Have you been down to the Seattle waterfront lately? There's some sort of need for a seawall that keeps being discussed (it's been months, if not years), so it's all going to fall into the Sound when the giant drill for the tunnel gets a little closer (the world is melting, make room for more cars!). But meanwhile, there's the gleaming new Ferris wheel, and the tourists waddling up and down, and the children bonking each other on the head with balloons twisted into abstract flowers, and that indoor arcade on Pier 57 (the fortune teller machine is a rip-off—go with the air hockey). And, as always, the seagulls, which seem to be evolving into some sort of superspecies—you've never seen seagulls so gigantic and muscular and blindingly white. They have the wingspan of a 747! It's a wonder that the people feeding them Ivar's french fries aren't losing arms.
Also new on the Seattle waterfront: Elliott's Seafood Cafe. The original Elliott's Oyster House is best known (at least by me) for its oyster happy hour, wherein oysters on the half shell go for cheap (the earlier, the cheaper) in its shipshape brass-railing bar. The regular Oyster House menu is not as expensive as it used to be—sandwiches with fries and salads are in the mid-teens, though you can spend an arm and a leg for salmon (wild, sustainable) or crab (local Dungeness plus more far-flung choices). But Elliott's is still perceived as a pricey place, and it's set back off the seasonally rampant foot traffic of Alaskan Way.
The more casual arm of Elliott's Oyster House facing the sidewalk used to be called, unappetizingly enough, Steamer's. (A Steamer's remains open in Tacoma; Elliott's is part of Consolidated Restaurants, owned locally since 1951 and now also operating the Metropolitan Grill, four Wing Domes, and Quincy's burgers on the second floor of the Armory, née the Seattle Center House.) Steamer's had fish and chips, clam chowder, and so forth; the revamped Elliott's Seafood Cafe has that stuff, too, but borrows from the higher-minded Oyster House culinary style with items like the Surf & Turf Slider, which has root-beer-braised brisket with a seared scallop and lemon-chive cream ($12). The Seafood Cafe also has a dozen seats at a sidewalk oyster bar serving Washington oysters (get 'em while they last—see NPR's horribly depressing story "How Climate Change Is Changing the Oyster Business" and STOP DRIVING SO MUCH). The Cafe's smallish indoor seating area is inexplicably painted in muddy, dispiriting hues, with a couple of metal mesh salmon stuck to the wall near a big menu that has no prices and doesn't completely match the one in your hands. It feels a little afterthoughty in here (as it did in the bathroom one evening, with its dearth of paper products).
But indoors doesn't matter, because it's August in Seattle, which is the best month and place anytime, ever, anywhere. "Why would you eat at the waterfront?" a friend asked. "Why are you such a killjoy?" is the only answer. Playing at tourist in your own town is inherently fun, and you will work up a hunger/thirst, and you will want to sit under an umbrella and look at the glinty Puget Sound with its adorable ferries, and Elliott's Seafood Cafe is the best place to do this.
The best things I had to eat there were a very mildly spicy but very fresh-tasting gazpacho ($7), cool and lovely with little Oregon bay shrimp and pieces of avocado, and an ideal summertime shrimp salad ($10) made with a big wedge of cold iceberg, hazelnuts for crunch, and lots of Oregon blue cheese dressing. A scallop, shrimp, and calamari ceviche ($9) was also fully endorsable, with each bit of seafood the right texture and a good citrus tartness, all served in a few big oyster shells; however, it wanted some freshly made tortilla chips, and instead the Cafe's complimentary house-made potato chips were on the table, which are good but not intended to go with the ceviche. (Note to self: Ceviche on a potato chip is not a thing you need to try again.)
Pike Ale–battered fried cod, clams, and prawns ($16) were fine, though some of the pieces were stuck together and still a bit batter-y; the fries were of the skinny, crisp, and delicious variety. A fried oyster po'boy ($13), while impressively large, had a lackluster roll that became somewhat sodden with not-all-that-spicy Cajun rémoulade. Also too mayonnaisey: halibut tostadas ($14) laden with tomatillo mayo, on a base of a too-greasy tortilla. And they really do like their mayonnaise (probably smart, as so does all of America): The seafood salad rolls ($15) were a tragic waste of their Dungeness and Jonah crab, scallops, and shrimp, as all were overwhelmed by their tuna-salad-style mayo mix.
There's lots more here, none of it more than $20, plus there's cocktails and a few of the main Elliott's crisp white wines carefully selected to go with oysters. And the glinty Sound! And the giant seagulls! (Don't feed them, they're big enough already!) And if it's too crowded at the Cafe, head back to the House and ask about the outdoor seating there—it's also right on the Pier, and it's a little more removed from the tourist fray, and the prices are pretty much the same. Happy summertime!