Merit Badge

Vegetarians beware at Redmond's classy new hotel eatery.

It had been 13 years since my family had eaten meat. That changed on a brisk, blustery day at the end of 2004. Approaching the formal dining room of Meritage in the Redmond Marriott Hotel, we instantly felt underdressed. Crystal chandeliers dangled from the ceiling, reflecting the last bit of light from the day onto equally elegant wineglasses. The tables were round and mahogany (-looking), draped in white linen with napkins to match. Across the room, an elongated, cluttered table bore an incredibly original display of bottles of wine. We were impressed. Though the surroundings were chic, the atmosphere felt warm and inviting. The spacious room still felt cozy. The open kitchen lent a touch of casualness. Best of all, not a soul was wearing fancy clothing. So by the time our smiling waitress approached the table, we were feeling more comfortable. My vegetarian family is accustomed to seeing few choices on restaurant menus to match our lifestyle, but we usually are able to find something. At Meritage, we found only one nonanimal item on the entire menu. In an attempt to garner some more meal choices (when reviewing a restaurant, it's just not useful to order four of the same), I asked our waitress if it might be possible to make a vegetarian meal—a baked potato, maybe with some grilled veggies? She replied with a cheerful "yes" and even suggested more green options for us. Was it the exceptional service? The bottle of merlot? The glowing ambiance? We went crazy and bypassed the veggie alternatives and sprang for the cedar-planked salmon ($17), the Parmesan- crusted halibut ($18), the flat-bread classico ($9), and fusilli pasta and deep-fried chicken ($13)—to salve our consciences, minus the chicken. By the time the eats arrived, we had had a glass of wine and good conversation. But silence fell at the table as the salmon with roasted fingerling potatoes, string beans, and artichoke-mushroom hash came to rest. Was this a good idea? Will we get sick? At any rate, it looked delicious. My dad shoved a forkful of salmon into his mouth first, and out came a moan of pleasure. One by one, we took bites of this masterpiece. Not being a salmon aficionado, I had nothing to compare this particular plate of salmon to, but all I can say is that it tasted absolutely fantastic. The smoky flavor seeped out with each bite. All I wanted was to chew as slowly as possible to savor every last taste. Now the only question is: Am I going to start eating fish? This was so scrumptious, how can I not? The halibut was pale (in every sense) compared to the salmon but still had a savory flavor nicely complemented by its linguine in lemon and pinot gris sauce. Across the table, my sister positively devoured her flat bread topped with tomato puree, roasted garlic, fresh basil, sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella. My mom took her time over her heavy, rich Parmesan-sauced fusilli with spinach and roasted garlic, but with our help, she cleaned her plate. That first visit to Meritage exceeded two and a half hours and ended with a feeling of blissful contentment for all. Meritage's elegance, service, and tummy fulfillment will definitely have this Redmondite visiting again. The only downside, at the end of it all, resided in my mind: Had I sat at or near the table where George W. Bush sat? Yes, he stayed at the Marriott after floating in on his black cloud. Please, let him have used the banquet room. Even better: room service. Meritage, 7104 164th Ave. N.E. (in the Marriott Hotel), REDMOND TOWN CENTER. Dinner 5–10 p.m. daily. Reservations preferred.

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