Tuesday, March 1, 2011
I've been up to Seattle a few times in my life, but every trip is colored by my first visit. When I was just a towheaded toddler, my family took a road trip north to visit some friends, and upon arriving in Seattle I was famously disappointed that we were not, in fact, visiting someone named "Attle." Maybe I've never fully recovered from the childhood confusion, because before last weekend Seattle had remained something of a mystery to me. With so many islands, hills, highways, neighborhoods that begin with "Bell"... I'd never been able to wrap my head around the geographical layout or lifestyle of the city. I suppose I can also get a bit defensive of Portland, so my opinions of Seattle had been limited to begrudging them for stealing a lot of the Pacific Northwest spotlight (and James Beard Awards). When my friend Ratnanjali proposed a day trip to Seatown, I figured a casual trip would give me some perspective on Portland's big sister to the north. I figured we would make a weekend of it, so I asked around amongst the few friends I had in the city via Twitter and Facebook for restaurant and activity suggestions. Before I knew it, I had a list of recommendations, introductions, accommodations, and invitations that transformed our three-day-two-night casual trip into an adventure we - and our stomachs - won't soon forget.
With cameras, warm jackets, walking shoes, two bottles of wine and a dozen Voodoo doughnuts in tow, we made the three hour drive north through a very snowy Washington on Friday afternoon. With the blue skies and sun shining down on the frozen white hills and small rural towns along Interstate 5, it was really difficult to stop myself from pulling over to capture the beauty at every new vista, but we had 7 o'clock dinner reservations and had to hustle. I personally love driving and have a pretty intimate relationship with The 5, but I can definitely see the appeal of taking the train through the country from Portland to Seattle. At the very least, letting Amtrak do the traveling would save me from the embarrassment of forgetting how to pump my own gas... Though that was the last we saw of the sun for the weekend, the beauty of the drive definitely started the trip off on a high note. The sun had set when we approached the city, and as the Seattle skyline loomed larger than life in front of us I was simply overwhelmed. There's no two ways about it, Seattle is just so much BIGGER than Portland. I took a deep breath, got off at the Olive Street exit, and the adventure began.
(Here's the deal: Every hour has a link to another blog post/photo gallery - it's like an advent calendar of Seattle awesome, so don't miss anything! Thanks so much for reading, guys. You make my world go round.)
7:00 p.m. - A Truly Warm Reception - After dropping off our bags at my friend Jon's place in Capitol Hill, we scurried off through lazy snowflakes and freezing wind up the hill to Olivar (806 East Roy Street, http://www.olivarrestaurant.com). The moment we stepped into the small stone building, we were met with the welcome energy of a warm and fragrant kitchen, smiling servers, the gentle hum of candle-lit conversation - and my skepticism of Seattle's accessibility began to melt away with my chill. We were quickly seated at a small table and had just a moment to catch our breath before we began our tasting menu, as Chef Philippe Thomelin had picked out a few of his favorite dishes to take us on a tour through Catalan by way of France's Loire Valley. Philippe invited me to snap some shots of the adorable yellow kitchen and that transported me to a small French village, with clams flying, chorizo on the grill, and wine flowing freely. From the perfect bubbly U més U fan Tres Cava to the immaculate yet accessible dishes, the entire meal was like a hug, welcoming us to the city. (Step on over here for my photos of the full Olivar experience.)
9:00 p.m. - Climbing Uphill - After dinner we were set to meet up with Jon to catch drinks and a show at Neumos, so we made our way across Broadway, taking in block after block of restaurants, shops, and theaters. Portlanders, we've got plenty of trendy strips, but they're all broken up by residential areas, offices, or undeveloped stretches - imagine the heart of Hawthorne going on for a mile. Though our toes were freezing, we were ecstatic to be in the city and managed to compare Capitol Hill to everywhere up to and including Brooklyn, San Fransisco, Montreal, and Tel Aviv. It's rare that I feel like Portland is a small town, but the energy of the first few hours in Seattle was impressive to say the least.
10:00 p.m. - Lights, Noise, and Glitter - After walking about four blocks too far up East Pike Street, we backtracked and made it to Neumos for drinks and a bit of rocking out at the Deerhoof show (925 East Pike Street - neumos.com). The lights, colors, and theatricality of the show were so energizing, and I somehow managed to take a few cool shots of the space and Satomi Matsuzaki's amazing eye makeup while we danced off a few of the six courses from earlier.
12:00 midnight - Tools, Radio, Tackle - In a decidedly out-of-character move on the part of this chronic early-to-bed sleepyhead, I enthusiastically agreed to move the party over to Linda's Tavern (707 East Pine Street - http://lindastavern.com/). Part roadhouse, part hipster hunting shack, part businessmen in suits and loosened ties celebrating their birthdays, Linda's was a pleasant surprise. The sheer variety of people cramming the booths and crowding the pool table felt very different than Portland's scene, where bars and restaurants will draw pretty homogeneous crowds. I think that sense could actually be extrapolated to describe a major difference between PDX and Seattle. I love Portland and always will, but nobody would call the Rose City particularly diverse. It was cool to be nursing a pint of Manny's Pale Ale and laughing with my friends while surrounded by such energy (Check out my photos from Linda's, over here). We closed the place down, and were so happy we barely noticed the freezing weather on the way home.
