returning from New York is always a bit of a process. I'm restless in my own bed, reminded of how silent nighttime in this city can be. The first few days, I make an effort to slow down, to soften my tone when speaking to the clerk at Bartell's, to relearn how to cross our painstakingly civil streets.

I was jetlagged and out of sorts when I got home last week--exhausted yet wide awake, traffic noises from the Bowery still ringing in my ears. My first night back could've easily been spent quietly with takeout Thai and dirty laundry, but I was still mentally in Manhattan, itching to go out and be among strangers in a buzzing room.

So I went to Marco's Supperclub. A charming, low-ceilinged bungalow structure with draping vines and foliage out front, it's truly an urban space. Now, I'm no expert on architecture or urban design--Rem Koolhaas, Rémy Martin, it's all the same to me--but what I mean is the kind of place you'd find in any major city where a decidedly uncomfortable amount of people share the same precious few square feet of real estate: a little cramped when it's packed on a Saturday night, dimly lit, not at all private--where you keep your elbows tucked and your head down, eavesdropping and bumping chairs and wanting to reach over and sample a taste from the table next to you. Marco's definitely has more breathing room than most West Village bistros, but it's still an intimate respite from the gratuitously enormous local dining rooms--steroidal restaurants with spacious booths, showy open kitchens, tables you could perform an autopsy on.

The owners, husband-and-wife team Marco Rulff and Donna Moodie (who also own the impossibly romantic Lush Life), remain faithful to polished urbanity with their cosmopolitan menu, which has confidently remained pretty much the same over the years. (Which is not to say they don't take risks; they were Belltown pioneers, opening a serious restaurant back when the neighborhood was better known for high-quality crack than high-quality cabernet.) International flavors rule: Here's where you'll find Thai curried mussels ($8.95) next to gossamer fried sage leaves ($7.95), or Spanish calamari ($8.95); or Jamaican jerk chicken competing with a South Indian platter of dhal and mung beans (both $14.95). Asian flavors are duly represented--albacore tuna with soy-wasabi, sesame, and miso sauces ($18.95)--but then Latin flourishes make appearances in halibut (with a smoked tomato sauce, masa cakes, and tomatillo-avocado salsa, $18.95) and succulent sliced pork loin (perfectly pan-seared, with flavorful, stewed Cuban black beans and sautéed mustard greens in a tart pool of orange mojo, $15.95).

On a visit last month I was all about early-summer market fare, so I took advantage of chef Matthew Burian's dinner specials--grilled baby artichokes, frisée, radicchio, sliced endives, and preserved lemons, all bound together with sublime lemon oil (those simple, distinct flavors tasting so fresh and light that even I, Miss Chili-Cheese Dog, felt downright virtuous); and rosy Copper River sockeye served with fresh tomato, asparagus, and crimini mushrooms, draped in feathery white-wine-and-cream sauce.

This time, however, feeling the jolting change from sultry NYC humidity to chilly Puget Sound breezes, I needed to feel grounded, preferably with the aid of roasted meat and strong spices. That aforementioned jerk chicken was just the thing, a moist free-range half-chicken encrusted in kick-in-the-pants seasonings, a complex, fiery storm that surprised my mouth with slow bursts of delicious heat. The accompaniments (sweet-potato purée and bitter greens) provided a welcome dose of taste-bud schizophrenia, extreme opposites creating lovely harmony. I was so preoccupied that I almost didn't notice Marco himself, graciously working the room, chatting with every single table in the place but mine. Okay, I felt snubbed, but I didn't take it personally--I forgive and forget easily when there's excellent roast chicken in front of me, and besides, one must have a thick skin when living in the Big City.

Marco's Supperclub
2510 First Ave (Belltown), 441-7801.
Sun-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm.

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