Critic's Notebook

Where'd You Go (for Dinner) Bernadette?

The Seattle novel that hates Seattle calls out a bunch of real restaurants by name. Did your favorite joint get skewered in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

By Kathryn Robinson September 17, 2012


French toast ice cream sandwiches, anyone?

 Alright, so “the characters and events in this book are fictitious,” reads the boilerplate at the beginning of Maria Semple’s much talked about Where’d You  Go, Bernadette. If you haven’t heard, it’s a novel set in Seattle where the main character, Bernadette Fox, loathes everything about our city—its preponderance of gray haired citizens, its near-constant gray skies, its Craftsman houses, its proximity to Canada, its Chihuly sculptures, its large nearby software company.

(She does, however, love local weather guru Cliff Mass.)

The character doing all that holding back? Fictitious. But the restaurants she’s either avoiding or adoring are anything but. Herewith, a list of Bernadette’s “reviews”:

When her realtor takes her to Tom Douglas’ Greek restaurant she says: “Eating at Lola—That coconut cream pie! That garlic spread!—made me believe I could actually be happy making a life for myself in this Canada-close sinkhole they call the Emerald City. I blame you, Tom Douglas!”

Bernadette’s 15-year-old daughter Bee, having just been told they’ll be eating Thanksgiving dinner at Daniel’s Broiler, calls it “that totally random place on Lake Union with the tour buses that always advertises on TV.” Later her friends are jealous because “there was a piano player and they gave you free refills on lemonade and the chocolate cake was a huge slab and they call it Death by Chocolate, and it was even bigger than the colossal slice you get at P.F. Chang’s.”

Bernadette’s husband Elgin Branch chooses Wild Ginger as a place for a work lunch: It’s close to light rail so he can catch a ride to the airport after, and though it’s not on the menu they’ll make salt and pepper calamari if you ask.

(This, I can attest, is 100-percent true.)

Bernadette and Elgin eat dinner at “some Mexican place in Ballard.” (It remains unnamed but my money’s on La Carta de Oaxaca.)

A mobile pizza oven called Pizza Nuovo is mentioned. (Could she have meant Veraci Pizza?) Bernadette and Bee speak fondly of their usual Saturday morning breakfast at Macrina Bakery; their usual stroll through Beecher’s Cheese at the Market.

And just when you think Bernadette has tamed her razor tongue comes this explanation why she didn’t switch her daughter out of a problematic school: “The other good schools I could have sent Bee to…well, to get to them, I’d have to drive past a Buca di Beppo. I hated my life enough without having to drive past a Buca di Beppo four times a day.”

A major scene takes place in the Space Needle’s restaurant, which the teenagers “screamed with joy” and called “supercool” to learn they’d be visiting. “Nobody ever goes to the Space Needle restaurant!” said one of them, causing the other to reflect: “Which is true, because even though it’s at the top and it revolves—which should make it the only restaurant you’d ever go to—it’s totally touristy and the food is expensive.” Later they get lost trying to find their moving table on the way back from the restroom.

In what has to be a first, fictionally or factually: Bernadette brings dinner home in takeout boxes from Tilth

Finally, near the end of the book, a pregnant character who staves off morning sickness with French toast wakes up in the middle of the night with a craving to put Molly Moon’s salted caramel ice cream on it. “I bought a carton and started making salted caramel and French toast ice cream sandwiches. Believe me when I say I should trademark them and start a business.”

Uh, Molly…you reading this?   

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