9:00 a.m. - Sunshine and Baked Eggs - There's something to be said for a city that can keep even me awake until the wee hours, then get me up again early enough for a meal too early to be honestly called brunch. We had Saturday Breakfast at Oddfellows, a gorgeous cafe in Pike/Pine that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the historic Odd Fellows Temple, built in 1908, now a lovingly renovated mixed-use building (1525 10th Ave, http://www.oddfellowscafe.com/). The morning light flooded through the tall wall of windows as we stepped up to the counter to order our coffee and breakfast. Oddfellows is really unique in that it combines fantastic, full-service quality food in an environment that really encourages you to stick around for a while. We saw plenty of people set up for the day, writing term papers, reading novels, and leisurely perusing the Times while their kids roamed around charming everyone. Can you imagine someone opening up a laptop at the Screen Door, looking like they'd stay for a while? Here in Portland we're so often shuffled in and out of tables to accommodate the long line of hungry brunchers. It'd be amazing to have a place a bit more substantial than a coffee shop to grab some amazing baked eggs and finish the whole crossword puzzle. More photos of Oddfellow's Cafe over here!
11:00 a.m. - Books, Books, and also Books - If there's anything that excites me more than food, it's books. Given that, I was obviously excited to find out that Elliot Bay Book Company (1521 Tenth Ave, www.elliottbaybook.com), Seattle's largest independent bookstore, is located a few doors down from Oddfellows. The only thing I'd heard about Elliot Bay is that "it's no Powell's" - which gives me little PDX pride goosebumps - but the space is absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of chairs and tucked away corners perfect for curling up and hiding from the world with a stack of books. My favorite part of Elliot Bay was the sheer number of staff recommendation and review slips tucked in between the volumes. We've got those at Powell's, but the stacks at Elliot Bay look as though they've been T.P.'d with staff pick slips. More photos of Elliot Bay Book Company over here!
12:00 a.m. - Seattle's OTHER Market - I'd read about Melrose Market (1501-1535 Melrose Ave, melrosemarketseattle.com/) in the New York Times last year, and have been looking forward to visiting ever since. It's one of those places that is so adorable it makes your teeth hurt. Like a smaller Chelsea Market or a much larger City Market NW, Melrose has the perfect butcher shop with cute bearded boys, a cheese shop owned by a protege of Portland's own Steve Jones, a fragrant flower shop that sells soaps and twee jewelry, a homegoods store that sells "recipe dice", a wine shop with hand-written chalkboards, and a few immaculate restaurants, all under historic beams flanked by exposed brick walls. It could be a movie set or a Disneyland village, it was so well-designed and picturesque. The thing that brought it out of fantasy land? Everyone was SO NICE. People really didn't mind window shoppers (without the windows) and I felt totally comfortable taking a bunch of photos and snagging a few samples of cheese. The space is so new, I think it will take a few more years to feel lived-in and comfortable, but it's of a breed of places I'm happy to know exists. Check out more Melrose Market shots right this way.
2:00 p.m. - Coffee Break - By Saturday afternoon, we're already exhausted. We'd been on our toes for a few hours, and the food haze of the constant snacking was beginning to take its toll. We needed to recoup, and we needed to caffeinate, so it was back to Jon's neighborhood for lattes and some people watching at Joe Bar (810 East Roy Street, www.joebar.org). Everyone needs a local coffee shop with good inexpensive eats, great drinks, and the kind of atmosphere that encourages chatting, reading, and staring into space for a few hours. The cafe itself is divided, with a small mezzanine that looks down on the rest of the space and onto the street, so we sat with our drinks and had some fun deciphering the difference between Portland and Seattle's definitions of "hipster," the various opinions of our respective Alt-Weeklies, and the state of the uncharacteristic snow/sleet/wintry mix falling outside. It was wonderful to sit back for a moment, and you can check out a few photos from the one lazy moment of the trip over here - but there were places to go, people to meet, and TWO, count them - one, TWO - dinners reservations to be met.
4:00 p.m. - Please Do Not Feed The Iguanas - So, we may have had two dinner reservations ahead of us... but we were feeling peckish and in the mood for a snack. After some hemming and hawing, I asked Jon a very serious question. Where do Seattlites go for cheap, cart-tastic Mexican food? The next thing I knew, we were way the hell up in North Seattle in the parking lot of a Home Depot, ordering tacos and Mexican hot chocolates at El Camión in the snow (11728 Aurora Ave N., www.elcamionseattle.com). Seattle may not have many food carts, but this one was awesome and well worth the drive. Great carne asada, fresh salsa verde, and a covered (and kind-of heated) seating area with a few iguanas. What more do you need? We liked this place so much we went out of our way to come back on Sunday to grab a burrito for the ride home. Photos of said iguanas, tacos, and ironic snow over this way.
