Seattle, Washington. A Seafood Wonderland.
For the third year in a row, my wife and I found ourselves booking yet another flight to Portland for a weekend of indulgence. We had befriended epicureans alike and have even dubbed it our second home – it was just so comforting. But all this time, we never even looked towards Seattle until a few of our friends promised an abundance of fresh seafood and a solid cocktail scene. Sold. We would fly into Seattle first, drive down to Portland and fly from there back to Los Angeles. Double header!
We arrived in Seattle in the morning and were glad the sun had come out to say hello during the entire trip. We checked into a hotel with the optimal location: the Inn at the Market just right in front of the Pike Place Market – the market being the famous Pike Place Market. Touristy, yes. Busy, yes. Delicious, oh yes. There’s no better way to experience Seattle than a trip through the multi-leveled marketplace. We even slept with the windows open because we enjoyed hearing the morning foot traffic and chatter around the market. Had I not overcome my food sickness from bad seafood nearly 20 years ago, Jeni and I might not have considered coming to Seattle. And what a shame it would have been not to experience some of the freshest, most amazing seafood from the Pacific Northwest. Even those that do not enjoy seafood, may find themselves converted seafood-lovers in a matter of a few bites. I know I’ve deemed this a seafood-focused posting but it would be an incomplete trip if I chose to skip out on meat. Now let’s eat!
Within an hour of arriving and checking into the hotel, we headed over and immersed ourselves into one of Seattle’s prime tourist attractions: the Pike Place market which opened in 1907. In any other situation where I would hear the “T” word, I would cringe in angst, but I had a good feeling about this place. With a beautiful sign blasting “Public Market”, it has become synonymous with the cross of a church for those that believe in the religion of good eating. Gluttonous sinning is more than welcome here though. I couldn’t explain the allure of this market. Maybe it was the tranquil harmony between locals and tourists. The loud applause from guys tossing dead fish at each other. Maybe it was the super fresh smell of seafood that got people so riled up. I’ll tell you, decades of walking through 99 Ranch-like Asian markets can really taint your inkling of good seafood – but now, I know what fresh seafood should smell like.
A lot of vendors were passing out pieces of crab and smoked salmon, which seems to be the signature dish of the Pacific Northwest. Meaty and smokey, it was delicious. I had the taste of smoked fish in my mouth for about half an hour before washing it down with an ice cold beer. The guy on the right was taking people’s orders and chucking them at the guys inside for cleanup.
Why would one eat at Red Lobster when you have the Pike Place market? Oh I know – you’re lazy and boring!
Huge shrimp for sale. These had to be 3-5 per pound – expensive.
After about half an hour of walking around, we stopped over a few places that were regarded as some of the tastiest joints within the Pike Place Market. If you’re coming here without any research done, it’s best to ask the people that work at the market and get a consensus. We stopped at a shop called Uli’s, and I deemed it a tiny “United Nations of Sausages.” At Uli’s one can find over 25 masterfully crafted varieties of sausages by German native Uli Lengenberg: from kielbasa to Portuguese linguiça and a number of American-style sausages. He had nearly two large display cases filled with his tasty offerings – this guy doesn’t mess around. We learned that Lengenberg even has shops in Taiwan! The sausages were tasty – flavorful and not dry at all.
Order a few links on rolls or on a cutting board, and grab a beer.
The other restaurant that appealed to us was the corner shop with 15 people lined up outside of it: Pike Place Chowder. Normally, I don’t really like cream-based soups or sauces due to its heaviness but this looked too good to pass up on. For $10.95, you can get a sampler of four chowders, and if I remember correctly, they offer 7-8 types of soups. They are best known for their seared scallop & dill chowder and smoked salmon chowder – both were excellent and were tasty enough to eat the actual cup itself. I’d save the crab roll for a future New England trip – nothing special.
With traveling, I was accustomed to packing in as many activities as possible and missing out on many of the simpler things – like walking around… slowly. I started getting back into shape recently and have enjoyed walking and admiring things I would normally miss while riding around on my high-velocity Trikke or Rollerblades from 1998. If I was rich, I’d get a Segway, but I’m not. It’s amazing how much speed you can get on those things. I’m just kidding, I don’t really know how much velocity those get.
If someone were to ask me how I would best describe Seattle, I’d have to say that is a greener, cleaner, quieter version of San Francisco. Both cities have hilly streets, excellent cuisine, are located along the water, offer great beer and truly enjoy the pleasures of smoking marijuana. I must add too that the transit system in Seattle is excellent. Using my iPhone, I was able to go anywhere using the map function and was even told the estimated bus arrival time! Say no to Trikkes, rollerblades and Segways; use el autobús! Taxis on the other hand weren’t that cheap.
Walking and burning off all that cream from the chowder can be a beautiful thing.
