St. Clouds restaurant, 1131 34th Ave., is now serving up a healthy round of discussion on the first Tuesday night of each month.

Known as "St. Clouds Salon," the eatery offers diners the opportunity to share views and insight about a specific topic over dinner.

HEEDING THE CALL

The concept for this event came after the 2008 election when the call came for community and dialogue in our neighborhoods.

"One of the things that [then President-Elect Barack] Obama brought was [to] restore conversation," said Dave Liddell, director of Phinney-Bischoff Design House, a branding company in Seattle.

Liddell and company president Karl Bischoff organized Step Two, a brainstorming meeting where Seattle business and government leaders and individuals from the media came together to answer the question of what to do next after the election.

If the election of a new president was step one, Liddell asked, what is step two?

From the meeting, John Platt, executive chef and co-owner of St. Clouds, volunteered to host a night of discussion to answer the call of restoring our community by rebuilding dialogue.

"What has broken down is the ability for people with different opinions to actually talk to each other," Platt said. He added that when he was growing up, he and his family talked about things often at home.

"You sit down to dinner and you talk...and sometimes they're volatile, political subjects. But it was expected that you spoke about it," he explained.

Thus, beginning last November on Election Night, Platt began pushing tables together and encouraging conversation on topics like taxes and U.S. foreign policy.

Through conversation like this, "more effort" goes into our democracy, Platt said.

STIMULATING CONVERSATION

Although there have only been a handful of salon nights so far, Platt and Liddell hope to continue this event for a long time - not only at St. Clouds, but across Seattle and the country.

Phinney-Bischoff has even come up with placemats that have a specific topic of discussion and questions to help facilitate the dialogue.

A previous month's topic, "What should be the U.S. role in our global society?" included such questions as, "From humanitarian emergencies to geopolitical conflicts, how have recent events shaped your perspective?" and "Spend a few minutes articulating an opposing view. What are the merits of this way of thinking?"

With topics that are mainly political, Platt, Bischoff and Liddell came up with questions that people from different backgrounds and viewpoints could share their thoughts about over a night of food and drink.

"You know, it's hard to get very hostile when you've got a cocktail, you've got something to eat, you sit around a table - there is a certain hospitality going on already," Platt said.

Thus, participants like Vicki and Geoff Ruskin enjoyed their night talking with other diners.

"It was very welcoming and relaxed," Vicki Ruskin wrote in an e-mail. "It was also a pleasure to have a stimulating conversation guided by the questions provided. It was a multi-aged group that crossed several generations. It is not very frequent that one gets to participate in that kind of discussion."

A ROBUST EXCHANGE

As of now, there have been around 20 participants at the salon, and in each meeting participants have found the characters of others to be both diverse and similar.

"Geoff was very excited to engage in a conversation with a Republican," Vicki wrote. "But then he found out that [the other person] had voted for the Democratic candidate for president in the last three presidential elections."

Vicki, on the other hand, found other diners who had been involved or had a parent who was involved in the Peace Corps.

"It was a pleasure to talk freely and openly in a group where there were no preconceived agendas," she wrote.

The founders hope the salon contributes to the rebuilding of community and fosters a robust exchange of ideas and opinions.

"What we really need is common ground," Liddell said.

For information about the St. Clouds salons, call John Platt at (206) 726-1522, or e-mail Dave Liddell at devinl@pbdh.com.