If anyone’s paying attention (which I have no reason to expect whatsoever), this blog has been lying in a state of sore neglect of late. I’ve been head down on a large writing project (read: PAID WORK) that has been sucking up all my writing and interviewing energy. It has been a worthwhile project for many reasons, though, so I don’t mind having put the food profiles on hiatus for a time while I concentrate on that.
That said, I’ve also wanted to build a bit of travel element into the subjects for this blog for a time, as well, rather than limit myself to just things happening in the Bay Area food scene. With the Internet and food TV nearly ubiquitous at this point, it’s not like there’s really anything happening here that is that much more special or unique than anywhere else in the country—or probably the world for that matter—at this point anyway, no matter if Bay Area peeps like to think so or not! (Sorry, it’s true!) Yes, we’re lucky enough to have more access to a variety of fresh produce year round, but there’s a lot of farm-to-table, organic, blah, blah, blah pretty much everywhere these days.
Which is the long way of saying I recently spent 54 hours in Seattle over a long weekend and had the privilege to explore some restos and bars up there and was just as impressed—or at least intrigued—with some of the stuff I saw up there as I am going to a most Bay Area restos. So, of course I had to write about some of them, however belatedly.
Let me first say that before that weekend, I’d never really been to Seattle before, save for a day and a half I spent in Bellevue about 7 years ago for a client positioning workshop, which I don’t really count as having been to Seattle because I never even saw the city’s skyline let alone anything other than a hotel room and an office park. Basically my plan for the two and a half days I was there was to wander around and see what there was to see. And, as it turns out, what there was to eat, since I left feeling like I’d eaten plenty over that short time period!
After flying in on Friday morning and checking into my hotel, my first order of business was, of course, lunch. It was about 1 pm, and I was getting hungry. That started a couple days of gustatory adventuring. I did some online consulting of things like Seattle Magazine’ˆs lists of best restaurants, as well as Thrillist’s and Eater. Some stuff I sort of just happened across and decided to check out completely on a whim. If you’re not too anal about having specific plans when traveling, I say wing it!
Below are some of the places that I checked out—each of which I would recommend checking out if you are ever in the Seattle area.
Skillet Street Food – Wandering down 5th Street from my hotel toward downtown Seattle, I had no idea where to get lunch. Headed toward the shopping area, I spied a food truck parked in a square (McGraw Square as it turns out) and decided to check out their menu. They had a couple burgers, which I sort of thought would be a lot for lunch, but one was a farro burger, which I thought wouldn’t be too bad. They also had a special advertised—cornmeal crusted catfish and collard greens. When I asked the cute little hipster chick server which she recommended she immediately said I should get the catfish—“It’s really good!” she said. Somehow she knew I was an out-of-towner, too, because she also immediately asked me where I was from, which I thought was sort of funny considering that there are a lot of us Scando types in Seattle—I even have distant relatives that live there, not that I know them, but I know they’re there!
Anyway, she was totally right—on both counts. The catfish was gooooood! The cornmeal crust was pretty light, and the fish was super fresh, not fishy in the least. And frankly, the collard greens were even better. They may well have been the best greens—no strike that—they WERE the best greens I’ve ever had! They did have some chunks of tasso ham in them, so they were not for vegetarians, but they also had a bit of a creamy sauce to them—almost like they were creamed greens, which I’d never seen before. Unlike some greens, which are often a bit sweet or even vinegary, these were just slightly rich in that way anything that has a hint of cream in it always is. They also had a bite of cayenne at the end. Dee-lish on both dishes. The meal also came with a ¼ ear of grilled corn on the cob.
Make no mistake, this was a sizable lunch—I was literally looking around to see if there was a homeless person that I could give half of it too—but it was terrific and actually was a good foundation for spending the rest of the afternoon walking.
Apparently, Skillet was one of the earliest food trucks in Seattle and they now have built a small empire of catering, food trucks and restaurants. Definitely worth checking out.
Pike Place Market – C’mon, no trip to Seattle is complete without going here, right? It was a must! I didn’t eat anything here, but I did want to watch the fishmongers throwing fish at each other at Pike Place Fish. Flying fish antics aside, their fish looked terrific – if I lived there, I would get fish there – and they only buy sustainable fish.
