Tonight we spent our eighth night away from home and I just ate my first dinner at a restaurant. Over the years I have learned to secure lodging with access to a kitchen. Shopping for and preparing fresh, local food away from home is a special part of the experience. But I also appreciate a night off. It’s my vacation, too. After a rather pricey meal at Elliott’s in Seattle, I am again reminded that preparing my own food means I really enjoy my meals, and save money to boot.
Ironically I happened to pick up Kitchen Confidential while staying on Lopez Island in a stacks of books at our rental home. I wasn’t really amused, but tore through the book much like others can’t tear their eyes from a train wreck. Despite being written over a decade ago, Anthony Bourdain’s memoir is a stark warning for diners depending on others to prepare our food.
NOT SO FINE DINING
Over the past week we have enjoyed a few casual lunches while en route to different destinations. On Sunday we decided to treat ourselves to Elliott’s for dinner, one of the most recommended seafood restaurants in Seattle. The earliest reservation was 9:15pm, which allowed us just enough time to shower and change after the 3 hour catamaran ride from Friday Harbor.
Frank and I split a seafood salad for an appetizer. It was served swimming in dressing–about 1/3 cup at the bottom of each bowl. I tried to order the dressing on the side, but was told that the fish was already marinated in it. I found myself wondering if the kitchen staff spooned the fish out with a ladle. I asked for lemon to cut the glop factor, but it didn’t help enough. I decided to speak to the wait staff. She immediately offered to take the salad off the bill, but that doesn’t really solve the issue. Is everyone going to be served an extra 1/3 cup of dressing so their vegetables can swim in it? Makes me think about the line cooks Anthony Bourdain referenced in his memoir. Maybe employees at Elliott’s also were too incapacitated to pay attention or care about what they were doing.
LESS CAN BE MORE
I ordered a lovely piece of black cod and it was delicious. Still the dish glistened with excess, and I used my fork to drain every bite from the swirl of fat on the bottom of the plate. I was trying to taste the fish, not just the fat. The crisp snap peas with onions and julienne carrots were bathed in so much oil that I couldn’t taste the vegetables. Interestingly, the menu advertised “market vegetables”, so I assume somebody bothered to buy them at a farmer’s market, or maybe Pike’s Public Market, just across the road. If so, what a waste. When produce is farm fresh, there is no need to be so heavy handed with the seasoning. Less can be more.
Frank ordered a seafood pasta–but it showed up with a cream sauce when he was expecting a red one. The menu offered both a white sauce and red sauce version, but the waitress didn’t ask and Frank didn’t specify. We were later told that most people order the richer, heavier white sauce. It wasn’t the only time I wondered, “Is this how everyone is eating out?” (The wait staff did graciously send the dish back to the kitchen so Frank could enjoy what he wanted.)
PAYING TOO MUCH FOR FOOD THAT COULD BE BETTER WITH LESS
Ultimately, we spent a significant $60 per person for a meal that required us to navigate around every dish except dessert. Noah ordered the dark truffle and ice cream extravaganza and all three of us dug in with our spoons. I can only imagine how one person feels eating the whole thing after a too rich meal.
As we walked back to the hotel, Frank and I acknowledged that eating out doesn’t hold as much appeal for us anymore. Before bed and through the night Frank made too many trips to the bathroom–a good indication he consumed more fat than he is used to. (Fat triggers the release of cholecystikinen, which is known to function like a laxative). The only thing I wanted for breakfast the next morning was a simple order of poached eggs, a dry piece of rye toast, and tea. No wonder we eat away from home so infrequently.
Despite being a top pick on Yelp, I now understand Elliott’s occasional poor rating. Tonight’s meal would have warranted barely three stars from me. For my money, I would rather eat the whole fresh food I get to prepare at home–and away from home. Even on vacation.