Belle Clementine

the leather in my pointy toe shoebooties was pinching my feet quite a bit as we roamed the streets of Ballard in the cold January air. it was hard to care if my feet hurt i was so happy to have an excuse for heels and the time and space to hold hands and stroll at leisure. we had just finished seeing Silver Lining Playbook and allowed the joy of being lost for 120 minutes continue into the cobblestone streets smelling a bit of curry, beer, and sugar as we walked and waited for our reservation.

our date night included a new adventure of eating at a community table at a lovely restaurant named Belle Clementine. The chef prepares a different three course meal and pairings everyday.  And while you are busy making no decisions on what to order you meet and greet with all the new acquaintances from the neighborhood who you are dining with for the evening.

we arrived about 10 minutes early (i know, gasp) for the 7pm seating. The small venue with the chalkboard sign upon entry has three large wood tables set with fresh flowers and candles and the friendly host greeted us warmly. I over-talked (gasp again, not.) on the greeting which is becoming a bit too normal for me these days. I forget not everyone is wanting to bond, always. Nonetheless, she smiled at me, showed me where i could shimmy out of my big coat and hang our belongings in the *mud room* and take our seats. If a place could have a happy scent I swear it was there. The kitchen was wide open revealing lots of stainless steel, butcher block counter tops and simple white serving dishes and plates.

Stephen and i were seated at the last two seats on one side of a long table seating 10. Directly across from me was a very petite fit woman with strong and likable features and a large welcoming smile. Beside her and across from Stephen was a man whose face looked weathered in all the right ways, from sun and adventure, he too appeared to be very fit and had a calm sense about him. and to my left was a woman who came on her own and quickly clued us in she was a regular, she was dressed in all black with her dark brown hair neatly bobbed and her circular eyes unwavering during conversation. the other five guests at our table, i smiled at regularly, giving many head nods, but after one loud voice attempt to hear from one end to the other, i resigned myself to knowing that while i would enjoy knowing more about each person in the whole restaurant, my lot was the 3 individuals directly around me. It was a good lot.

a generous pour of dry, pearlike, aciditc white wine appeared in the vase in front of me and as i took my first refreshing sip, the salmon cake taster came out. it occurred to me that most everyone at the table was probably going to be quite agile in conversation or why on earth else would they chose community tables to dine. this relaxed me more than the wine and suddenly my cheeks felt flush as i realized stephen and i were in for quite an adventurous meal and conversation. the middle aged couple across the table from us turned out to be the dad and step mom of the young man who ran the restaurant, cute. they were proud which was endearing especially as i learned that his father was a gastro doc (i cldn't resist divulging my chron's, what lovely dinner topic) and his twin brother an economist and that both father and son graduated from Stanford. They loved  that he pursued this business of social capital through serving good local creative food in a way that created community. the couple met on an excursion in Patagonia, and although they returned from the trip and lived on opposite coasts, she in DC working as a lobbyist and he as a doc in Seattle, they soon couldn't resist life together and now live on Mercer Island near Seattle. The well- read Seattle local, highly observant and opinionated beside me was full of interesting questions and remarks. she had two grown married children who had both chosen they never wanted to have children, and she seemed highly supportive of them as well (note to self let your kids be who they want to be).

the happy flavor of the evening continued as they brought a fresh kale, red chard, and carrot salad, all ingredients he mentioned having picked up that morning at the University market. why my salads don't turn out tasting like that i don't know but i acted like a seagull and served myself seconds from the community bowl. yum. then i toured the kitchen per the invitation and met the lovely chef and she told me about the next course- sounded kinda weird but tasted like heaven - fresh cut noodles and recently delivered from Skagit, WA pork belly that had been cured and prepared for the last 5 days served with baby bok choy in a Asian inspired broth. we cleaned our bowls. it was basically off the hook bacon with fresh noodles in a spicy kimchi sauce. i thought stephen might even tip his bowl. the evening concluded with a fabulous mug of french press coffee that i shared with my new gastro friend and lemon chiffon cake with fresh whip cream. needless to say we went home full, both in belly and in spirit. it was merry.