Seattle + Vancouver: A Cook’s Tour

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Last week, I tagged along on one of the Frenchman’s business trips to Seattle. He spent his days at A Large Computer Company, and I spent half my day working in the hotel room, and the other half exploring the city. The best way to explore a new city, in my opinion, is by eating your way through it, hungry caterpillar-style. Sussing out eateries, and rambling around a city on foot, is my favorite way to get to know a new place. It’s easier to familiarize culture through food and walking, more so than, say, waiting in line to see the “classic” tourist attractions.

Since I put quite a lot of effort into my researches of the places we visit, I thought the time was ripe for me to start recording my findings somewhere concrete. (Up until now, I’ve been keeping a stack of hand written notes and papers, which is just as disorganized as it sounds.) From this trip on, I plan to share with you what I find. I hope you’ll find the information useful!

There won’t be a recipe this week, but instead, plenty of information about Seattle, and a bit about Vancouver, which we visited for a day. I’ve also included an abundance of photos, for your viewing pleasure.

* I will mention as a kind of disclaimer: I was only in Seattle for one week. I’m sure I missed so many gems. If you live in Seattle or Vancouver, I’d love to hear your opinions about my finds (or better yet, what I didn’t find) in the comments. I was moonstruck by Seattle, and I hope to return. The following is a reflection of what I loved in August 2013; if you find a broken link to a closed restaurant sometime in the future, I apologize. Lastly, I only included places I found truly noteworthy, the establishments I’d return to or recommend without reservation.

Have a great Labor Day. I plan to swim, grill some pizzas, and drink plenty of wine. What more is there, really?

SEATTLE:

Restaurants:

The Wandering Goose: A pink door opens to a narrow cafe that’s full of light, darling little plants, and blonde wood. It’s casual, relaxed. The menu is breakfast and lunch friendly, but they also sell a mess of baked goods, including the largest birthday-style cakes I’ve ever seen. The fried chicken salad was just what I wanted a few hours off my flight from New York: a reasonably-sized piece of moist, dark meat fried chicken, crunchy romaine, pickled onions, and creamy buttermilk herb dressing. Reservations: no, but not necessary.

Cascina Spinasse: We started with two kinds of salumi (sourced from Olympic Provisions), served with grilled bread and roasted cherry mostarda. We move on to two pastas: the Caramelle di capretto (candy wrapper-shaped pasta, covered with a fairy dusting of salty hard cheese and filled with braised young goat, brushed with marjoram butter) and the Tajarin al ragù o burro e salvia (thinner-than-angel-hair pasta nestled in a rich and flavorful ragù.) Red wine was delicious. Reservations: yes.

Beecher’s Cheese: I had a flagship grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and basil, and a grapefruit soda. This, after about a glass and a half of wine at La Buona Tavola–it was ideal. Great bread : cheese : filling ratio. Seating: about 15 stools along a countered wall.

The Walrus and the Carpenter: This place was worth the two hour wait (they don’t take reservations); we just had a drink down the street, and all was well. We sampled: zestily spiced and flavorful steak tartare with a whole egg yolk and thin shards of rye toast; manila clams with chickpeas in a heady, chorizo-studded broth; soft bread with cream-salty whipped butter; a whole, iced tray of fat local oysters; three pungent, runny, west coast cheeses; and a bottle of ice cold, mineral French white. The restaurant is all shades of gray and marble and white coral chandeliers, and you feel cool eating there. Top 5 Seattle pick. Reservations: no. 

Essex/Delancey: Essex is a bar that serves food; Delancey is a restaurant. They are physically connected, and owned by the same couple, one of whom has her own recommendations for where to eat in Seattle. We had a drink at Essex first, because Delancey doesn’t take reservations, and there was a bit of a wait. I had a cocktail, the Frenchman had a beer, and we snacked on olive oil-crisp toasts smeared with harissa aioli, topped with char-roasty cauliflower florets and pine nuts. They were unreasonably tasty. At Delancey, we shared two pizzas: the Pepperoni (sweet-acidic tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, Grana Padano, and a generous smattering of rich, spicy pepperoni coins) and the White Pie (housemade ricotta, fresh and aged mozzarella, garlic, and Grana Padano). I consider myself a bit of a pizza snob–I’m from NY/NJ, it comes with the territory–so let me just say: these pizzas were ridiculously, marvelously delicious. They were near-perfect. Top 5 Seattle pick. Reservations: no.

the wandering goose Ivar's

Ivar’s: This place is a bit touristic, but the chowder and french fries I tried were quite good. The most entertaining part of this outside, waterfront institution though is feeding the seagulls: they’ll eat french fries right out of your hand!

