Trust your palate

Falling all over the fare at Falling Waters.

SOMETIMES THE BEST nights out are the ones you don't plan at all. Last week and the week before had been busy ones, and I'd been putting off a visit to Falling Waters a day at a time till there were no days left. My usual dining-out companion was unavailable. I would have to issue an impromptu invitation, something I hate to do. But as I hate even more dining out by myself. . . . Falling Waters seafood restaurant

2020 Second, 374-3707 Sun-Thurs 5-10, Sat 5-11 AE, MC, V; full bar Despite the short notice, I lucked out with my first call. My actress friend the Diva agreed to join me if I could promise she'd be out in time to make her 7:30 call; her life's companion, the Flying Doctor, happened unexpectedly to be in residence and would be charmed to join us, as would their joint production, Rupert the Extraordinary Infant. Making an appointment for a specific time with this particular band of Gypsies is always problematic, but on this occasion they all arrived (one by one, it's true, at irregular intervals) with time to spare and pounced upon their menus with glad cries of ravenous anticipation. Taking Rupert to a restaurant specializing in seafood is something of a risk, as he is currently 13, an age that combines the gustatory finickiness of the 2-year-old with the teenager's scorn for any novelty approved by adults; but fortunately his contempt for seafood stops well short of fried calamari. He balked momentarily at the sight of Falling Waters finger-steak version ($8) and eschewed the light, tangy plum-ginger dipping sauce, but nevertheless made such headway that only one succulent stalk remained by the time his father arrived from parking the pickup. Ordinarily that might have led to stern words, but one of Falling Waters' bucket-sized double margaritas ($11) tempered the mood, and main-dish selection proceeded with unusual expedition. Rupe, his tolerance for seafood exhausted for one day, went for the charbroiled filet mignon ($24); the Diva, after flirting with the "spicy seafood volcano" with jasmine-coconut rice cake ($15), opted at last for the daily special, monkfish in lobster sauce ($24), while the Doctor ordered an icky-sounding house specialty called Hawaiian monchong ($21), mixing a macadamia nut-crusted firm whitefish with rice flour-crusted sweet-potato patties in a pool of coconut- rum sauce. Showing unaccustomed restraint, I ordered the "Pacific paella" ($15) from the light entr饠menu, intrigued by its promise of a vegetable complement to the usual assembly of shellfish, chicken, and sausage chunks. EVERY DISH proved a delight, and soon the adults were busily passing bites back and forth. Rupe, more concerned about appearances, concentrated on his steak and potatoes, though he loftily tolerated our raids on the wild-mushroom ragout he refused, on principle, to taste. My paella, though not billed so, more closely resembled the traditional Spanish dish than many of the soupy, mushy versions to be encountered round town: It was dry, fragrant with saffron but not too pungently so, and the meat and seafood oddments had been intelligently selected and cooked with care. The monchong dish proved a thorough delight; somehow, chef Sean Thueson has found a way to meld a meaty fish with four sweet ingredients and end up with something invigorating, not cloying to the palate. The Diva's monkfish was a succulent morsel, tweaked toward perfection by a bed of garlic mashed potatoes and a side of fresh young green beans. Dessert was a strictly guy business, as the Diva had a show to do, so only three of pastry chef Elizabeth Buford's little gems were sampled: an extravagant banana cake ($7) concealing layers of mango curd, chocolate cream, and crushed macadamia brittle; a chocolate ladyfinger cake ($5.75) filled with mascarpone cream and drizzled with espresso-laced rum syrup; and a pear custard cake topped with a scoop of sweet wine- flavored ice cream. Yum. Falling Waters has been open for eight months and has not yet received the consideration its menu and service deserves. This may well be in part because a canard has circulated since it opened that the place is part of a chain of seafood restaurants based in Boise, Idaho—"and"—actual Seattle foodie quote—"what business does Idaho have telling us about seafood?" The truth is that Falling Waters is in part the property of the owner of one of Boise's most distinguished restaurants, Milford's, but its silent-partner majority stockholder is one of Washington's most respected food-and-beverage veterans. Manager Cody Lord doesn't know how the chain-restaurant rumor got started but would certainly like to hear the end of it. Once enough diners get around to trusting their own palates more than hearsay tattled by their gossipy friends, he will.

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