The Night the Music Died

Honest, Prince, this isn't how oysters are s'posed to taste.


EMP, 325 Fifth Ave. N., SEATTLE CENTER


11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.;

11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. The first thing—the only thing—I experience entering EMP's in-house restaurant, Turntable, are suburban bass beats coming from the Liquid Lounge upstairs. Beats like blank-eyed mall shoppers; "beats" in the most rudimentary sense of the word. As my party and I are escorted through an eerily vacant dining room and seated in a large semicircular booth, the "music" becomes violently louder, pierces my eardrums like a low-end gunshot, and then suddenly and mercifully dies. I think of a visiting Midwestern housewife and then, inexplicably, Prince. Although I'm not terribly concerned with the hypothetical tourist or the Artist Formerly Known As, I find myself half-heartedly worrying that they might encounter this version of my city nonetheless. Aside from my girlfriends and the pleasant young woman who seated us, this place is completely empty and (now) really, really quiet. It's 7:30 p.m. on a crisp autumn night, and Turntable is like a ghost town, but our cheerful server doesn't seem to notice. She speaks warmly of the fried green tomatoes ($7.95), so we order some of those and a bowl of Whidbey Island mussels ($9.95). ALTHOUGH I WAS only half-serious a few minutes earlier about Prince and the housewife from Ohio, after tasting the chardonnay-and-garlic-steamed shellfish, I'm starting to be genuinely troubled. Even disturbed. Tough, rubbery, and oddly gamy, the Whidbey Island mussels are not just obviously past their prime—they're expired, past their pull date. Conversely, the fried tomatoes in their tasty cornbread batter are delicious; after we push away the inedible shellfish, we eat every last firm and battery bit of them. Nonetheless, after our half-auspicious, half-awful appetizer round, I begin to regard my concerns with more and more gravity. Why are we the only ones here? Why are the cooks peering out at us between the slats of empty, heatable steel kitchen shelving? Why does their gaze suggest that we're endangered species that wandered into their zoo? And why is there a giant poster of an orange-haired Annie Lennox on the central wall? When our main courses arrive and we begin to eat, my worst fears are realized, then traded in for even more unpleasant ones. The two pitifully small, sub-school-cafeteria-quality cod fillets in our fish and chips ($11.95) are tough, flavorless, and not quite warm. We could have done better at Skipper's. The Alaska spot prawns ($15.95) are even more rubbery than the mussels, and my friend—the one with the very healthy appetite and a solid reputation for spotting a plate of half-shells on a menu from a mile away—takes one bite of her pan-fried Southern-style oysters ($12.95), swallows determinedly, then places her napkin to her mouth and politely but vigorously shakes her head "No way." Like all of our supposedly fresh seafood, the oysters are chewy, and their overly fishy, soured taste is something of a bitter insult. HOWEVER, IT'S FAIR to point out that aside from the decidedly leftover, lumpy, and lukewarm personality of the mashed potatoes, the Snake River Spiced Hanging Tender Steak ($16.95) commits no real misdemeanors, and its slices of Kobe beef, while obviously not from a choice cut (check the price and the less than silky texture), are savory and nicely seasoned. To be fair—or perhaps in a last-ditch effort to convince ourselves that the evening has not been a total waste—my friends and I spend a few minutes complimenting the sweet potato fries that came with the bad oysters. And then, to fill the disappointed silence, we remark on the redeeming qualities of the shoestring ones that sit underneath the unfinished fish fillets. But fries do not a restaurant make, especially when the restaurant is in a $24 million crumpled chrome museum. Making good on that promise not to completely waste the night, we request a round of ridiculous drinks from the page marked Signature Cocktails, where patrons are alerted to the fact that concoctions like the predictable Purple Haze and the odd Strawberry Fields martini are $7 doubles. We also take our server's advice on dessert (she had been right, after all, about the only thing we'd enjoyed thus far) and order the fallen chestnut souffl頨$6.95). Fifteen minutes later, and just drunk enough to say it straight, it's clear that it's not just the souffl頴hat's fallen; Turntable couldn't even get the vanilla custard underneath it right. That anyone—a short-statured pop dignitary or a sight-seeing vacationer—would leave here thinking that a meal like the one we just suffered through is Seattle's idea of Northwest Cuisine with a rock-and-roll edge is nothing less than a tragedy. Stick a fork in this place—it's done.

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