Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coming of Age at Dahlia, and Aging

Dahlia Lounge
2001 4th Ave, Seattle   206.682.4142
Below my sassy assistant recounts the sassying experience at Dahlia Lounge.
[What follows in the next couple of paragraphs is a brief pre-sassy disclaimer, explaining the gooey sentimentality I hold for Dahlia. Just skip it and scroll down if you can't handle it and want to get straight to the "sassy"]:
I had a formative experience at the old Dahlia back when it was located at 1904 4th Avenue. A former boss took me there for dinner as a gift before I shipped off for college in New York City. I had my first sit-down bottle of champagne chilled in an ice bucket (as opposed to chugged from a warm bottle in the back of a car). I had my first beef carpaccio - and was blown away. I had my first four-hour dinner. Dahlia was my first real dining experience that was my own. It was not with parents, and it was not an awkward and nervous pre-highschool dance dinner with mandatory non-alcoholic drinks. Dahlia provided me a transformative experience at a transformative time of my life. 
Needless to say, that summer evening dining experience left me hungering for more of the same - food and dining at the center of ritual, sharing, celebration and social connection. As a result, I have a squishy soft spot in my heart for Tom Douglas and that initial Dahlia experience. So you see, I want to love Dahlia, but after many repeat visits to the current Dahlia, I hazard to state that Dahlia NOW is not what it once WAS. I'm perfectly willing to concede that my naïvité bonded me to Dahlia in much the way that a little chick imprints to the first being it sees upon hatching, and that as a seasoned eater, 20+ years later (gasp), I am simply more discriminating. In any case, I'll now get to the heart of the matter, to present and to the recent sassying at Dahlia.
Sassy Report: It was a rainy spring day in Dahlia Lounge a few weeks ago. The Seattle Restaurant deal (3 lunch courses for $15 dollars) was still on, and there was nary a seat to be found, except at the bar. I was feeling rather shy, all smashed up against people - more "sissy" than "sassy". I had the last seat in the house.

The man on my right had ordered the pork off the tasting menu. He complained repeatedly, to me, that it was the fattiest and most undercooked pork he had ever eaten. So, ordering off of the tasting menu myself, I skipped the pork, and opted for the seared tuna. As a starter, though, I chose the grilled asparagus, which was smoky and just a little lemon-y and lightly salted. It was just right. The shaved Parmesan added a little zing.
As for the seared tuna: yawn. It was fine. Maybe I'm just bored with seared tuna. Should I have ordered the grilled cheese on house made potato bread? Perhaps. Here's the thing with the tuna. It came with a citrus, greens and olive salad that was simply odd. It seemed that someone had just roughed it up, torn things apart and cared very little for how it looked. Has someone  been gnawing on my olives? Well, luckily it tasted alright. Here's how it looked close up, before I touched it. I'm all for rustic, but this presentation was incongruous with the precision-cut tuna. The white you see is mashed potatoes. Somehow these flavors and textures just didn't work together.
On to dessert. I've tried Tom Douglas' signature coconut cream pie in the past. He's famous for it. People go ga-ga over it. I thought I'd give it a second go, to see if I had missed something the last time. Before I even tried it, I offered the woman to my left a bite of the pie. She had ordered a single crab cake off of the regular menu (also something Tom is known for). I considered asking for a bite of her crab, but I felt bad about taking away her precious morsel of crab meat. See, sassy isn't mean. Sassy isn't inconsiderate. Sassy can be a relaxed and respectful affair.
So Gina (below), was done with her crab cake, and I said,

"Would you like to try the Coconut Cream pie?" 

She said, "oh, really? Well, if you don't mind...oh, that's's light." 

 Well, I'm glad she liked it. Then I tried. But, I still don't get it. It's a piece of pie, mostly a big blob of whipped cream, with a little vanilla custard below and some overly chewy coconut shavings on top. It's, I'd say, 75% whipped cream and not a lot of flavor.  I expressed my opinion to Gina. She seemed unwilling to be as critical. Gina was in town for the day on business. She used to live in Seattle, but moved back to her native Kansas City to start a family. She loves crab and dining out. It was nice to sit next to her and chat.
By this time, the gentleman next to me, who had ordered the pork, had complained to his server about the disgusting raw and fatty meat dish and as a result, his lunch was paid for by the house. Fair enough. Tom Douglas restaurants always accommodate dissatisfied diners. 

Well, as for me, my espresso was great, but I was loud and vocal at the bar about my disappointment with the Coconut Cream pie. By now, the wine had kicked in, and I was feeling a little more sassy. I just have to give a little shout out to the daytime bartender, whom I adore. He had given me a generous pour of wine. On a previous occasion at Dahlia, he told me that I look like a certain celebrity. Always good for a big tip, but also, he's just nice. Several seats down were a couple of guys. One had the Coconut Cream pie (his opinion was neutral...not crazy about it, not disappointed either), and the other gentleman said he had just  
ordered the Creme Caramel (above). When it arrived, he took a bite, then boldly slid his plate down to me without a word.  I asked,

"Is this for me to taste?" 

"Yes, see if that does the trick," he replied. 

I was elated. I quickly grabbed a clean fork and tasted. This turned out to be the highlight of the meal, and to think I almost walked out without tasting something truly titillating. James was happy that I was happy. He was in town on business from San Francisco, selling wireless for personal cars and vehicles. He didn't want his picture taken, but he was generous, letting me work through what remained of his dessert. The creme caramel was accompanied by a crunchy rice crispy treat - a wonderful innovation based on the classic version. This one lacked the chewy marshmallow effect and seemed heavier on the butter and the crunch. 

Although the meal was not mind boggling or transformative, the service was great, the company very pleasant. The final sassied dessert made the lunch worth my while. I'll probably opt for Lola or Etta's on my next Tom Douglas eating adventure. I think I'll retire from Dahlia for a while. 

Dahlia Lounge on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review. Fabulous rapper you have. I'd pay her something for the use of her talent. Ok, so I won't want to go to the Dahlia Lounge, but anxious for the Etta's review.