6:00 p.m. - Thali and Bubbly - After quickly popping back home to change and wipe the salsa off our fingers, it was time to walk up to Poppy for First Dinner (622 Broadway East, poppyseattle.com). When I asked my Twitter followers for food suggestions, so many people recommended Poppy's innovative dining style that we had to stop by. The space is very modern, with warm colors and tall windows that framed the falling snowflakes outside. Poppy is known for serving up Chef Jerry Traunfeld's creative northwest dishes thali-style, with many small dishes served on a large platter to each guest. It's kind of like a tasting menu in one course - remeniscent of the various condiments you'd get at Koren BBQ. We shared a ten-dish vegetarian thali, some of Poppy's signature eggplant fries with honey and sea salt, and a gorgeous fig, onion, chevre tart, a a bottle of Brut. I then got to sneak into the kitchen to check out the assembly-line magic behind the thali concept and catch Chef Jerry's amazing smile. Photos of the space and menu over here.
9:00 p.m. - Dining under Paul Newman's Shadow - We popped home after Poppy to change our shoes and try to speed-meditate our stomachs into submission before heading back out for Second Dinner at Spur Gastropub in Belltown (113 Blanchard, spurseattle.com). To be wholly honest, we had to drag ourselves out of the house we were so full and exhausted, but the moment we stepped into the restaurant (after wrestling with the parking gods for about 20 minutes before finding the perfect spot a half a block away) our appetite and energy were back with a vengeance. Projected on the wall was a muted black and white Paul Newman flick, and the air was loud with great music and roudy laughter. The atmosphere was the perfect combination of refined, stylish elegance (think molecular gastronomy experiments and rye and Scotch cocktails) and tavern hollering, down-and-dirty good eating (think burgers and beers and the best fries around). From our stellar and hilarious server, through the drinks, five courses, tour of the kitchen, to the Real Talk conversation with (ahem, adorable) Chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough, we had the time of our lives. To think, we'd almost called it a night at 8:30. Lesson learned, friends. When in Seattle, it's worth it to step out of your comfort zone and ride the wave of people to the best spots in town. Spur certainly fits the bill, so it's no surprise that McCracken and Tough are jointly nominated for Food and Wine's People's Best New Chef - watch out for these guys, they're going places. For the full lowdown of our night at Spur, mosey on this way, and prepare to get hungry.
9:00 a.m. - Obligatory Jaunt into the Waterfront "Heart of Seattle" - Bleary eyed and wind chilled after a night of dead-to-the-world food-coma sleep, we met my friend Keren Brown (Seattle food networking maven and the creator of the amazing Foodportunity events) at Dahlia Bakery for a coconut creme pie and set off on an insider's tour of the best spots in and around Pike Place Market (85 Pike Street, www.pikeplacemarket.org). Keren believes Pike Place is the beating heart of Seattle, and was so excited to show us her favorite spots it was almost hard to keep up. We nibbled our way through the bakeries, creameries, groceries, and various other -eries, and were joined by several other food writers and enthusiasts from Seattle and beyond (including Keren's sister Julie, Kristi Willis of Austin Farm to Table, Carol Peterman of Table Fare, and Keren's assistant and Seattle foodie Felice Lam. The morning turned into a marathon relay race between our feet, our stomachs, my camera lenses, Felice Lam's Foursquare check-ins, and the freezing rain. Check out photos of our adventures over here.
11:00 a.m. - A Bowl of Soup's a Fond Farewell - After nearly two days of constant exploration of Seattle's streets, eats, and winter weather conversations, we settled into some bar stools at Tom Douglas' Seatown Sea Bar and Rotisserie (2010 Western Avenue, http://tomdouglas.com) for some morning-after drinks, sandwiches, oysters, and, for me, a bowl of hot celery root soup. Simple as it was, my body was grateful for the warmth and the chance to put my feet up and chat with my friends before piling back into the car for the drive home. Photos of Seatown's cozy bar over here, and with that, I hope you've been able to taste a bit of Seattle from wherever you're reading this.
I can wholeheartedly recommend every place we visited, and I know I will be back soon. There's too much energy, renovation, innovation, and kindness in that city to keep me away for long, and while Portland is my home and I love her with the passion of one thousand fiery rotisserie grills, it's so good to have a big-city escape just a few hours to the north. Thank you, Seattle, and everyone who made that crazy weekend what it was. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go sleep through the month of March. And if you're ever headed up North, say hi to Attle for me.
All photos and words © Allison E. Jones 2011