I am not a food critic by any means, and I will not attempt to become one in this post, but Ben and I have been really impressed with restaurants we have eaten at in Seattle. And there are so many to choose from. Ben and I are staying close to downtown, so we are spoiled for choice within walking distance – or at most, a short cab ride away.
Last night we went to Flying Fish in Seattle’s restaurant district, Belltown. What an extraordinary meal. We ordered carefully, so that we could share bites, and we chose a local bottle of white on recommendation of the waiter. We know we like New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs – and there were several on the menu to choose from – but we have wanted to stay true to the region when ordering wine here. I have mentioned that Washington and Oregon do a ‘good red’, so when our waiter admitted this to us and still recommended the Washington Pinot Gris – “It partners really well with our menu” – we agreed to try it.
We were not disappointed. While we ate crusty bread with butter, our wine arrived, and he was right. It was a terrific bottle of King Estate, which partnered well with the Thai crab cake I had to start, and the crispy calamari Ben ordered. We both ‘ummmed’ as we tucked in. We swapped bites a few times, and admitted ‘yes, you chose well too’, but ultimately we were happiest with our own selections, and we savoured them. The portions were not skimpy, but we took our time.
Before we knew it, and before I had a chance to find the bathroom, our mains were sitting before us. Ben had the seared tuna and I had the mahi mahi. I looked over at his plate with menu envy. I took a bite of the mahi mahi and it was a little oily, and not quite what I expected. I saw Ben’s obvious enjoyment, and put my cutlery down. “Not good?” he asked patiently. I have sent stuff back before, and I don’t really like being that person. “It is okay. I think I just ordered badly.” Within seconds our waiter, Jeff, was by my side. “Are you not enjoying that?” I looked up at him, “It is just a lot heavier than I thought. I think I just ordered poorly.” He said he would be back in a second and he returned with the menu.
We read it together, and yes, the fish was served with an apple butter sauce. I guess I just thought it would be more apple than butter. He did not hesitate and asked me to select something else. I looked over at the tuna, and Ben offered me a bite. It was delicious. “I’d like the tuna please?” I asked, humbly. He whisked the menu away with a genuine smile and went to get my tuna. Ben kindly suggested I find the bathroom; he would wait for me to get my main, and then we could finish together. When I got back to the table, the tuna was placed before me (it is seared for a micro-second). Magic. A little glitch of my own doing smoothed over within minutes, and we were off on our food Odyssey once again.
If the wine had proved a good match for the starters, it was an even better pairing for the salty crusted tuna and risotto cake with Asian-style sauce and bok choy. We ate slowly. Mostly to savour the exceptional combination of flavours, but also to pace ourselves. The portions were generous, and we wanted to finish every bite, because the food was so damned good!
We both cleaned our plates, again.
The bottle of wine was coming to an end, and Jeff poured the last glasses as he appeared with the dessert menu. “See?” I said, looking up at him, “You look like butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth, but you are in fact the devil.” He laughed, and recommended his favourite dessert, the chocolate grappa brownie. Our eyes flew to the menu. There it was, “Warm Grappa Brownie, vanilla ice cream, milk and bittersweet chocolate sauces”. Oh my. We chose that and the cheesecake, because we both love a good cheesecake. Jeff returned to take our order, “We’ll have the brownie and the cheesecake – we’re just going to put them both in the middle of the table and fight it out.”
Ben and I have been fortunate enough to have had some extraordinary meals in vast corners of the world, including Hawaii, Greece, and New Zealand, but I have to say, and I know he agrees, more often than not the desserts just do not complete the meal as they should. We will have brilliant starters and mains, even great house-made bread, paired with terrific regional wines, but then dessert comes and it is an anti-climax. We did NOT have this experience last night.
The desserts arrived just as we were finishing our wine, and they looked good. Both of us took pause to appreciate how pretty they were. “I don’t think we’re supposed to eat them. I think we should just look at them,” offered Ben. I agreed, asking if he had his camera so he could take a picture of me with dessert. He didn’t, so we turned our attention back to the table, and we got up the nerve to break the brownie. We approached with care from both sides and dipped into the flourless brownie, soaking up some sauce and nicking the scoop of ice cream on the way to our mouths. The ‘mmmm’s that followed were involuntary. It was so unbelievably good. And it was served with a chocolate/vanilla shortbread cookie, which added a whole other dimension of crunchy buttery goodness. Praise all that is good!
We looked over at the poor cousin, cheesecake, and wondered how it could possibly compare. But it did. It was created with a ginger biscuit crust, served with poached pears, and throughout the filling was a cacophony of spices. “It tastes like Christmas,” said Ben. I just nodded and ‘mmm’ed in agreement; I had momentarily lost my ability to speak, but he nailed it with that description. Both desserts were fantastic and we happily alternated back and forth between the two, commenting on how, at last, we’d shared a brilliant meal, complete with a brilliant dessert.
The check came as we sat in blissful silence with two more empty plates before us. Ben compared the desserts with his favourites ever, at Chino Latino in Minnesota, and at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney. These two desserts were at least on par. I mentioned that the brownie was remarkably similar to a molten chocolate pot I make back in Sydney when I have people for dinner. “You can make something like that?” he asked incredulously. “Um, yeah, I can,” and I promised to make it for him as soon as I am back in my own kitchen – and he is there to eat it. I was inspired by presentation and accompaniments at Flying Fish, and it was outstandingly good, but, yes, I can make a fine dessert.
Flying Fish is the brain child of Christine Keff, who was inspired by a trip to Thailand where the menus at beach-side restaurants are simple, changeable and reflect only what is fresh that day. Her philosophy translates in Seattle to a high-end restaurant where the complex menu changes daily to reflect the fish and produce that is fresh that day. In fact, in researching this blog, the menu has already changed since last night – you could still get the brownie today, but even the desserts are changeable, as the cheesecake is missing. The mahi mahi is still there, but no longer served with an apple butter sauce. Did I do that? Doubtful, but a timely change on the menu.
To create a new menu daily based on what is fresh and available, is not an innovative concept for restaurants. It is just that Flying Fish does it so well, and that the menu is highly creative, diverse and extensive. So, next time you’re in Seattle, check it out. Or, live it vicariously at the following site: http://flyingfishrestaurant.com/.