Earlier this month, the hubs and I sat down to eat for what we expected would be the last time at our absolute favorite Newport restaurant, Saffron Salmon. The restaurant was closing in October and I couldn’t say so long without one last dish of calamari.
Then, I looked at the menu, no calamari. That couldn’t be. I asked the waitress, “Calamari?” “Sorry,” she said, “No calamari.”
And so, I ordered the Bayfront Platter instead and it was, of course, wonderful. But damn, I’d wanted that calamari one last time.
The restaurant opened in May 2003, a fluke of sorts. The building owner had met Michael Waliser and Stacy Schellinger in Spokane, where Michael operated a bistro.
“He talked to us and asked if we were interested [in operating a restaurant] and we weren’t,” Stacy recalled. “But we thought it would be cool to see the Oregon Coast. We got here at night. We were staying in the condo upstairs. The next morning we woke up and looked out at the bay and said, ‘Oh my god.’ We stood there and got goosebumps on our arms.” •••
I discovered Saffron Salmon a year or so after it opened. Friends invited us to dine with them, insisting we start with multiple plates of the calamari appetizer to share. It was, and remains, the best calamari I’ve eaten. Ever. But it ruined me for the dish as rarely does any other chef’s come close.
From then on, whenever there was a special event or guests in town or we just wanted to do something nice for ourselves, Saffron Salmon it was. We’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve, Easter and birthdays there; watched the Newport Lighted Boat Parade and fireworks from there. Of course, no visit to the restaurant was more memorable than the private launch party of my novel “Wander” for 40 or so of our closest friends. Stacy set the place up of beautifully, Michael worked his usual magic with the food, and I left that afternoon knowing those two hours would sparkle in my memory for the rest of my life.
This summer, I told Stacy, “When my next book comes out, we want to hold the launch party with you again.”
To which Stacy, with a crooked grin, replied, “It better come out soon because we are closing this fall.”
And that’s how I learned the news. After 15 years, the pair are tired and burned out. It’s time for a new adventure.
“The restaurant business has changed tremendously in the past few years,” Stacy said. “A lot of it is technology driven. We find sometimes our focus is on everything else but the guests and the food. We also wanted to go out on a high note. That was very important to us.”
The pair isn’t sure what they’ll do next, though, in the interest of dispelling some rumors, they are not moving back to Spokane; are not bankrupt and are not having marital problems. But they do have some plans.
“One of the things we’re looking forward to is to be able to celebrate holidays and events and moments with our loved ones,” Stacy said. “We want to go camping on the 4th of July and not be around fireworks. We plan on traveling, just living a little.”
They are trying to sell the restaurant and do have some interest.
“We really hope it goes into good hands” Stacy said, “so people can carry on the tradition of this gorgeous view and the scene and all that.”
Meanwhile, they’re relishing all the good times.
“We do stand back and are proud of what we accomplished here,” she said. “We are humbled by all the love and we are excited about our future. As people have been sharing their stories with us … when it comes down to it, it wasn’t about the food, it was about all the memories made here. We really hold that close.”
And I can say the same. Though, sometimes, truthfully, it really was about the food. Like last week when word went out that Michael’s calamari would be back for a one-night special appearance. Of course, we put in our reservation for two. I’m not sure how it is possible, but I swear on that night Michael surpassed even himself. And so, I got my wish for one last dish of his amazing calamari and Stacy and Michael got theirs to go out on a high note, indeed.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.