Notes from a Small Island
July 27, 2004

With due respect to Bill Bryson, of course.

We've been here five full days and we've been intensely relaxing. And eating. And clambering over rocks, sticking our fingers in tidepools and examining crablets. Suffice it to say that except for a Chow magazine deadline, I haven't had time to do much writing.

I have to admit that, aside from all my Dramamine-doped worries, the flight from Seattle to Friday Harbor on a teeny, seven-seated puddle-jumper was quite awesome. The Seattle sky/coastline, the stadiums, and Mt. Rainier in a sort of massive hugeness were all perfectly etched on a sapphire summer sky.

Since we had to get up at 4 AM to catch a shuttle and then our 7 AM plane and THEN didn't get On Island until noon, we crashed for a few hours before dinner. The first night's dinner was classic steak, baked potatoes, and a 1999 California Ridge Zinfandel from Lytton Station. The next day was all about shopping around town for provisions for the next night's Chow recipe-testing party -- of which I will write in detail, I promise.

Yesterday afternoon Dr. Mathra and I rambled around Town, revisiting all my old haunts. The Mystical Mermaid is in a new home after the fire smoked it out of its alley a few years ago, and the little purple shop's still got all the stuff I remember -- the crystals, the pewter figurines, the unicorn-themed everything -- in all its new agey glory. As there's really not much room in our San Francisco apartment for minute pewter wizards throwing bevelled crystal balls at playful pewter dragons, we bought my mother some humorous napkins and moved on. We spent some time wandering around my two favorite bookstores -- Griffin Bay Books and Boardwalk Books -- places I'd just cubicle myself in for hours, looking for the newest R. L. Stine or The Cat Who books. Sadly, the Griffin Bay golden retriever wasn't sleeping in the sun-drenched doorway anymore. He's gone to a better place where rare steak is on every meal plan.

Lunch was had at Vic's. When we first started coming to the island, it was called the Driftwood, but "Vic's" makes more sense as it is a 50s hamburger joint. And I don't mean "50s hamburger joint" in the over-done, self-conscious Ed Debevics-style, either. This is vintage. This is true. This is pure. In years past my sister and I insisted on going there for lunch with the Fitch Girls as soon as we set foot on the island.

Dr. Mathra and I stuffed ourselves with Vic's Deluxe Burgers with cheese and side orders of onion rings and fries. I looked around the booths and remembered that when Ramona Quimby went on and on about Whopper Burger, Vic's was the place I always pictured. Of course, here there were no gracious waitresses or tablecloths or weird side orders of mashed potatoes, but then again, in my head, burger joints never should have any of that stuff. There should be an order counter, booths with cracked yet tenderly mended plastic, and little packets of condiments that might have actually been there since they opened in 1958. Gross? Not really -- what do you think all those preservatives are for? Furthermore, potatoes in a hamburger joint should be all about the frying and not about the mashing.

Last night was dinner at Duck Soup Inn, and it was everything I remembered and more. I can't remember when we first started going, but my food memory really only goes as far back as when I was last on the island. I'm pretty sure I ordered the Beef Tournedos seven years ago and they came sauced with summer blackberries. This time we managed to order what I am convinced were the very best things on the menu. That will have to be a separate entry entirely complete with pictures, which managed to attract a lot of attention from other diners.

There are tons of new places around here as well -- the Lavender Farm and store, the vineyard, countless cafes and restaurants -- and while I will get to know those places in the future, they aren't my childhood and they'll just have to wait until Dr. Mathra and I are done wallowing in my memories.

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