I SAW A BOY GET ALL GIDDY over a bowl of soup. "Ice Storm '98!" had hit, and all of Seattle donned puffy jackets and snowshoes. Not me and this boy, though. We skidded our bikes down snot-slick streets to the Swingside Cafe to get us some dinner. After the icicle-eyelashes effect of the wind-chill factor, the fireplace, and the red wine, the big orange cat rubbing against our ankles worked our senses into an anticipatory lather. Then came the soup... ah, the soup. Winter squash purée and chunks of Bosc pears spiced with sage commingled gloriously with heavy cream. Soup so pure and balanced it satisfied physically, aesthetically, and emotionally.

That boy, usually subdued, a bit guarded, was now blind with ecstasy, murmuring words of thanks and praise over and over, set to the ever-intensifying rhythm of climax. M. F. K. Fisher writes about such moments, when a man's "senses combine with his vocabulary to make him say some such spontaneous and even shocking thing about a taste or a whole dish." His unconscious sensuality burned before me for a moment. Years later, he still recalls the soup with relish; and I remember his full lips, slightly parted, his eyes dancing behind thick glasses. That was some sexy soup.

We reminisced about The Soup recently, that boy and I. Sweating at a small table on Zig Zag Café's patio, we were feeling mid-martini good. We were getting it on, that Soup Feeling, digging into some Mediterraneanish snacks. Tourists trudging up the steps from the waterfront to Pike Place Market stared and shifted their fanny packs.

Mr. Soup became amorous and liquid-eyed over his Tapas Platter ($15.50), the enjoyment of which is rather like having a harem, so wide the variety of pungent cheeses, olives, hummus, baba ghanoush, chicken and lamb kebabs, cured meats, spanakopita, and dolmades with pita bread. The kebabs, gloriously moist lamb and zesty chicken, would have sufficed, but our dear sampler plate kept giving love, embracing the tongue with all its flavors. Smart coquetry of the kitchen, the sampler afforded just enough of each taste to bring me back for more.

Kebapches ($9.50), pork and beef spiced like gyros, all rolled up together, were presented like two enormous sausages without their pants on. These heavy, bold, and damn delicious trunks of ground goodness came flanked by a light, vinegary chiffonade of mixed greens--which was really very thoughtful, considering their heft. I applaud the chef's wisdom in combining heavy with light, and keeping it simple. No starches, no redundant sauces, no funny business. Just delectable meat with some bright tender greens to help it on its way. The rest of the focused menu is just as successful, with spare, elegant pizzas and pasta.

It's a good thing the food occupied us so completely, because the service was, on the whole, atrocious. The waiters were generally dead slow, reluctant, and once--on a second visit--downright bitchy, answering our polite inquiries on a particularly slow evening with stunning monosyllabic near-insults, and then ignoring our empty highballs and thirsty expressions for 45 minutes while lounging around the well-perfumed tables of elegant, unwrinkled men. 'Tude: It's not just for five-star French restaurants anymore. I've washed dishes; I've bused and waited tables; but I saved the earring in the coffee and water on the lap for really horrid emergencies, not as routine anti-service. Fortuitously, my companion on this depressing visit tripped and smashed her stemware in a climactic exit.

Zig Zag is appropriately dim and quiet, except for the occasional unbearably loud and bland drum 'n' bass (oh, I am old and cranky). The bar--a fine place to get a fabulous seven-dollar cocktail assembled by a sympathetic bartender--has a varied and loyal clientele. It was here that I drank the kind of Bloody Mary one probably remembers when old and exiled. Friendly owners from Sosia, Bulgaria, exude Old World charm and grace. At its unpretentious best, Zig Zag allows for The Soup experience, and reminds me of a bar in a grown-up city.

I will return to Zig Zag; I can't help myself, but I hope particular staff members find more comfortable panties; perhaps duck into the broom closet for a nip--anything to brighten up and bring their chef the appreciation he is due. It would be a shame to scare off those other than well-heeled ascetic scenesters who live off coffee, cigarettes, and gin, but perhaps that's what Seattle thinks it needs: a little pseudo-cosmopolitan snobbery, a little pain and embarrassment adding that spice of exclusivity to the wonder and transcendence of delicious.

Zig Zag Cafe
1501 Western Ave, 625-1146. Daily noon-2 am.
Full bar. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)
= $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $2 and up