A few weeks ago I wrote something dismissive about a dish involving asparagus at Boat Street Cafe and Kitchen. It was just one line in a long piece; I disdained asparagus served at other restaurants, too. Everybody loves Boat Street, everyone knows it's great, and anyone reading the description—which included the word "relentless"—would know it only applied to this one dish, Boat Street being the polar opposite of relentless in all other respects.
I've met Renee Erickson—who, with Susan Kaplan, cocaptains Boat Street—a few times, and she not only cares deeply about food, she's the nicest person on the planet. She told me a story once about her dog rescuing her Lassie-style when she got stuck, bodily, in the mud while digging clams; when I see her, I always want her to tell me this story again. To use the word "relentless" in connection with her, lacking other context, is the kind of thing you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about.
Then I got an e-mail about the official opening of Boat Street's patio, tucked down in the weird interior courtyard of the weird building that the place has now called home for a year or two. PR from restaurants is not generally very inspiring. This e-mail discussed the nascent state of Boat Street's plants, using the word "cosseted" in connection with a baby apple tree as well as the word "potager," and promised something called a Contorted Hazelnut. Any PR that sends you to the dictionary and offers contortion of any sort is good PR.
All you should smell at the busy intersection of Western Avenue and Denny Way is exhaust, so the smell of bacon at noontime on a Sunday is even better than ever, especially since the source of the smell is invisible. Down Boat Street's weird ramp, the sound of the traffic disappears, the smell of bacon continues, and there's the baby apple tree, a persistent stick with some leaves. It is doomed to always be outshone by the Contorted Hazelnut, a shrub with corkscrew branches and crumply light-green leaves, Seussian, wonderful.
While the interior of Boat Street is country chic perfected—whitewash, suspended parasols, rustic objets, maybe the alphabet and a few French phrases winsomely drawn on a chalkboard—life on the patio has a lovely haphazard quality. Besides the plants yet to attain lushness in the raised beds, there's the slightly slanting floor, the doors of nearby businesses, the underside of another ramp above. A dog that looks a great deal like a Muppet might be leashed off to the side, sitting mostly patient on a red blanket, emitting single barks every so often. A server might help you move a little sky-blue metal table, not entirely devoid of rust, into the shade, then might bring one cloth napkin and one paper one.
At brunch recently, the bacon smell was realized in the simple, tasty form of five slices piled onto a torpedo-shaped roll with melted sharp cheddar, a row of tomato slices, and unusually strong, horseradishy Dijon mustard; alongside, green salad, a slice of watermelon, a couple blackberries, a grape ($11). Billed as "BETTER THAN PANCAKES," a triangle of cornmeal cake ($12.50) had a toasty-baked tortoiseshell-patterned top with a layer of creamy custard beneath it; it slowly soaked up maple syrup from the bottom. The arrangement around it of a big, red-pepper-and-fennel-seed-flecked sausage and two halves of banana was so phallic and funny, it had to be intentional. People chatted in a neighborly way; a list of $6 wines by the glass, mostly French, might be especially apropos for those walking from the Olympic Sculpture Park a block away.
At dinner, candle-lanterns and a couple strings of white lights provide outdoor illumination. If a few bulbs are burnt out, there's the distinct sense that the care is, as ever, being lavished where it should—on a salad of a whole head of butter lettuce ($8) with a Dijon vinaigrette and fresh-roasted walnuts, looking like the feast of a rabbit-king; on the signature pickle plate ($12), currently with fennel bulb, fiddlehead fern curls, tiny turnips, and more in a pool of beet-fuchsia brine, redolent of allspice and oregano. Especially seasonal entrées currently include small springtime morels beneath scallops seared with exquisite attentiveness ($24) and grilled, skinny, subtle spring onions with lean-yet-sumptuous lamb sausage ($20).
If it were possible to use the phrase "urban oasis" without sounding like an idiot, this would be the occasion. All's well and then some at Boat Street.