Terra Plata: Attached to Melrose Market, I went here for lunch, although the dinner menu was calling my name far more. I had a simple, chicken fattoush salad with cucumber, tomato, beans, mint yogurt, and feta. It was a bit delicate, a bit small, but the flavor was there, and the pita was almost deep-fried, so that it crunched spectacularly. Apparently the rooftop bar is quite the scene in the evenings.

Taylor Shellfish: Just off of Melrose Market, Taylor Shellfish is equal parts casual oyster bar, shellfish vendor, and provisions shop. (I bought a Pacific Northwest-style fish cookbook while we were there, but they also have a small grocery, including a selection of smoked oysters from Washington state.) Open basins of oysters, mussels, clams, and geoducks (the options change, based on what is available) allow guests to really get a look at the merchandise. We went for a round of oysters on a Friday night, and the shop felt like a party: 90’s hip hop and R&B rang down from the speakers, everyone was clearly enjoying themselves. The dudes shucking oysters (looking cool and sporting “get shucked up” aprons) were personable, and really knowledgeable.

Lark: As the Frenchman noted upon our arrival, this restaurant feels like stepping into a fancied lodge. We shared: three cheeses (Robiola Due Latti (velvety, milky, light barnyard), Yarmuth Dylan (subtle, lemony, lingering), and Kukulu (deep, buttery, herbal)); Jones Farm pork rillettes with crostini apricot mostarda (smooth, mild rillettes, which I thought paired well with the apricot mostarda, although the frenchman would have preferred cornichons); Pommes de terre “Robuchon” (sadly, while good, these paled in comparison to my favorite (and same-styled) puree at Craft in New York); Carpaccio of Yellowtail with preserved lemon and green olives (light and well-balanced, I could have eaten twice as much of this); and Charred octopus with house tesa, tomato, pea and Black Venere rice (octopus was perfectly soft, the dish was deeply flavored and delicious). The real coup of the evening was dessert: a black fig tarte tatin with brandy caramel and chevre sorbet–a crisp square of puff pastry, drenched in high season, oven soft figs and buttery, salty, ever-so-slightly boozy caramel. The dollop of chevre sorbet melted into the caramel, and provided a tart counterpoint.

Sitka & Spruce: This jewel box of a resto is really inside the Melrose Market. They specialize in Pacific Northwest cuisine, and the menu changes often to match the season. We shared: their homemade sourdough bread with airy whipped butter, sprinkled with Oregon sea salt; raw king salmon, new potatoes, smoked roe & huckleberries (very tasty); chanterelles, fava bean, sherry, & soft egg on grilled bread (I could eat this for breakfast every day); and grilled chicken with cracked emmer, lentils, endive, and elderberry. The Frenchman had his favorite cheese, and I had some housemade cookies. The food was good, but I’m not sure it lived up to the hype. The service was excellent.

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Food Shopping:

La Buona Tavola: Stop in here for the well-curated wine selection (the buyer will conduct a tasting for you; it’s a good idea), and for really wonderful, hand selected specialty products, particularly a slew of truffle wares imported by the owner directly from her truffle-hunting Italian brother-in-law. The truffle oil–made, unusually, with real truffles–and the truffle salt might just change your life. The best part? If you spend $75 or more, the shop will ship your purchases to your home. (They’ll even let you throw your other Pike Place Market acquisitions into the box, so stop in here last.) The runners of this shop are super friendly, and super passionate about what they do. Top 5 Seattle pick.

Pike Place Market: The market is big and sprawling and full of foodstuffs. My favorites: City Fish‘s smoked salmon (both the traditional alder wood as well as the garlic and pepper); Stackhouse Brothers Orchard‘s cajun spice almonds; Johnson’s Berry Farm‘s tayberry jam and strawberry habanero jam; Woodring Orchard‘s strawberry and golden raspberry jam; Mick’s death-valley pepper jelly and red-mild pepper jelly; any of the fresh doughnuts from the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company; any dried fruit or vegetable from Simply the Best; anything (but particularly the probiotic pickle brine) from Britt’s Pickles.