Across the street from the market, I also happened upon a cheese shop, with a giant vat of cheese curds being made in the window, so I had to check that out. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, sells a variety of cheeses, but makes their own cheese curds, which are a big deal in the Midwest, particularly Wisconsin. I sampled their curds and their Flagship Cheese, which was a particularly good sharp cheddar-style cheese. People were streaming in and out of their doors with cups of mac and cheese in hand, so they seem to be pretty famous for their mac and cheese, which they boast is the “world’s best.” (They probably haven’t had the smoked gouda mac and cheese at Pican in Oakland, though, so that “best” label is probably arguable!)
Later that afternoon, I wandered down to the Pioneer Square area south of downtown and found three food and bevvie gems.
Cone and Steiner is a nice gourmet grocery and wine shop. They happened to be having a rosé tasting that afternoon and one of the shopkeepers invited me to try some. A big rosé fan, who was I to turn that down? My arm never needs to be twisted far to try some nice rosés! They had five on sample, most of which were European, with the exception of a nice one from Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz. Nice store, friendly staff, good tasting!
As I’d walked down through the Pioneer Square area, I’d noticed a sandwich board advertising a sake tasting room. That sounded fun to me, so when I decided I was through looking around the neighborhood, I made a beeline for the sake room. Sake Nomi is a on a side street and the entrance looks like you’re about to walk into an apartment building rather than a sake shop, but it’s worth the trip. The shop is owned by an American guy and his Japanese wife, although she was not there the day I stopped in. Johnnie sports a bandana as a head scarf and mans the bar. They are both a bottle shop and do tastings. Although I’m no slouch in the grape wine knowledge department, I frankly know squat about sake, so I let Johnnie suggest what to have. When I asked him how he’d gotten into sake, he said he’d spent a lot of time in Japan where “I got into sake and sake got into me.” He’s quite knowledgeable, and he changes up what’s on the tasting menu about once a week, so if you’re curious about sake and are in Seattle, this place is worth stopping by. There were a couple of women there who were originally from Japan and how living in Seattle who were pretty impressed with what he served, so that says something, I think!
My final stop for that evening was Damn the Weather, a resto bar also in Pioneer Square. I had seen mention of it as a great place for cocktails and food when I was looking through some of the local listings and I loved the name so I thought it was worth checking out. I had originally thought I might just stop in for a cocktail and a snack to soak up the sake and cocktail. I ordered a Manhattan-esque variation that began with an “H” whose name now escapes me, although the bartender said it was created in the same era. For a snack, I ordered the potato rings with pimento cheese, although I was super tempted by the chicken fat fries with fennel pollen just because most everything is better with schmaltz! But the potato rings were pretty good—they were almost like a Hasselbeck potato stacked on a plate with copious layers of pimento cheese in between each ring. This was a knife and fork app for sure! Also very enticing on their upscale pub menu was the spaghetti and meatball burger, which literally was a burger made out of meatball mix and topped with spaghetti and tomato sauce! It was such a novel concept, I couldn’t resist. That, too, was a knife and fork thing. I generally do not really eat burgers with a knife and fork (who does that?!?), but this was a hot, yummy mess and to spare my neighbors at the bar from watching me try to navigate spaghetti literally falling off my burger as I tried to bite into it. I went in for the utensils. Again, good stuff. Damn the Weather is a fun pub, friendly bartenders and friendly patrons. I chatted at the bar with a nice Iowa boy who moving to Seattle with his wife from Denver to work for some tech company (of course).
Before happening upon the Skillet food truck on Friday afternoon, I had first tried my luck at finding a sandwich at Top Pot, which was near my hotel. Their sign had said “sandwiches” but little did I know that Top Pot is actually a staple Seattle donut shop. They did have sandwiches, but they were those pre-made, wrapped things stuck in a refrigerator case. It’s one thing to grab one of those at Starbuck’s at the airport or on the road, but that was not what I wanted to start my Seattle lunch with. However, the donuts intrigued so I decided I would need to have a donut (or two) sometime during the weekend. So I got up Saturday morning and decided it was time to get some donuts. I do not eat donuts very often. Clearly Top Pot is quite popular with Seattle-ites. The line was probably at least 20 people deep when I walked in Saturday morning. Normally I have no patience for long lines, but being on a holiday weekend, I had more patience than usual. Thankfully the line moved pretty fast. I ordered a chocolate coconut donut (called a “Feathered Boa”) and a cinnamon sugar. Both were good as donuts go, but what really got me at Top Pot was that they had an Ovaltine Mocha on the menu! If you grew up in the 60s and 70s, you remember Ovaltine—it was like a malted chocolate powder drink mix. Ah, nostalgia! I had to get one. It was a tad sweet, but worth the nostalgia. Get one if you ever go to Top Pot.