On this trip, we were accompanied by my brother-in-law, Jeremy, and our friend Lindy. Jeremy is in his final year of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) focusing on architecture and weekend partying. After eating he wanted to walk around and geek out on Seattle’s architecture. In addition to the commonalities between Seattle and San Francisco, I may have to give Seattle the accolade for beautiful architecture. Why? The Seattle Central Library designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Words are unnecessary.
Taking a break from the beautiful but dizzying lines of Koolhaas’ masterfully designed structure.
One of the coolest neighborhoods we stumbled upon was Capitol Hill, an area heavy in bars, coffeeshops, cafes, boutiques and music venues. Basically, not a lame area. This area was quite lively and reminded me a lot of the Sunset Junction area of Silver Lake, Los Angeles. We were walking around looking at shops when we were suddenly lured by the smell of food being fried. You know that smell – so bad but so good. We turned the corner to find that the fry action was from a place called Pike Place Fish Fry. This tiny fish shack offers four types of fried fish along with fries. Don’t forget to order a beer and add malt vinegar on your fried fish. When I come back to Seattle again, I’ll definitely be hanging more in this area.
Even though Seattle, at least to me, is known for its seafood, there were two places that people kept recommending: Salumi and Paseo. Both of which offer porcine sandwiches that are highly regarded by the citizens of Seattle.
Salumi is a charcuterie shop located in Pioneer Square run by a man named Armandino Batali. Yes, Batali as in Mario Batali, who is Armandino’s heavy-set son. To tell you the truth, I’m not a huge fan of sandwiches and find them quite boring. And it doesn’t help that I have to wait a good 20-30 minutes for it too. I didn’t believe it when people warned us to get there early until I saw at least 15 people waiting 30 mins before opening. My experience with hype lines at the last few places I’ve tried have been utterly disappointing. I asked a guy in front of me what we were ordering and he replied, “the Porchetta and anything that is the special of the day“. At 11 am sharp, the doors opened and I looked back to see that the line had grown another 25-30 people deep. Can 45 people possibly be wrong? Walking in, you’re hit with the wonderful aromas of a charcuterie shop… a lingering odor of properly salted meat and cheeses. There were 4 women working the sandwich line and 1 woman working the cash register. “Porchetta and a lamb sausage sandwich for here please.” The woman cut open a piece of bread with a serrated knife like a real Subway sandwich artist. She then used a slotted spoon and scooped out huge chunks of beautifully braised pork shoulder and layed it to sleep in the bread bed. But what I liked was that she really didn’t drain out much of the juices and fat, instead letting them soak into the bread. She then cut up some lamb sausages and layed them into the bread with some sauteéd peppers. We sat down at our seats and as I held the glistening pig-on-a-roll, I looked over at Jeremy and Lindy who sank their teeth in first, awaiting their response to Batali’s famed sandwich. Jeremy uttered a “mmm” and Lindy gave a nod of approval. Jeremy is a starving student so that “mmm” didn’t mean much to me since he hasn’t eaten well in months haha. I took my first bite and something extraordinary happened – juices started slowly flowing out of the sandwich down my hands and forearms! Now that’s a fucking juicy sandwich! The sandwich exceeded my expectations – the meat was salted perfectly, moist and had a good amount of fennel which makes a sausage very delicious. Loved it. We bought 3 more sandwiches for our road trip down to Portland.
After a 2-hour nap, I started to get a barrage of comments response to my Facebook photos of Salumi’s porchetta sandwich. At least six people insisted that I get out of bed and head on over to a quaint Caribbean sandwich shop called Paseo in the Fremont neighborhood. I arrived at Paseo easily within 15 minutes thanks to the bus and iPhone combination and saw a line of 10 people. Great, more waiting. But thanks to my earlier sandwich revelation at Salumi, I had a feeling Seattle would be 2 for 2. Everyone ahead of me ordered the #2 special, which is the Cuban Roast. My eyes also caught something I don’t see very often – a seared scallop sandwich. Yes, I love scallops – tater tots of the sea! “Cuban roast and a seared scallop please.” I took a seat and noticed that everyone around me was eating the Cuban roast. It was kind of scary in a pre-programmed, 1950’s America-cookie-cutter lifestyle, but they seemed to be enjoying it. No one talked. My sandwiches were ready 10 minutes later and I was thrilled to see that they were set on those unbreakable Chinese entree plates. I was in Seattle, Cuba AND China at the same time. Now for the sandwich. Like Salumi, one bite into the sandwich and a beautiful disaster dripped on to the plate. The meat was very flavorful and super moist, sandwiched between a piece of romaine, mayo and bread that I found a little too hard. I then took a bite of the seared scallop sandwich and loved it more than the Cuban roast. But that’s me, I prefer seafood over meat. I’m glad I tried both Salumi and Paseo though as both are different beasts.
