I remember my FIrst lover (using the word loosely--light on the "love," heavy on the "er") painstakingly dredging up how he'd spent $25 on dinner for the two of us. I still hadn't slept with him at this point, and it was all so mysterious. Not really understanding his impatience with me, I didn't want a candlelit dinner to have any other purpose but a candlelit dinner. Art for art's sake. Food for eating. Candlelight for flickering across softened lips and cheekbones and eyes. I had this idea that a good dinner itself could be a type of sex act.

I think about all this as I meditate on the harmony of a nice big martini, opaque with frost in the small slivers of late-afternoon sunlight slanting through windows, and the presence of a handsome, silver-haired waiter. I am situated with one bare leg thrown over the other in the romantically dim Il Bistro. Despite being tucked under that section of Pike Place Market that Seattleites usually abandon to tourists (a bronze pig and flying fish abound), Il Bistro should not be overlooked. One of the few restaurants that feels a little bit, dare I say, continental--cosmopolitan, without a trace of stuffiness or pretension--Il Bistro is nestled on the curve of a cobbled alley; this place has a sense of permanence and tradition. In a city brimming with regional cuisine (that "fusion Northwest" obsession), a little deft Italian food based on good, simple ingredients is welcome relief.

Many years and lovers after my first companion's waggling of restaurant checks, I met my current lover who, as I witnessed almost immediately, could get all lathered up over food. This, of course, drew me to him. That and his cooking. His marinara sauce affected me deeply. In return for a ride, he whipped up pasta primavera. The next night I made Panang curry. As I chopped vegetables, we sucked on cold beers and he asked me about my favorite things to eat with a look so searching, so stirring, his questions felt like a fetishist asking if he could fondle my high heels. We worked ourselves into a frenzied hunger with recounted meals while the aroma of curry fused with every particle of air in the moist kitchen, slathering its warm golden scent into our words, glances, our accidental brushings against each other. I don't remember how the curry turned out, but I can still taste the air sparking between us.

From our table in a seductive corner at Il Bistro, Current Lover and I admire the rapini, among the other delights foraged on the Antipasto Misto ($11.50) we ordered to complement our cocktails. As the dinner progresses, we become aware of our perfectly timed waiter. Almost too handsome, but no one's complaining, he otherwise poses no distractions or unwanted intrusions. Exuding a quiet elegance, he subtly guides our menu selections without a hint of anything but utter graciousness--he seems to glow. He inspires confidence without exerting an opinion: He possesses that crucial sixth sense of knowing exactly what to do and when to do it, a certain quality lacking in even the poshest waitstaff. We notice another beautiful waiter, younger, with thick, dark hair and a chiseled face, bending over a table nearby, and think that we have entered some enchanted land of handsome waiters as Insalata Spinaki ($7.95) arrives, laced with pancetta, candied walnuts, and gorgonzola dressed with citrus vinaigrette.

Eight years have passed since Current Lover and I described port-poached pears and just-picked tomatoes to each other in that steamy, curried kitchen, and still Il Bistro's wine and our first course of Taglierini con Aglio e Funghi ($13.95) enters our mouths like whispered desires--passionate kisses and an array of wild mushrooms. When we cut into the nightly special of roasted quail ($24.95), our senses are so saturated with pleasure, my body is so consumed with taste and smell and mouth and tongue, all other sensory input is disregarded for the moment. Outside, a single star in the night sky sears us with its brightness.

Il Bistro

93-A Pike St, 682-2154. Open daily 5-10 pm. $$

Price Scale (per entrée)

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

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