MY GIRLFRIEND JENNIFER kept describing how our friend Bill eats osso buco. Osso buco is a dish made of braised veal shanks, including the bone marrow. In certain preparations, you eat it straight out of the bone, which is sawed in two-inch sections and doused in some kind of sauce. Osso buco is served in this manner at very few places in Seattle, and one of those places is the Asteroid Cafe. Jennifer described eating at the Asteroid with Bill, watching him push the marrow out of the bone with his thumb and suck it down with relish, his lips covered in marrow (which has an oily consistency) as it drips down his chin. Although it sounded disgusting, it was important that I share this experience.

From the outside, the Asteroid Cafe looks like a diner or, unhappily, a theme cafe, but inside it's a classy restaurant about the size of a large walk-in closet. To our dismay, there was no osso buco that day; it's not part of their regular menu, but offered only as an occasional special. We resolved to return for this rare culinary experience, and to enjoy, on this visit, Asteroid's abundance of pasta options.

Despite the osso buco fiasco, the meal looked promising. The Asteroid features just about every noodle you could imagine and just about every topping you could ask for. A slice of bruschetta came automatically, and it was delicious. We ordered two appetizers: First came the Crostini ($5.95), thin toasted bread with three scrumptious spreads -- something with basil and garlic, a pungent olive tapenade, and a rich tomato paste. We each got two slices, and I wanted at least two more. The Smoked Salmon appetizer ($9.95) featured strips of salmon served with capers, red onion, grilled bread, and a tiny dash of caviar. We gobbled it all down swiftly, and since Bill is partially blind, I was able to get away with more than my fair share of caviar.

The salads were a mixed bag. Jennifer was disappointed with her Spinach Salad ($5.95), and my Caesar ($4.50) was bland -- but when I tasted her salad, I found it fairly yummy and polished it off. I'd already finished mine, so it was too late for a trade. Meanwhile, Bill was entirely content with his Insalata di Pomodoro ($7.50), which had spicy tomato slices and chunks of mozzarella that looked like whole cloves of garlic.

The entrées arrived. I had diverged from the pasta and ordered the halibut special ($17.95), which turned out to be tender and moist, lightly spicy on the outside with the full flavor of the fish inside. The grilled polenta on the side was tasty too, and along with some wilted greens provided a good balance. Bill had ordered the Linguini Pescatori ($13.95), which was good but a bit spicier than he was prepared for -- I sampled some and it was indeed hotter than anyone would expect, blotting out the taste of the seafood. Jennifer, however, was completely dissatisfied with her Fusilli with Marinated Chicken, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Asparagus ($13.95). I sampled this as well, and agreed that the sauce had no flavor to speak of, but it did have delicious bits of fresh goat cheese, and the chicken wasn't exactly bad -- it just didn't taste like chicken. I ate a sizable helping of the fusilli, and inwardly took smug satisfaction in having chosen the best of the lot. I offered Jennifer a bite of my halibut; fortunately for me, she declined. I suspected that she didn't want to give me the satisfaction of confirming my good taste.

Finally, the desserts. Bill's Tiramisu ($5) was good if you like that sort of thing -- I'm one of the few freakish individuals in Seattle who doesn't drink coffee and doesn't even like the taste of it, so good tiramisu is wasted on me. Instead, I ordered the Coconut Sorbet ($5.50). It was wonderfully delicate, not too sweet, redolent with the genuine flavor of coconut. Ah! I felt I had triumphed throughout the meal. Then I tasted Jennifer's Lemon Sorbet ($5.50), and was stunned. This had the same subtlety of flavor as my sorbet, and something far, far greater -- I can't even begin to describe it; it bordered on a spiritual quality, a sense that this dessert could make your life complete.

The rest of the meal paled in significance. I had been defeated. Jennifer pretended to be gracious about it, but I knew that beneath her innocent, cheerful expression, she had to be gloating. I sulked all the way home.

The Asteroid Cafe

1605 N 45th St, 547-2514. Lunch Mon-Fri 11 am-3 pm; dinner Mon-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm; closed Sun. Full Bar. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up

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