Tom Douglas restaurant. I don´t know Douglas but have watched him on T.V. and I am familiar with his style, work and reputation. I use his rubs, religiously. I admire his drive and ambition. He is an icon in Seattle and he has developed a small group of great restaurants. His coconut cream pie, which is the first major lapse I had from diligent adherence to the Sonoma Diet, is close to the greatest dessert I have ever experienced. I was fortunate enough to have experienced it at the Dahlia Lounge, Douglas´ flagship restaurant. The event saved the evening, the whipped cream on the night, if you will.
My earlier experience, at Etta´s, was not so tasty. Having eaten the previous night at Café Campagne I assumed the market area of Seattle was a safe bet, since Campagne proved to be enjoyable with good service and above average presentation. I broke my rule and wandered to the tourist area.
I had made a reservation at Etta´s sight unseen. Seldom do I do this, but I had been at the Dahlia earlier in the day and assumed the ambiance, style, and level of taste would be the same. I was wrong.
Etta´s may have shined before the days of global warming, but the eatery is in dire need of a facelift. I don´t write this to bring it to Douglas´ attention. I am sure he is aware of the stages restaurants go through in their given life expectancy and I would presume that somewhere on his list of priorities Etta´s takes a position of importance. But it has evolved into the ultimate tourist restaurant. We have all been in them. And, most of us only go once.
The food at Etta´s, was highly overpriced, (Four Day Boat Scallops, $30.00) and wasn´t the above average culinary experience one would expect from a restaurant with Douglas´ signature on it. And the presentation didn’t make up for the lack of culinary inconsistency. Kranston, however, enjoyed the Halibut, and the rubbed flavor that came through brought the dish to average ranking. However, it was the ambiance , or lack of it, that was most shocking.
The difference between the Dahlia and Etta’s is the difference between Kranston’s classic Mercedes and my mountain running Suzuki Samurai.
Upon entering Etta’s, we were greeted by a very congenial host, along with high chairs stacked against the wall next to the hostess stand. A very Denny´s style. We were brought to a table next to the window that sat atop carpeting that had experienced major traffic over the years. Cushioned chairs with metal arms are a sign that the restaurant does tremendous volume. Used to ward off announcements of wear, metal shouts tourism.
A darkened bar, presumably for oysters-sans shucker-was completely closed down except for the two people seemingly placed there for dinner. It was 7:30 on a Wednesday night.
The rhythm in the dining room, the flow of wait staff, and the feeling in the air was filled with missteps.
I don´t write this to inform Douglas of the situation at Etta´s. I am sure he knows. And, I will assume that the cosmetic revamp has been haunting him as he tosses, rolls, and turns at night filtering the thoughts that continue to drive him to perfection.
This is written so others in the business realize that everyone- star, hero, icon- in the business experiences the same problems, monsters and demons of dining that everyone else does.
Don´t think for a moment that you are out there in the culinary cauldron by yourself. The pot is full of people who experience the same obstacles daily.
When we finished our meal we quickly proceeded to The Dahlia Lounge. Our hostess accommodated our need for dessert. She was delightful. The Dahlia is delightful. And, the coconut cream pie was the perfect nightcap.