Behind the Pink Door

Trapeze, fettuccini, and rosy charm at a Pike Place Market institution.

What’s behind that door? The question that’s fueled everything from children’s literature to ’70s porn is one of the hooks the Pink Door hangs its hat on. The first thing my friend and I noticed on entering (through an appropriately pink-painted door) was a trapeze swing. We voiced no objection when seated beneath it. Ten minutes later, local semi-celebrity Tamara the Trapeze Lady began her glittery act directly above us, to music that can only be described as New Age Chilean. While suspended from her swing, Tamara managed to flirt gamely with my friend, drink from my water glass, and incite much giggling among our fellow diners.

Agape and minus a few sips of water, we inspected the bill of fare and found it pink: pink drinks, pink lasagna, and salads starring reddish stuff like beets and radishes. Not surprisingly, the atmosphere follows suit. Cloud-kissed cherubim populate the walls, the lighting is soft and low without being dim, and the tableclothsfilled with dancing hens and appleslook more like picnic blankets than upscale decor.

The Pink Door wants to be the Italy of your dreams, and after a pink bellini ($7.50) and a pink margarita ($6.75), the restaurant’s attempt at Italian fantasia was a pretty easy sell. We ordered the house antipasto ($10.50), which arrived looking oddly like a seder plate, zucchini, peppers, mozzarella, marinated cannellini beans, prosciutto, and salami in typical fan formation. The cannellini were on the crunchy side of al dente, but everything else was quite toothsome, including the bed of lightly dressed greens beneath it all.

Following another set by Tamara, we ordered the specials: Alaskan king salmon on a summery bed of green beans, tomatoes, fresh spinach, kalamata olives, and garbanzos ($20.95) and house-made fettuccini with chanterelles and summer leeks in an herbed cream sauce ($16.95). My friend’s salmon arrived medium rare, with a peppery outer crust and a slightly bland interior. The vegetables made a colorful place mat for the fish, but as a whole the dish was less than life-changing.

The pasta, on the other hand, was a complete success. The portion was satisfying without being overlarge, and the rich, meaty, slightly salty mushrooms had a trufflelike complexity. Somehow the cream sauce managed to feel light, and the pasta, no pushover, was lovely in both taste and texture.

After dinner we repaired to the Door’s spacious deck, home to an herb garden, atmospheric grapevines, and many mellow diners. Blithely sipping our pinot grigio and staring at the melting sun, we talked of nothingwithout question the best way to spend a Sunday evening. Eventually the dying light commanded us back inside, where we nibbled at lavender panna cotta and a slice of flourless espresso torte (both $6.50), made small talk with an exhausted Tamara, and plotted our return.

For me, the wait was briefI was back within two days, for lunch with an actress friend. We ordered salads: a caprese and a beet/gorgonzola/walnut mélange on a bed of arugula (both $8.50). Then, rethinking our “light lunch” idea, we decided to share the risotto with portobello mushrooms, sliced Parmesan, garlic, and truffle oil ($15.95).

My second visit was quite a different experience. We lunched on the deck, which fairly shook with activity; its denizens gossiping and gawking at each other’s food in the loudest, most gesticulatory way imaginable. The low-key trapeze magic of the evening shift had given way to a pleasantly noisy Mediterranean bustle, and these two sides of the Pink Door balanced one another beautifully.

The arugula salad was nice enough; the risotto was serviceable, though it desperately needed salt, which we duly added. But that caprese . . . first of all, the heirloom tomatoes were luscious: Colorful, swelling with sweetness, and fresh as hell, they complemented the salt-and-peppery mozzarella and fresh-picked basil while offsetting the sharpness of the drizzled balsamic. These tomatoes had so much personality we could have included them in our conversation. Thanks to that caprese, my friend and I were transported; baking on a sun-blasted deck, surrounded by tiny green grapes on the vine and catty fast-talkers, we could have been in Tuscany. Never mind the oversweet pink mojitos ($7.50); at the Door, authenticity is as often in the air as on the table.

In many ways, Tamara the Trapeze Lady embodies the Pink Door’s virtues. The restaurant plays a niche role and plays it well, performing evocatively but also with a sense of festivity and artfulness. In one of SW‘s earliest Best of Seattle issues, our readers chose the Pink Door as their favorite first-date restaurant, and from the looks of the Sunday-night dinner crowd, what worked for daters in 1987 still works today. You can accuse the Door of gimmickry Tamara on Sundays, live jazz on Thursdays, the utter pinkness of it allbut the place has been around for 22 years. Without solid food and a killer atmosphere, there would likely be no one sitting beneath the Trapeze Lady as she twirled.