Kirkland is not the type of town to need a “How do you do” type of introduction from a guidebook. It’s the type of town that walks right up to you, all friendly-faced and smiling, and invites you to join the family for dinner.
While I still can’t quite banish the “Kirkland Signature” label of Costco fame from my mind’s eye each time I type the name, Kirkland (in truth the real-life inspiration for Costco’s signature brand) has much less to do with big box stores and much more to do with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants squeezing and jostling for space in the quaint streets. Arriving in late afternoon at this town that borders Bellevue on Lake Washington opposite downtown Seattle, we intend to avail ourselves of the eager-to-please restaurants and take our place in line with the hundreds of other cars, pedestrians, cyclists, boaters, and families who have had the exact same idea.
Because who in the greater Seattle area wouldn’t want to spend a weekend afternoon lazing about on Kirkland’s sun-drizzled wharf?
The lunar cove offers up a fingernail of lawn to families and dogs. We watch a particularly glossy Bernese mountain dog handle the promenade like a pro. Moms spread blankets and squint against sun glare as toddlers tumble gratefully from strollers and proceed to mountain climb parental peaks of shoulders, knees, and elbows. We spy, with not just a hint of envy, a wine-glass-clinking patio party on one apartment balcony overlooking the Lake with its stunning view of downtown Seattle.
Once she sees the water, Little Friend cannot be deterred from tucking her pants into her diapers and straining up to her knees into the frigid water. A few blissful minutes later, she sifts through the pebbles on the beach to unearth, from its neighboring cigarette butts, an “Ancient Treasure.” She holds her proclaimed treasure out to me—a dull, dusty length of elastic shoelace.
Standing on the border between grass lawn and pebble beach and pretending to fawn over this incomparable Ancient Treasure, I can feel the pulse and thrum of Kirkland’s streets behind me. It’s as though I, and all the other sun-bathers who have paused at the cove to snag some minutes on the grass, am pausing gratefully for a sunshine appetizer before the main course, in the form of Main Street Kirkland, arrives.
The energy of Kirkland is palpable.
Deciding on where to dine is a serious concern. Would it be better to extricate the car from the serendipitous parking spot to back-track to Purple Cafe and Wine Bar? Should we wait out the 10 minutes to dine Mediterranean-style on the umbrella-shadowed patio at Olive You? Do we continue on through the teeming sidewalks, threading like unseen mosquitoes through the clouds of conversation puffing out of the open-sided restaurants, to Milagro Cantina for some gourmet Mexican?
In the end, the thought of a good mole and sizzling chili relleno wins out, and we duck into a dark, gloaming booth deep in the recesses of Milagro. We joke with our waiter, who, like all good Seattle residents, can carry on seven-layer conversations about food, and who gives us a sly wink and a corner of the mouth tip to try a great Mexican place in Ballard. It’s a place that leaves him speechless when trying to describe the decadenace of their Chicken Mole. I think I notice Milagro’s Mole menu entry blanch a bit as it catches the waiter’s words.
We order wisely, for the most part, which is a considerable feat when the menu stretches on for seven pages. My Verduras Enchilada offers a nice twist on the classic with cactus, mushroom, and zuchini pocketed in the tortilla. Big Friend’s Pollo Enchilada serves up rotisserie chicken in a tomatillo-poblano sauce. But it’s Aunt Faith’s dish of Chili Rellenos that has us all sneaking index finger swipes of the ancho-pasilla cream sauce when she’s not looking. Only Uncle Paul is notably silent as he picks away at his Grilled Red Snapper.
Little Friend goes all out with a Mexican hot dog. When it arrives, it looks average-American to me. Little Friend proceeds to mangle the bun and slather it in a blood bath of ketchup. She dips handmade tortilla chips in the guacamole sampler. She prefers the goat-cheese guacamole to the pine-nuts-and-pomegranate-guacamole. I can’t get enough of all of it. Especially the cucumber mojito that somehow leaps from glass to stomach fairly quickly.
Kirkland is not left easily, like a child clinging to your leg gazing up with those unbearably sad-happy puppy eyes. So come prepared to lounge at the marina, linger over dinner, and dawdle your way down the sidewalk as your will pushes your reluctant heart homeward.
It didn’t take but one and a half requests from Little Friend for “bubble gum ice cream” for us all to consent to stay one ice cream scoop longer in Kirkland. My sea-salt caramel gelato from Sirena Gelato was creamy and rich, just as it should be. The blond haired innocents serving up the dishes of gem-colored gelato hand it over with all the warmth and smiles you’d expect from Southern California. Little Friend, who has actually never tasted the real deal, believes her purplish wild-berry gelato “the best bubble gum ice cream ever.”
She stares with the frankness of a child at the chubby baby perched on tabletop just on the other side of the window. With the baby’s father, I exchange that knowing smile of parents in public over the black-fuzzed-baby head. I nuzzle my nose into Little Friend’s neck and inhale the faint saltiness of sweat and sun and water. She has dropped the Ancient Treasure some place in the restaurant, and I’m glad it’s forgotten over this pot of gold gelato.
By the time we retrace our now moonlit steps to the car, tethering a gyrating Little Friend to our hand as she decides to bump into each tree we pass, we have spent hours enjoying the best that life in Kirkland has to offer: atmosphere, food, conversation, and relaxation. Oh, and plenty of Ancient Treasures, be they used shoelaces, gelato, or lakeside promenades, for the taking.