Not too long ago, completely out of the blue, I received a phone call from my grandparents saying they were going to make a trip to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and they were hoping that I would have some time to at least have dinner with them. I of course said yes, as I’m always looking for a good excuse to get out and try a new place. I set about trying to figure out the perfect place to take them. My goal was to find some place where they could get some of the fresh salmon and halibut that were running. After thinking and eliminating a variety of places, it finally clicked; why not take them to one of the restaurants run by the grand poobah of Northwest cuisine? I opened up OpenTable and made a reservation for three at Dahlia Lounge.
Dahlia Lounge is one in a stable of Tom Douglas restaurants, who epitomizes Northwest cuisine — it can be argued he laid the foundation for chefs like Maria Hines and Jason Wilson (to name just a couple) to thrive here. And yet somehow, I had never eaten at Dahlia; though I have eaten at both Lola and Serious Pie.
We arrived a few minutes late to our reservation after taking a few minutes to find parking in Belltown, and were shown directly to our table. The restaurant wasn’t full, but there was definitely a lively vibe to the dimly lit room. It was almost louder than I would have preferred with my grandparents, but we made it work. We leaned in close over the dark wood tables to catch up as it had been a few months since we had seen each other, and the food served as a wonderful compliment to the evening. As we were catching up on everything going on with my parents, we enjoyed fresh steamed mussels in a curry broth with a little bit of Thai basil. They were deliciously tender and the curry was slightly sweet, adding a nice balance. The only thing missing was some bread to sop it up with.
As we moved on to our main courses our stories moved on as well, matching the food. My grandpa and I both opted for fresh fish, and started talking about his various fishing escapades. He regaled me with recollections of his fishing trips to Alaska, back when you could bring 70 pound pieces of luggage on an airplane for no charge. He packed up three full of fresh salmon and halibut. I shared with him my story of being taken to a fish house the first time I made a trip to Cleveland and the puzzled look on the waitress’ face when I was asking questions about the salmon (questions any self-respecting NW restaurant would know the answers to), while enjoying my own perfectly cooked piece of fresh Coho. It was moist and delicious, without any type of fancy preparation or sauce — just a well-cooked piece of high quality fish. It was topped with some fresh beans and tomatoes, and served on a bed of corn with first-of-the-season chanterelles. It was so fresh and vibrant, with just that hint of earthiness from the mushrooms; even the corn which I didn’t eat much of added a wonderful sweetness to the whole thing. And then there was my grandma who opted for the five-spice duck, something she rarely orders. While she was enjoying the delicious tenderness that comes from rotisserie cooking, she told us about her experiences cooking the ducks that my grandpa used to bring home from hunting trips (it never turned out quite as well.)
Over a cup of decaf coffee, roasted by 15th Ave. Roasters in Capital Hill, we enjoyed some small talk about our family and their trip and my P90X program. Finally after two hours of catching up and telling stories, we packed it up. It was a very nice and enjoyable evening, perfectly accentuated by a wonderful dinner. If I have but one critique it is that if you are going to serve a piece of salmon with the skin on, make sure the skin is crispy as it adds that nice textural element (non-crisp skin can be a little slimy). But my grandparents seemed to have a wonderful time, and left fully satiated, even without trying any of the fresh desserts from the Dahlia Bakery!