BY LES McCARTHY
Oct. 15, 2014
Each of us has our own gift, that thing we are good at without too much effort: baking the perfect pie, writing the perfect song, painting the perfect picture. You get the idea.
My gift is eating. Yes, I am an eater.
It’s not to say I don’t excel in other things. I make a mean box of Kraft dinner, I can cut-in a beautiful ceiling/wall line, I can tie my shoelaces without them getting undone. But one of the top things I excel at is, well…eating.
I’m not a food critic. I am not a gourmet nor am I a gourmand. I don’t cook like Julia (though wouldn’t that be something?!). I just like to eat. And, more than anything, I like to eat something that I don’t have to make myself.
Usually by the time I realize I should eat something, I want food NOW. So, I don’t take the time to pull out my Dutch oven and whip up something yummy (though on occasion that does happen), I simply throw together something easy, on-hand and quasi-tasty and call it good or, at least, dinner.
That is why when I venture out, I want it to be FABULOUS. I want the trifecta of dining experiences. The establishment must have some sort of notable ambiance—cute, classy or charming—but always clean. The wait staff has to be personable and know their food and want to be in the service industry. And, lastly, the food should be tasty, attractive, and sufficient.
In other words, I don’t want to be served a dot of lemon-basil cream next to one seared scallop with an accompaniment of foam by a snotty waiter while sitting next to the back door. I want to be pampered and I want it to be pleasant and attractive. And, I want to EAT.
Someone once said, “Il cibo si mangia prima con gli occhi.” Or if you don’t know Italian, “Eat first with your eyes.” That is so true, and I am such a visual person, that the plating and presentation and eatery surroundings are almost as important to my experience as is the food. I don’t want to be seated next to the bathroom or the kitchen or any wait station. If the place has a window, put me there. If it’s got a fireplace, I am practically sitting on the hearth. If it’s tiny and noisy, put me smack dab in the middle of it all and let me dine on the noise and the aromas and the atmosphere—along with the food.
I’ve been here now three months and somewhere along this new path I’ve decided to eat my way around the island. I’ve a long tasty road ahead, but here are my top picks, so far.
Knead and Feed in Coupeville is a hidden gem. It is lovely! My daughter and I would have missed it had we not stopped in the bakery (for a sniff) and were told about the restaurant around the corner and down the stairs. The place is tiny (seats 34) and reminiscent of an old-time schoolhouse: white walls, heavy wood, thick mouldings and a wall of windows that open to the Passage. We sat, looking out onto that beautiful waterscape, and enjoyed every mouthful of the succulent Penn Cove mussels that arrived piping hot to our table. Again, I’m not a food critic but the mussels were enormous, the serving was huge (47!) and the broth was tasty. Simply divine and I can’t wait to go back.
Café Langley in Langley is soothing and wonderful. I don’t know if it’s the window seating, the music, the well-dressed and pleasant wait staff or the Mediterranean cuisine (or perhaps all of those things), but I’ve been there twice and I feel the urge to go back, again, soon. It’s snug and charming and simply delicious. I dined with my son and daughter and let’s just say all conversation ceased when we started in on the mussels (again, Penn Cove natives) in the garlic and saffron infused wine broth and the pasta with the chicken and caramelized onions. The only sounds emanating from our table were mmm’s and ohh’s. It was quite embarrassing (and so tasty). Chef Joe sure knows his stuff!
Whidbey Pies and Cafe in Greenbank is like eating lunch at Grandma’s. Again, out with my daughter, we shared the huckleberry, glazed pecan and gorgonzola salad (with warm huckleberry vinaigrette) and the turkey panini with cranberry chutney, Havarti and greens. It was like celebrating Thanksgiving in October. The salad and sandwich were equally fabulous. The wait staff was welcoming. The café is darling and farmy-charming. And the food…oh, the food! My only regret is we didn’t save room for PIE.
And then there’s the Glass Alley Cafe in Freeland. This establishment has it all. I love this place. The name is deceiving but it’s a cute, small Italian bistro, not an art studio. It’s simple, it’s cozy, it’s fresh. If I wasn’t going to go there and heartily enjoy their bruschetta, lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, Caesar salad, complimentary breads, tomato bisque, or cheesecakes, I’d go just to sit because there’s a fireplace, walls of windows and a little seating area that is just so nice. But I go for the food because it is (for lack of better words) to die for! And, Andrew, the maitre d’, is exceptional in his position—he gets it. He treats diners like royalty and has made each of our visits more than special.
And that is what dining out should be—special. It should be that trifecta of goodness: ambient, pampering and oh-so-yummy. And that same dining experience should leave not only your stomach full but also your soul.
So, good job, Whidbey! And, for now, I’m off—it’s dinnertime and I’ve got places to go!
Les McCarthy is an author, tutor, life coach and in IPPY bronze medalist for her yearly health and nutrition calendars. She is a recent transplant to the island and is busy loving every glorious moment along with tending to the needs of her voracious local deer and slugs on a daily basis.
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