Friday, December 19, 2008

Sushi, tequila and the pursuit of happiness

This just in: 3-4" of snow completely shuts down Seattle. Completely. Utterly. As in everything grinds to a halt. As in Bubkus, capital B.

This week, my fair city regressed into a little city-baby, crying out for succor, so totally freaked out by the fluffy white stuff that our local NPR station found it necessary to direct an entire hour of programming to the scintillating topic "are Seattle-ites weather wimps?" Now one could argue that if you are doing an entire program on public radio on this topic than I do believe you have your question answered.

While people debated back and forth, I had a somewhat unexpected work-week holiday (cooking class canceled 2 days ago - due to inclement weather and a dinner canceled tonight -couldn't drive my car up the massive hill to Queen Anne). Instead of cooking on my sheet pans this week I have visions of sledding on them.

I'm lucky for many reasons, but one of them is that I live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, right in the middle of the city, walking distance to everything I could ever need (except a hardware store, r.i.p. City People's). When the snow started coming down, we rallied our neighborhood friends and found warmth and conviviality on a leather banquette at Liberty, just a ten-minute walk from home.

Owner Andrew Friedman is nothing but if not hospitable and his bar turned makeshift ski lodge (my friend's cross country skis leaning up against the steamy windows) turned out to be our home both last night and tonight. Why two nights in a row? Because last night we were offered a bourbon tasting (gratis) and 5 of us sipped, swirled and discussed a beverage that many of us never really drank or knew much about. This brought us back for night #2.

I've been to Liberty before. It's known for its fabulous cocktails and rather odd mini-sushi bar. I remember when I first came here last year I thought it might have been trying to be too many things, a cafe with wireless, a hip yet laid-back cocktail bar, a sushi joint (but oddly without sake). I was a little confused by the concept(s), and truth be told I still sort of am. But no matter. Tequila and sushi are two of my favorite things and goddamn if it isn't just convenient to have them in the same place. I can come here to do some writing, have some good coffee and then when the lights go down (the first turn-down comes just as you finish your first drink) you can feel secure knowing that if you are peckish, there's a yellowtail roll just over yonder, right next to the elaborate absinthe decanter, and the espresso machine.

The service is friendly and slow, like your elderly next-door neighbor who's in no rush to get down the street but when he stops in front of your house, oh he has stories! Sometimes you need to repeat your requests (they say short term memory fades with age), which in any other kind of place might be irritating but not so at Liberty. I remember that when I traveled in Italy, many Italians told me that it is rude if the servers are constantly at your table, pushing you along. It is especially rude, I was told, if they drop the check. Americans, on the contrary, find it utterly rude and unacceptable to be left alone in a restaurant or bar. We've become so used to and demanding of this constant attention that servers often ask, "still working on that?" like your food is a term paper or a dog bone and we are collectively okay with this because at least it is some form of attention.

Here's the thing: when you do get attention at Liberty, you and your friends are suddenly the only people in the bar. Andrew spent at least 20 minutes with us tonight pouring us a tequila tasting (gratis, again), freely passing on his knowledge and patiently nodding when one of us, nose fully in glass, felt like we had something, oh-so-brilliantly profound to say about the subtle flavors, the burn on our lips or the fact that none of us liked the aged Anejos. He didn't flinch when we noted the complex aromas - "yes, I'm getting a little scent of sweaty horseman high up in the mountains of Zacatecas, back in '47, wasn't it? Yes, yes, saddle and musk and hay, a little horse dung on that last one."

Andrew playing the shell game with some fine tequilas

Finally, he moved on to some other patrons and I saw him linger with them for a good long while. You may have to ask twice for your beer or for your glass of water and it may take awhile to get it, but at Liberty you own that table for the night - you are part of their family and as such you can lean your skis at their door, bring in takeout when the snow has kept their fresh fish from being delivered, and be trusted - honor system-like - with 5 bottles of fine tequila left on your table for the majority of the evening.

We're snow-wimps, for sure, and proud of it yo (and this isn't the tequila speaking... no, not the tequila, or the very fine wild-harvested sotol but it could be my very first taste of mezcal speaking right now. And how did that taste?

Sweaty horseman, back in '47.


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