WITH SUMMER WELL nigh upon us, it's time to think about summer visitors. Which means it's time to think about Ray's Boathouse. Perhaps the old standard hasn't occurred to you in a while; in recent years, despite its much-publicized destruction by more than one fire and its subsequent reopenings, Ray's seems to have fallen off a lot of people's radar screens, including mine. I used to recommend the place like crazy, to natives indeed but also to visitors who had but one meal to enjoy in Seattle. It's gotta be Ray's, I used to say. Would I still? We went to check. Ray's Caf頩s the casual upstairs joint, drop-in only, filled with families and folks in jeans and people who got there early enough to snag one of the sundeck tables. From one of these you can most fully understand the legendary appeal of this place, for there before you lies the whole pewter sweep of Shilshole Bay's sea and sky—a marvel no matter how many times you've seen it. The cozy and casual interior is anchored with a couple of stone fireplaces. Ray's Boathouse
6049 Seaview NW, 789-3770
summer hours (beginning June 1): Mon-Thu 4:30-10pm, Fri 5-10:30pm, Sat 4:30-10:30pm
AE, DC, MC, V; full bar Ray's Cafe
6049 Seaview NW, 782-0094
summer hours: daily 1:30-3:30pm, bar menu 3:30-4pm, dinner 4-10:30pm
AE, DC, MC, V; full bar We munched off various parts of the menu, starting with a house salad ($4.25). On the smallish side, this plate nevertheless provided a mouth-filling assortment of greens, peppers, curly carrots, and candied walnuts in a sweet, lemony vinaigrette. We all agreed the housemade hummus on the hummus plate ($5) was a perfectly serviceable—though dry—variant, which tasted nice on toasted pita with flavorful kalamata olives. The crisp fried calamari ($7.25) were nicely moist but too heavily cloaked in much too salty a breading; the accompanying lemon aﯬi, however, tasted great. I liked my salmon burger ($8), which arrived on an onion bun topped with chile slaw and basil mayo; but the garlic in the slaw grew relentless after a while. The vegetable stirfry with added scallops ($9.25 plus $3 for the scallops) was a heap of curried soba noodles topped with a garden of vegetables, mushrooms, and sesame seeds—all very nice but for its meaningless topping of dried noodles. Best was a plate of clam linguine ($10.75), in which Manila clams and lots of herbs tangled it up with pasta in a light wine sauce. Simple, cooked just right, and filled with the flavors of the sea, this dish was terrific. Time to snag a reservation in the real Ray's downstairs. TO JUDGE THE PLACE in its proper context, we brought with us a pair of bona fide visitors who had but one meal to enjoy in Seattle. Upon entering they duly marveled at the view, sensitively framed in the woods and naturals of Ray's dockside decor and magnificently present even to us chumps seated farthest from the windows. (We tried, arriving a full 15 minutes ahead of our appointed time as the host had suggested, but still couldn't get a window. I humbly wish you luck.) We began with starters all around. The Shilshole sampler ($16) was a smasher: chilled Gerard & Dominique's smoked salmon wrapped around a creamy dill sauce, a little pile of smoked scallops, warmly crusted Dungeness crab cakes, and tender tiger prawns. A bowl of tomato and fennel soup ($8), drizzled with chipotle cream and with a dollop of Dungeness crab salsa, was both tart and sweet—winningly zingy—but tepid. I ordered a salad, a highly composed affair starring baby spinach, smoked scallops, ni篩se olives, and spiced peanuts, ringed with orange wedges and draped in a pretty blood orange vinaigrette ($8). I liked the parts very much, but was disappointed to find they didn't add up to anything much greater than their sum. As for a plate of ahi, pepper seared and raw within ($10), served with a briny ocean salad and wasabi—it was supremely flavorful. Masterfully prepared. Magnificent. The appetizers taught us something we already suspected: Namely, the dishes foregrounding fish soared. We ordered our entr饳 accordingly. Smoked Alaskan Coho salmon ($21) was a large filet in a sweet apple cider glaze and topped with a spiced apple chutney, over garlic potatoes and asparagus and carrot slivers. Never have sweet and smoky gotten along so well on a plate; never has a hunk of rich fish been so respectfully treated by a grill. Similarly divine was the special-of-the-evening Columbia River sturgeon ($23), served in a tangy curry sauce and accompanied by the same sides as above. The sauce was delectably complementary of the sturgeon, but most extraordinary was the moistness of the fish. Pan-seared sea scallops over rice ($20) were moist and perfectly prepared, seductively bathing in a coconutty Thai green curry sauce topped with a perky mango-papaya salsa. Mmmm. . . . Mouthful after creamy mouthful was a triumph. Same to-the-power-of-10 on the grilled black cod in sake kasu ($22), a dish of surpassing melt-away texture and vivid smoky soy-and-ginger flavor. It literally flies, reported our crack waiter, out the door. With it came ocean salad and tender shoots of chum soy, a bok choy-like green. Chef Charles Ramseyer appears particularly at home with these Asian preparations; since he began his tenure Ray's has become a lot more Eastward-focused. Desserts come from pastry chef Renee Fisher, and they are fine. We sampled a white chocolate cheesecake on an Oreo crust ($6), a vanilla cr譥 brl饠with a jaunty gingersnap hat ($6), a warm apple-raspberry crisp ($6), and a white- and dark-chocolate mousse torte ($6). These were very nice, as even the worst of this legendary place could be described. Indeed, the Caf頵pstairs is no destination, but still managed to achieve simple cafe food with verve. But who's fooling who? The real glory of Ray's continues to be the Boathouse downstairs, most specifically the fish. Faultlessly fresh and handled with awe, the seafood down here is the reason—even leaving aside the knockout view and consistently excellent tableside service—you and those guests of yours ought to at least try to snag a table here first this summer.