Dinner with a view. Salty's.
A. invites us (actually she has invited Dr. Q and his wife, and we are just along for the ride) to Salty's for dinner, one of several Seattle restaurants-with-a-view she likes for entertaining out-of-town guests. They serve expensive seafood in a casual-chic setting, with a stunning view of the Seattle skyline across Elliott Bay in one direction and of the islands that dot Puget Sound in the other. The menu is more or less interchangeable with any of the other restaurants-with-a-view that are scattered around Seattle like drive-through espresso huts (though not quite as ubiquitous as Starbucks), only here we are on Alki looking across towards the Seattle waterfront, instead of on the Seattle waterfront looking across towards Alki. I am sure I have seen the rustic white dinnerware, the spiraling iron bread baskets, the wrought-metal appetizer holder somewhere else.
There is the usual fried seafood appetizer trio, with calamari and coconut shrimp and something else I can't identify, steamed clams in a buttery, garlicky wine sauce, oysters on the half shell served with lemon and cocktail sauce on a bed of ice. They are all quite tasty, and all entirely indistinguishable from appetizers I have eaten at many other restaurants-with-a-view. The seafood chowder is thick and creamy, but it is like every other seafood chowder I have ever had. My salmon is nicely grilled, still translucent pink-orange in the middle, the beurre blanc somewhat obscured by a (in my mind) wholly unnecessary sort of salsa made with tomatoes and the piquant tartness of capers that arrives on top of the fish. I am reminded again why I rarely order salmon in restaurants, because I can broil herb-dusted salmon steaks at home with as good - or better - results. I ignore the fried shreds of onion heaped on the side of the plate (or perhaps they are leeks) and concentrate instead on the mashed potatoes, which are more smashed than mashed, with bits of skin and plenty of lumps and are extremely good.
Actually, the entire meal is extremely good, if not particularly interesting or exciting. The best part is dessert, and I steal a bite of A.'s airy white chocolate mousse cake, with layers of white cake floating between layers of mousse. My mother and I share something called a Hazelnut-Milk Chocolate Fantasy, which turns out to be a Napoleon-like creation, with a base of crunchy Rice Krispies supporting layers of chocolate ganache, Nutella, and chocolate cream. It is exactly like eating a very large Ferrero Rocher chocolate, which makes me very happy, because I love Ferrero Rocher chocolate. When I was growing up I only ever got those at Christmas time, and I would strip the chocolate-hazelnut shell off with my teeth before eating the crisp cookie center with a chocolate filling enclosing one single, whole, hazelnut.
Later we go for a drive along Alki Beach, looking across the water at the city lights spread before us. On the beach groups of people are gathered around fire pits, the flames leaping high in the falling darkness. Across from the beachfront are the older houses, split-level ranches and quaint little bungalows, squeezed in cheek-by-jowl with slightly shabby apartment buildings and new, gleaming condominiums that tower over them all. I can see people moving around their living rooms and kitchens, illuminated by their giant flat-screen tvs and the occasional lamp, watching movies or cooking up a late night snack. The city seems very far away, as far away as the childhood when we used to, as my mother said, come over and drive up to what Google Maps tells me must have been Schmitz Park. I don't remember any of this, and it occurs to me that childhood is made up of stories people tell you about things you did that you don't remember because you were too young to remember them when they happened. But this night I will remember, those silent tableaux of people seen through uncurtained windows, the roaring fires on the beach, the winding road ahead, leading us towards the lights of the city across the water, and home.