The next day we stopped over at another place highly regarded in Seattle: Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie. For happy hour, they offer their miniature signature pies for $6. We ordered the egg and guanciale pizza and I thought it was so-so. I didn’t mind that it was sauceless but it just seemed more like “flatbread” than “pizza”. Next time I’m up here, I’d like to give Orangette’s husband’s spot, Delancey, a shot. The beer here was excellent though.
After Serious Pie, we were in need of some sort of redemption. A quick taxi ride up to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and stopped at a place called Anchovies & Olives. New York has David Chang. New Orleans has John Besh. Seattle has Ethan Stowell. This chef/restaurateur has a barrage of Italian-inspired restaurants that will suit almost everyone — particularly those who don’t mind $1 oysters. Every Sunday through Thursday from 5–6 pm, you’ll find other ostraphiles ordering oysters by the dozens. Hey, I like $1 oysters!
We started off with the geoduck and pickled cucumber appetizer and it was light and simply delicious. And you didn’t have to stare at the behemoth clam living in a tiny shell in its live state. Not the most appealing. I refer to geoducks as “fat clams in a little shell” like Tommy Boy’s “fat guy in a little jacket”. We also had their scallop crudi dish which was excellent.
Everyone around us seemed to have at least 2 dozen oysters so it took a while before the oysters came out. But once the servers brought them out, we were happy. I forgot the names of these as it didn’t matter. You can’t get oysters any fresher than this. We figured the reason these oysters were $1 during happy hour is because they are “older”. But “old oysters” in Seattle means it’s fresher than anything you’ll get in California, so I’m not complaining.
Oysters served with a nice scallion mignonette.
We hated Anchovies & Olives so much that we ate here two days in a row. This restaurant is proof that Seattle knows seafood. And by chance, as I was slurping an oyster, I recognized a reader of my blog out of the corner of my eye. She is a young photographer named Allison O’Connor and we first noticed her as she documented her time in Japan through colorful film photography. She ended up joining us for a meal the following day. Check out her blog Urban Research, especially the Japan set.
Some other restaurants we ate at that are worth mentioning are Ethan Stowell’s How to Cook A Wolf and Renee Erickson’s The Walrus & The Carpenter. At How to Cook A Wolf, Stowell offers more traditional Italian-inspired dishes like pastas and meats. We had the beef carpaccio and signature gnocci – loved them both. Erickson was recently written about in New York Times and Bon Appetit rated them as the 2011 #3 restaurant in America. This quaint place has such a nice welcoming ambiance. The restaurant is beautifully decorated and offers a nice oyster bar for those that like the upfront shucking action. With delicious dishes like grilled salmon head, seared smoked trout and some of the tastiest olive-oil marinated tomatoes I’ve ever had, our group deemed this the best meal in Seattle. We didn’t take many photos unfortunately.
And of course, we checked out a few cocktail places. Seattle’s cocktail scene is often compared to Portland’s but I think they are both kind of different and solid in their own ways.
Needle & Thread
Fans of speakeasies like The Varnish in Los Angeles and P.D.T. (Please Don’t Tell) in New York will be charmed by this bar above the popular Tavern Law restaurant. We didn’t have a reservation but were lucky enough to have our waiter at Tavern Law make a call from their phone booth (it connects directly to the Needle & Thread). We soon found ourselves walking up dark stairs into a very elegantly designed space. There are no menus, so you are at the mercy of your bartender — an incentive to tip well.
Zig Zag Café
One of Seattle’s most classic bars can be found in the “dungeons” of the Pike Place Market. This former Japanese restaurant still has its red-leather booths but the cocktails here are just done right. The rule here is that if you don’t like the drink, send it back. We got very zig-zaggy at the Zig Zag Room.
The Rob Roy
In this low-key bar, you get all the attention you want from the great bartenders. Try the Dark & Fernety (a Dark & Stormy with Fernet-Branca).
*Photographs taken with a Contax 645 with Kodak Portra 400 film. And often in an unsober state. Thanks for reading, I can’t wait to return to Seattle.
Pike Place Chowder
1530 Post Alley
1511 Pike Place
316 Virginia Street
309 3rd Avenue (between Main St. & South 2nd Ave. Extended)
4225 Fremont Avenue North
Pike Street Fish Fry
925 E. Pike Street
Anchovies & Olives
1550 15th Avenue (Capitol Hill)
How to Cook A Wolf
2208 Queen Anne Avenue N.
The Walrus & The Carpenter
4743 Ballard Avenue NW
Tags: architecture, cocktails, contax 645, ethan stowell, film, geoduck, kodak portra, mario batali, oysters, pacific north, pike place, rem koolhaas, seafood, seattle, seattle central library, washington