Melrose Market: Here, in one large, chic-industrial market space, you will find a (fancy-locavore) butcher, baker, and candle stick maker. I stopped into the cheesemonger, to pick up a local cheese we’d eaten the night before at The Walrus and the Carpenter, and she was both friendly and knowledgeable. I poked around the home goods/kitchen shop, Butter Home, and tried to control myself, and then gave in. (Sorry in advance–they also have an online shop.) On my way out, I picked up a simple, perfect sandwich of serrano ham and butter at Bar Ferd’nand.

Intentional Table: I stumbled into this shop while on a tour of Bainbridge Island. The store was pretty and full of light, and the test/class kitchen (they conduct cooking events, lessons, parties, etc) was gorgeous and enviable. I found a good selection of cookbooks, wine, and some pantry items, and the ladies were super friendly.

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Where to Stay:

Sorrento Hotel: We had a lovely stay here. Our room was small, but well appointed–marble in the bathroom, and a mattress that felt like it was padded with feathers. The hotel has been in operation since 1909, so it has a feel of relaxed, somewhat faded charm. Still: the wifi was free and quick (important, as I was “working from home”), and the in-room coffee was of an unusually high quality. Downstairs, the bar/lounge sometimes becomes an art performance space, and the Frenchman and I enjoyed a happy drink there one night after dinner. At the front of the lobby, a collection of concierges are generally friendly and knowledgable (although one in particular–thanks, John!), and if you call ahead, they’ll drive you within two miles of the hotel. There is a gym, but it’s subterranean, with old equipment that doesn’t encourage exercise. You’re better off walking around the hilly city. $165-375 per night. 

sorrento hotelsorrento hotel

Visiting the City:

Seattle Free Walking Tours: I’m not always one for touring cities with a group, but this company knows what’s up. Owner Jake leads clever, friendly, and informative tours from an insider’s perspective. You only pay what you feel the tour was worth, but I happen to think his tours are worth a lot. I participated in Seattle 101 and The Market Experience, and I’m glad I did both. (In fact, his tours were way better than another tour I actually paid for.) Top 5 Seattle pick.

Kerry Park/Parsons Garden: These petite parks are right down the street from one another, in a residential neighborhood of Seattle. Both offer panoramic views of the city. Head to Kerry Park at dusk to see downtown Seattle (including the space needle) all lit up. But I preferred Parsons Garden, where views of the water, city ports, islands, and mountains really impressed. The Frenchman and I watched the sky grow darker, sneaking illicit sips of Prosecco. Very romantic.

Ferry Ride/Bainbridge Island: Ferry rides are impossibly picturesque, and inexpensive as well. I took the 35 minute ride to Bainbridge Island, which was beautiful, although far more residential than touristic. I loved the rocky beaches and the sea-stripped timber buttressing the shore, the little yellow wildflowers growing in the tall grasses, the skinny jutting ports where old women fished for crabs, the blackberry bushes growing rampant all over the island, the glass houses built into the cliffs, overlooking the dark water and the tall pines. I easily could have spent a week there. Top 5 Seattle pick.

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Didn’t Have Time to Visit, But Recommended by Locals:

In General: Happy Hours. Apparently, they are really a thing in Seattle for both food and drink, and good restaurants participate. If you happen to have off from 3pm-7pm, check it out; Alki Beach.

Restaurants/Eateries: Salumi (my one food regret of the trip: I waited in line for 30 minutes, but had to leave 10 minutes shy of a sandwich to catch the ferry), Bar Sajor (same owners as Sitka & Spruce), Toulouse Petit, The Kingfish Cafe, Local 360, Il Corvo8oz Burger Bar, Uwajimaya (for great, but inexpensive sashimi), The Harbour Public House (on Bainbridge Island), Owl n’ Thistle Irish Pub (especially at happy hour, for fish and chips, and a beer), Bar Cotta, Joule and Revel, Poko Wine + Spirits, Mora Iced Creamery (for ice cream), Hitchcock (Bainbridge Island), Restaurant Marche (also Bainbridge Island), Mesob, and Meskel.

