Each of my dinners at Anthony's Pier 66 began with the same quiz. Over the phone, when I made the reservations I was asked if I'd been to the restaurant before. Even when I said yes, I was told that valet parking is provided 300 feet north of the entrance and check-in is upstairs.
At the table, the server inevitably asked, "Where are you from?" Us: "Seattle." Server: "Is this a special occasion?" I was tempted to say, "Yes, you are being reviewed!"
The persistence of these questions makes me think that Seattleites have relegated this Elliott Bay fish house to "tourist destination" status. (I admit I haven't been back in years myself.) Or maybe it's just that with 18 waterfront locations stretching from Olympia to Bellingham, Anthony's restaurants are taken for granted by the locals. If that's true, folks, it's time to rediscover Anthony's Pier 66.
When it opened in 1996, together with its casual siblings downstairs, The Bell Street Diner and Anthony's Fish Café, Pier 66 was the un-Anthony's: the soaring design resembled an opulently appointed yacht, and the food, punctuated with Pacific Rim flavors and frequently garnished with orchids, was just as flashy.
There's less fizz in the bottle now, but still a lot of character in the glass. What impresses most is the high comfort quotient of the dining room and the unobtrusive efficiency of the staff (20 Questions notwithstanding): greeters welcome you downstairs and up; there's someone and somewhere to check your coat; your table will be ready within minutes; and every vast granite top is positioned for the view; when you leave, a hostess makes sure your car is at the door pronto.
Throughout the evening a server is never far from your elbow, responsive and informed. The basket of breads arrives on cue, empty glassware is promptly removed and plates are bussed the moment everyone has finished.
Choose a wine by the glass and it's poured at your table. Undecided about what you want? "Let's have a little tasting," suggests our waitress, returning with three glasses and three bottles for sampling.
Servers know the wine as well as the food, so don't be shy about asking questions. Take their advice.
The menu showcases Northwest and Pacific seafood. Whether you order it planked, grilled, roasted, seared or raw, it's reliably fresh and first rate. Seared halibut proved the only disappointing entree, but only because it was burdened with a whole-huckleberry sauce more suited to a cobbler ($19.95). Plank-cooked swordfish is superb; the aroma of wood smoke and a dusting of roasted fennel salt amplify the earthiness of the accompanying wild mushrooms ($21.95).
A server steered me toward seared weathervane scallops ($22.95). Set in an elegant, faintly fruity Riesling sauce dotted with chive oil, they are a sweet treat, uniformly golden brown and just opaque in the middle.
Asian flavors play a lively fugue with medallions of seared rare Hawaiian Big Eye ahi tuna ($23.95); the sweet heat of fresh pineapple chutney and a sharp ginger cream sauce complement the pliant fish and each other. The chutney's charms are even more apparent when it gilds a dazzling rendition of Hawaiian poke ($7.95). Each bite of the marinated raw tuna cupped in crisp taro chips and drizzled with wasabi aioli conveys sweet, salty, savory, crunchy and fiery at once.
For crab-lovers there's the requisite martini glass heaped with fresh crab over crunchy slaw ($11.95), or crab salad ($5.75) padded with grapefruit, avocado and greens, both drizzled with a judicious amount of "Whidbey Island sauce," which tastes a lot like a '50s era "French dressing" of ketchup and mayo.
Don't pass up the crab-and-corn chowder ($5.95), a soup with the soul of a bisque, harboring choice morsels of meat and a timbale of sweet cornmeal pudding in its velvety depths. And though it's been said many times many ways, the sautéed crab cakes here remain a paradigm for the city: nothing but chunks of sweet Dungeness meat in a light crumb held together seemingly by the wishful thinking of the chef and sauced twice for perfect balance, with a naughty ginger plum and a nice buerre blanc ($23.95).
For those who must have meat, the well-marbled 12-ounce prime New York cut ($26.95) is seasoned and char-grilled with the kind of aplomb usually associated with the best steakhouses in town.
Desserts such as the stolid cheesecake ($4.75) and a not-so-burnt burnt cream ($4.95) offer more comfort than joy. Which grand finale filled our hearts with glee? Bittersweet chocolate cake with ginger ice cream ($5.75), a French press pot of robust Illy Café ($2.45) and our waiter's offer to fetch our coats (no charge).
Providence Cicero: email@example.com.