After meeting a college friend for lunch and wandering around during the afternoon, I decided to get a late afternoon snack at a Mexican place close to my hotel that was highly recommended in the Seattle food guides. I walked over to Cantina Leña and got a Michelada and the Three Amigos – chips with three sides—guacamole, queso fundido and a smoky eggplant dip. I’m a sucker for chips and salsa, so the dips were all great. And I quite liked their Michelada (beer with some lime and a bit of spicy salsa). I’ve become a bit of a spice wimp as I’ve gotten older, so there are some Micheladas that are too spicy for me, but this one didn’t kill me with the heat. Good stuff!
For a late dinner, I went and sat at the bar at Tavolàta, an Italian place in the Belltown neighborhood. Tavolàta is one of the restos owned and operated by local Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell, who I have frankly never heard of, but they were highly rated and who doesn’t love a good pasta? I started with their pea salad, which was described to me as “peas three ways,” meaning that there were fresh English peas, snow peas and pea shoots in the salad, which also had crème fraiche, lemon, mint and speck (ham). Served cold, I really liked the taste of this salad—it was very refreshing and the sweetness of the English peas contrasted with the saltiness of the speck was a little bit of a mouth party. What threatened to ruin said mouth party was the pea shoots, which were basically like the texture of a thick celery string. The pea shoots, frankly, almost ruined this dish for me. It was like here you are eating this lovely bowl of nice al dente peas and crunchy pea pods and all of a sudden you come across a giant piece of dental floss in your salad. And then another. And another. And you can barely chew through it and it’s just getting in the way. This is a great salad, but the addition of the pea shoots was a completely flawed decision texturally. I don’t know who let that out of the kitchen…
For my main course, I just ordered a simple bowl of Cacio e Pepe pasta, or as it was listed on the menu—Tonarelli, which I’m assuming was the pasta shape. The sauce was just olive oil, pepper and pecorino romano. YUM! I honestly don’t know what’s more satisfying than a nice bowl of pasta done well. So simple, yet so comforting.
I was on the fence about dessert because I can rarely eat a dessert by myself, and I’d already had a big bowl of peas and a big bowl of pasta. But I had a bit of a hankering for sometime sweet. Looking at the menu, I saw that they had affogato and thought, hey, a coffee with ice cream in it can’t be that big, right? Wrong! Out comes this huge bowl with like 2-3 scoops of ice cream, cookie thingies and a tiny side of espresso. I couldn’t even eat half of it. Clearly the bartender was trying to get me to run up my bill by recommending that one. Overall, everything was quite good, though, with the exception of those damned pea shoots. (Bad, bad, bad!)
My last Seattle food foray was biscuits. Apparently biscuits are a thing in Seattle. There are a number of places around town where biscuits and biscuit breakfast sandwiches are the rage. Unfortunately, the ones that I saw listed in the local press were all a car’s ride away from my hotel and I was on foot that weekend. But when I was wandering around on Saturday afternoon I saw a place in Belltown called Biscuit Bitch. After looking them up online, I discovered that they had been written up in Food and Wine as one of the best biscuits in the country. Sold! That was all I needed. Biscuit Bitch for Breakfast it was! The folks at Cone and Steiner had also suggested Bedlam, a coffee shop around the corner from BB, as a good coffee place, so I could hit them both up at the same time. Like Top Pot, Biscuit Bitch had a line out the door. This one was not moving very fast. After ordering my sandwich, I figured I had time to run over and grab a latte and come back before my name was called. Wrong. Of course, right when I leave, the line sped up. I got my coffee, and a sandwich, which turned out not to be mine, was sitting waiting for a pick up when I got back. I was given a random sandwich and clearly someone else had been given mine because I had ordered an egg and bacon sandwich and what I got was egg and Spam of all things! Thus, their slogan “From trailer park to table!” Rather than wait again, I decided to try the SpamBitchwich, which was actually good, however trashy. The biscuits were good, too. Worth a try.
My coffee, on the other hand, was disappointing. Aside from my Ovaltine latte, which was more like a treat than the kind of coffee you want to drink on a regular basis, I was frankly unimpressed with coffee in Seattle. Like I said, highly disappointing. What’s wrong with you Seattle? Why do you like your coffee to taste burnt? Bleccccch. And here I thought you were supposed to be such a great coffee town…
Maybe I just didn’t find a good enough roast/brand, but I guess when it comes to coffee I, like Dorothy, should not be looking any further than my own backyard. Sorry, people, but it’s true! Give me my Farley’s and De La Paz any day. There’s no place like home in the Bay Area for coffee.
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