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Steps Wine Bar and Café


There’s a new place in Friday Harbor that’s drawing some local attention.  While talking with Mrs. D from Belly-Timber the subject came up and then, in my wanderings around town, I noticed it and noted that it was only 100 yards or less from the ferry dock.  Great placement! 

I mentioned that while Mrs. D and I were talking we were joined by another local gentleman and at one point the conversation turned to places they liked to eat on the island.  One place that has been in good standing for quite some time is a place called Duck Soup.  I’ve never had the pleasure of eating there but know that it has been held in high regard.   The gentleman mentioned that
"since the change" he no longer enjoyed it as much as he had in the past, I didn’t ask for particulars at that point and we went on with the conversation.  He also mentioned that he was not so impressed with Steps, as he didn’t like what they were trying to do there. 

Well, I filed that away but didn’t think too much about it as I had been planning on having my final meal on Friday evening at Friday Harbor House, another highly regarded dining spot. 

When it came time to leave on Friday afternoon, I put my car in the ferry line (always best to line up early since ferry service is rather limited) and made my way up to Friday Harbor House.  I went in, took a look at the night’s menu.  A few things looked great but for some reason I just wasn’t in the mood.  I wasn’t really hungry enough, I think.  I wandered around a bit and then decided to check out Steps.  With it’s great location so close to the ferry, it seemed the perfect place for a light bite before leaving the island.

They open at 5:30 and I was the first person to arrive. (A note to the Steps people – you should open at 5:00, since that’s when people start lining up for that last direct ferry back to Anacortes!)  The hostess showed me to a seat and gave me pages of menus.  I began making my way though the extensive wine list.  The first thing I noticed was that wine was available by the 1/2 glass, as well as the glass and the bottle.  I love that!  I mean wine bars are all about trying new things out and offering 1/2 glasses gives you an opportunity to expand your tasting.  Also, there was no penalty for ordering a 1/2 glass – it was exactly 1/2 price of a full glass.  And their prices were fair, if not great, but this is an island… 

My server arrived at the table and offered to assist me in my decision making but didn’t obtrude in any way. She also offered me water: "Flat, Sparkling or House?" I had to laugh! Isn’t it just a bit pretentious to call tap water "House" water? :-) I ordered "House" water and went back to perusing the menu. I have to say that was the only air of pretension I saw while I was there. Mostly the servers and staff were very friendly and really wanted to be helpful. For instance, a large party was seated next to me after I’d been there just a few minutes. They were a bit loud, but only loud as in a group having fun. My server asked if I’d prefer to move to somewhere quieter and, although I declined, I thought that was a nice gesture. Also, one of the people at the table was having a bit of trouble reading the menu, so when their server noticed she brought him one of those little light-up magnifying glasses. I noticed other little things like that throughout my dinner.

I started my meal with a glass of 2004 J.K. Carriere Rose and a bowl of Cayenne Sweet Almonds. (I had ordered a 1/2 glass but my server couldn’t quite remember, so brought the full glass but only charged me for 1/2.) The Rose was beautiful – both in color and in taste!  The Almonds were more sweet than spicy.  I would have liked a bit more cayenne, a bit more bite, but they were a nice accompaniment to the wine and the portion was generous enough to be shared among a table of four.  I actually had most of mine boxed to take as a little snack for later on. 

Next I ordered a 1/2 glass of the Alain Jaume St. Joseph 2001 Syrah.  This was a lovely wine but needed a bit of time to open.  The first sips were a bit astringent but I let it be for a few minutes and over just a little time it improved immensely.  As I was sipping I was also listening to the large group next to me – actually it was hard not to listen with the proximity being as it was.  One woman in the group had been to Steps five times already!  I think they’ve been open just a couple of months!  I guess her sentiments were not the same as the gentleman who talked about the place on Thursday night.  And then, this is what I found interesting.  The chef/owner of Steps, Matt Didn’t-catch-his-last-name, had originally been at Duck Soup.  Okay, now was this the change I’d heard about the night before?  And if this was the change that made Duck Soup now a bit inferior, why wasn’t Steps more fully embraced by the gentleman??  Now, I wish I’d asked more questions! :-)

No time to wonder.  My food was arriving and it looked gorgeous!  I’d ordered Broccoli and Cauliflower with Hazelnuts, Browned Butter and Lemon and Grilled Shrimp with Purple Basil Risotto and Sichaun Peppercorns.  (Interesting article about Sichaun Peppercorn in today’s NY Times.)

The broccoli and cauliflower were cooked to perfection!  Tender but al dente, the toasted hazelnuts and browned butter adding a bit of decadence while the lemon kept the tastes crisp and clean.  When I first bit into the Risotto, it was a bit too al dente but as the meal went on it finished to a perfect texture.  The purple basil added a nice perfume to the creaminess of the risotto.  The shrimp were heavenly!  A little spicy, a little buttery, bursting with flavor! 

At some point during the meal I ordered another 1/2 glass of wine.  This time I tried the 2003 Enzo Boglietti Nebbiolo  Langhe.  This is a really big wine and definitely needs time to open but once it does your mouth is very happy. 

I suddenly realized that it was just about time to load onto the ferry and you get in big trouble (read big ticket) if you are not back at your car in time to move it – especially when you end up blocking other traffic.  :-(  I quickly asked for my check, paid it and then made my way the few feet to my car, clutching my take home almonds and leftover shrimp and risotto. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Steps and with its proximity to the ferry I will definitely be back again – there were a lot of wines and foods on that menu that I’d still like to try, too!

Watch Belly-Timber for more information about Steps – probably sometime in August! You can find the post  here.

"Directions": We’re nestled in the alley across from the Pelindaba Lavender shop in the new Friday Harbor Center, on First St., in the middle of the block between Spring and East. St. Just up from the ferry landing.
Closed Tuesdays, open at 5:30 pm


One Comment
  1. Unknown permalink
    29-Jul-2005 11:31 pm

    Actually, our post about Steps is up right now! No food photos in ours though. I only took my camera when intervieweing Madden, and I decided to go artsy instead of flash. :-) Regarding Duck Soup, I\’m not sure but I think someone else also left their kitchen not too long ago, and that person might be who J. was talking about when he mentioned his perceived drop in quality. I\’ve lots more I *could* say about the competition & being in the industry in a small town (where everyone grabs for the tourists) but it could get me in trouble! :-)

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