ROAD TRIP, FROM SEATTLE TO VANCOUVER:

How to Get There:

Chuckanut Drive Scenic Byway: Mountains, trees, water! This is a really pretty drive, folks. You can also take the train along the water, if you prefer not to drive.

drive between seattle and vancouver drive between seattle and vancouver drive between seattle and vancouver

Where to Stop for Picnic Supplies/Eats Along the Way:

Snow Goose Produce: This is a good-quality farm stand on steroids: fruits and vegetables, cheeses, smoked salmon, jams and honey, bread, seafood (including a tank of live dungeness crabs, oysters, salmon, and already-steamed prawns), ice cream, and wine.

Goat Mountain Pizza: This place is owned by a culinary school classmate of mine. They serve inventive pizzas made with local, well-sourced ingredients; salad, quality beers on tap, and wine. You can also have sea salt chocolate chip cookies, or a Belgian waffle, for dessert.

a prawn picnicme, and some berries

Where to Hike off the Picnic you Just Ate: 

Larrabee State Park: There are picnic tables for the picnic, and then plenty of hiking trails to work it off. We did a 4.5 mile hike that brought us around a perfectly lovely little lake, which made me wish I’d brought my bathing suit. The woods are beautiful, dark, and deep. The hike was medium-strenuous, and the park rangers friendly and helpful. The park also allows camping, if that’s your thing.

VANCOUVER:

Visiting the City:

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park: Sort of expensive, sort of a Disney-fied, but still: it’s undeniably cool to walk over a super-long suspension bridge, over a river, through the trees. We even saw a bald eagle while we were there. Plus, it takes you over the Lions Gate Bridge, which offers fairly stunning views of the water and mountains. 

Didn’t Have Time to Visit, But Recommended by Locals:

In General/Sightseeing: Stanley Park (Rent bikes, pedal around the sea wall, and enjoy panoramic views of Vancouver Harbour. Wind your way through trails and beaches, but make sure to visit lily pad-speckled Beaver Lake.); Granville Island (visit the public market, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants–in particular, the roof of The Sandbar. Sit outside on the water, watch live music.); English Bay Beach (includes a walking path along the ocean. Eat gelato.); The Aquabus (runs often, takes you where you want to go, low-cost, and gets you on the water.)

Restaurants/Eateries: Tojo’s (Rather than the resto, go to the bar/lounge with no reservation; order the same menu. Costly, but a once in a lifetime experience); Blue Water Cafe; Cioppino’s; Cibo Trattoria; Meat & Bread; Hawksworth RestaurantCinCin RistoranteEspaña Restaurant; YEW Seafood + BarL’Abattoir; Kirin; and Sun Sui Wah.

bainbridge island

6 Comments

  1. Nay

    My friends sure are good looking!

  2. Isabelle

    WONDERFUL!
    GORGEOUS!
    Thank you for this marvellous trip

  3. Andrew

    Looks like you had an awesome time, Pike’s place market is such a great place to visit!

  4. Shobelyn

    We lived in Washington last year, particulary Anacortes, Washington. We visited Seattle all the time and I worked in Port Townsend for a short time then we visited different cities there. We had lived in different states and visited a lot of states but by far, Washington in the best. We even planned of retiring there. It is packed with things to do. The weather, which others complain, is just perfect for me. We ski in the winter, biking, hiking, fishing, kayaking in the summer and the beauty of the greeneries is so awesome. And the coast, to die for. It is also very close to Oregon which is also very good for camping. And the people in Washington are laid back. I wish I still live there.

  5. Norah

    My daughter lives in Seattle. great place! Her cousin is visiting her at the moment so I’m sending her the link to this.

  6. leonie

    We have just spent a couple of days in Seattle and your list was very helpful for finding places to eat and things to do, so thank-you. We did (and loved) Jake’s walking tours too and had dinner at Sitka & Spruce last night – delicious.

    We also found a great place called Local 360 in the Belltown area. Everything on their menu (food + drink) is sourced from within 360 miles of the restaurant (excluding the coffee I think). So good.

    Cheers.

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