HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE YOURSELF? Not like, my friend, but love. Not self acceptance, or self respect, or high regard, but true love--as in at first sight, as in in love? Have you ever loved yourself so much that you hear music in your mind while thinking of yourself? Ever been in love with yourself so much that you lose hours at work yearning for the time you can spend time with just you and nobody else?
You call yourself a cab because you can't keep your mind straight enough to be trusted with driving in heavy traffic, and because you're gonna go out and you're gonna find some place that's nice--no, elegant--but intimate. You find yourself a restaurant and when you enter it becomes silent for a moment. You notice that people are noticing you. The host notices that something special is happening with you and offers a table better than the one he planned when you first made the reservation. He escorts you past the whispering front bar, through the champagne peach warmth of the main dining room, to an intimate back parlor. Because the evening is warm with the cusp of summer, the fireplace is silent, but there is music from the view of Puget Sound. You are seated near a brazenly open window where you can dine with yourself, covered in dusk.
The charm of love is infectious, so your host starts to gleam a little when he asks if you'll have a cocktail. You ask for a Manhattan--bourbon with bitters, chilled neat, with a short-stemmed scarlet cherry. You're not going to order anything to eat until after that first cocktail, until you've subdued that giddiness and are a little more at ease with yourself. Someone else brings bread and oil. A third describes the evening's soup--a gratinee of zucchini topped with Morrocan spices. You don't want to rush things, but you do notice three things on the menu that promise to be as extraordinary as this time you're spending with yourself. In the end, you'll manage to have all three.
The first --Tuna Tartare Wrapped in Nova Smoked Salmon with Dill-Mint Vinaigrette ($9)--comes as twin towers of seafood, rolled and then stood up on end on a dish dotted with discs of thinly sliced radish and lemon zest. You reminisce on sashimi, but this is French ¯ delicate but complicated.
The second--Potato and Salt Cod Galette with Roasted Red Peppers ($8)--sets you up to think crab. It arrives in a pool of warm cream and chives, a thick cake with two stems of chives reaching out like antennae from a crown in full blush with sweet roasted peppers. This dish is also a tease. You take the bait in that first bite and momentarily forget about that crab, sulking only in the fact that there is only one cake for you to savor.
Your third choice is French Onion Soup Gratinee ($6), thick and slightly sweet in the French way, as they know that when you sauté the best onions correctly, they yield caramel. Your soup is in the best of that tradition, the sturdiest of French croutons gilded with a rich, natural broth and anchored by a still bubbling cheese.
The earlier promise of crab returns as you enjoy Crab Salad with Avocado, Mango, and Ginger Citrus Dressing ($10). The salad sits like an exploding nova on its dish; a star with outer rays of endive, a center ball of wild greens mounded with shreds and chunks of fresh crab, and flared with cherry tomato halves studded by a gravel of mango cubes and nutty avocado.
When it's time to move on, will you have the evening's special Pan Seared Sea Bass set amidst a kraut of cabbage and newer white potatoes ($18)? But then you eye the mannish Roasted Herb-Crusted Beef Filet on Roasted Shallots and Potatoes with Black Olive Demi ($25)--a hearty slab of beef blackened then sliced and splayed like a deck of cards in a velvet olive glaze. Instead of those you choose the Roasted Duck Breast and Confit with Green Peppercorn and Cherry Sauce ($22.50). The sauce is as black as the sauce on the beef, but this sauce is black cherry sweet, and you laugh to yourself as you remember what your momma told you about love: "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice." The duck is also sliced but still ringed with its crispy skin and placed atop a plateau of wild rice.
Throughout the languid evening, the trio of servers brush by frequently but efficiently, with more bread and wine: glasses of Cotes du Rhone, Pinot Noir, and Liberty School Cabernet. Your head is as full as your heart, but you won't leave until you've tasted the Fresh Mango Tart ($6). Or better yet, enjoy the simple Chocolat Pot Au Creme and a constellation of shortbread ($6). You have indulged in as much intimacy as decorum will allow in one evening here at Avenue One. You'll return often in your continuing courtship with yourself, but perhaps next time you won't be by yourself.