Northwest NEWS

November 9, 1998


Dinner Train serves up nostalgia and memorable experiences

   by Deborah Stone
   Features writer

   Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other such occasions are always fun to acknowledge in a special way, and people are often searching for unique and interesting places in which to celebrate them.
   Many Puget Sound area residents have discovered that the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train can be the fulfillment of this quest.
   In fact, ninety percent of those who choose to ride the Dinner Train are locals out for a special evening. The Spirit of Washington Dinner Train is a leisurely, gourmet dining experience that takes passengers back in time.
   Since 1992, the Dinner Train has been carrying over 100,000 people a year on its three and a half hour excursion, showcasing scenic views of the Puget Sound region, from Renton to Woodinville.
   Good food, good service and good views have given the Spirit of Washington its reputation for providing many a memorable evening.
   The train can accommodate 370 passengers and is comprised of seven vintage cars (some date back to the 1930s), including a completely restored round end observation car, a platform car and three dome cars in which diners sit high above the rails, looking out through panoramic windows. It operates year-round, Tuesday-Sunday (and every day in summer) with a special Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch. Gourmet cuisine is catered by Schwartz Bros./Gretchen's Of Course.
   The ride begins at the south end of Lake Washington in Renton with the nostalgic sound of the train whistle and the slow rolling movement to indicate the excursion is underway.
   In winter, it may be damp and chilly outside, but inside the cars it's cozy and warm. As darkness begins to fall, small lamps cast a glow on the faces of the passengers as they relax and enjoy the experience. The ambiance of the interiors differ from car to car, with some more elaborate than others. Soft tones dominate in wallpaper and wood paneling. Tables are covered with crisp white tablecloths and are adorned with fresh flowers. A basket of various rolls, corn muffins and foccacia bread, along with pretty whipped butters and a salmon spread await diners when they are seated.
   Shortly after the train leaves Renton, a lovely salad of crisp romaine arrives, set off with juicy pink grapefruit segments, almond slivers, sharp marinated red onion slices and a lightly sweetened poppy-seed dressing (due to the popularity of this dressing, the recipe is included in the brochure at each table) is served. Wait staff are cheerful and very efficient as they move nimbly down the aisles balancing plates and glassware, all while the train is in constant movement. They also provide periodic commentary to let passengers know what they're passing, why they're stopping or to inform everyone of what occasions are being celebrated.
   At times, however, their over-exuberance can get tiring, especially when they insist on diners' participation in sing-alongs. Halfway through the trip, the entrees are served. These typically include beef, chicken and seafood dishes, such as roast salmon with apricot-ginger glaze, breast of chicken stuffed with apples and Cougar Gold Cheese, prime rib and Dungeness crab crepes, all accompanied with white and wild rice pilaf and grilled seasonal vegetables.
   The ride meanders through posh neighborhoods, snakes over and under freeways, goes alongside shopping centers, crosses the Wilburton Trestle in Bellevue, winds by pastoral farm fields and heads towards Woodinville where it stops at Columbia Winery. Passengers depart the train for about forty-five minutes to take a brief cellar tour and sample an array of wines or browse in the Winery's gift shop. On the return trip, dessert, coffee and after dinner drinks are served, enhancing the mellow and tranquil feeling among diners as they near the end of their excursion.
   The Spirit of Dinner Train hosts various group events, including weddings, office parties, conventions and sales meetings, as well as offering various programs, which include murder-mystery trips where diners solve a "whodunit" between courses.
   For information and reservations call 206-277-RAIL or 1-800-876-7245.