The insider's scoop on food, travel & southern culture
In a city famous for its towering landmark, the Space Needle, Seattle was a wonderful discovery of western traditions, food, and hospitality for our family. It was pleasing to have incredible views of the water everywhere we walked within the city. A youthful attitude, laid back sensibility, and creative energy pervaded the city. It is evident by the restaurants we visited on our 24-hour sojourn in the city before we boarded the 2,000-person vessel to Alaska [that’s another story], that our family trip was off to an incredible start. We landed at 10:30am, 1:30pm eastern time for our internal clocks, so our stomachs were grumbling. Restaurant reservations had already been made way in advance as this was the 11th birthday of our son, Spencer, and we wanted the first day of our vacation to be special. Both children have adventurous palates [go figure], so we were fully stocked with ideas on how to best indulge in Seattle’s cuisine.
We headed out on foot, walking the opposite way of Pike’s Fish Market, and headed up hill with a fresh 70-degree breeze brushing across our faces. Beneath the glacier blue skies were towering buildings with purposeful colorful graffiti gracing the spacious walls along our path. It added a sense of comfort and coolness to the area, and there was no reason to try to compare it to another city or experience. Let this be a first, let this be Seattle.
We arrived at an indoor-outdoor bar in the Capitol Hill neighborhood that was the entranceway to a communal group of shops in a massive warehouse. Tucked away in the back was Sitka and Spruce, a charming 10 – or – so – table restaurant and with a chef’s counter. There were floor – to – ceiling windows with wrought iron frames, casting a light on the open kitchen. The flavors were clean, complex, and vibrant. It felt like everything came straight from the earth to our plate. We ordered each dish from the pantry section of the menu, doubling up on the smelt entree. Since we were in salmon country, our first choice was, of course, the cured salmon with seaweed, cream, cured yolk, blueberries and rye. All the breads accompanying the protein were rustic and hearty. Tell me, does that sound enticingly delicious? It was artistry on the plate.
As we were departing I walked over to the kitchen to express our sentiments on how incredible each dish was presented and tasted. The chef, Logan Cox, said he had met my husband David before, and extended his hand to say thank you for coming in to dine. Of all the places he last worked, he had spent three years at Ripple in the Cleveland Park area of DC, right after David left from consulting on the initial menu. Come on and say it – small world! We walked out thinking about our breakfast the next morning at the sister restaurant, The London Plane, with much anticipation. First things first, we had a full day ahead and it was now time to see the famous fish market and what all the big stink was about [no pun intended] in this fish throwing!
A nice hike down to the waterfront gave us room for our salty cravings of raw oysters. three dozen, twelve for each of us – my son Kemp is not a fan of them on the shell, leaving me, Spencer, and David to polish them off in a matter of five minutes. The daily catch were briny, bite size mollusks of goodness. The flavor and texture resembled Kumamotos. Walking around the market you can pick up local mahi mahi, rock fish, sockeye salmon, and the like – as well as an abundance of Alaskan king crabs. It is a no- frills market with extensive carry–out goods packed with jam jars, salmon jerky and every flower imaginable on the cheap.
We had 3pm tickets for the Space Needle so we hopped on the convenient monorail to drop us off just a few steps from will call. For the boys it was a “lagniappe” ride filled with memories of Disney World. Up we went, and in a matter of seconds we could span the entire Seattle skyline. It was breathtaking. Conveniently located across the street was the Science Museum, and the Experience Music Project [EMP] which had the entire Star Wars cast of costumes on display. Just a little further down the road was the Chihuly Museum with a rainbow array of hand blown glass arrangements in the garden, presenting itself as a wonderful treasure for Seattle.
Our feet were swollen from a successful seven hours of beating the streets. The clock struck 5:30pm and it was time for us to make our way to change for dinner. We were venturing out to dine in the Ballard neighborhood, a popular area for hipster Seattle residents. We were totally stoked because we knew the owner of the pizzeria where we were dining, Molly Wizenberg, the James Beard Award winning writer known for her blog Orangette. Talk about a small world – Molly is the sister to David Wizenberg in Washington – co-proprietor of Passion Food Hospitality, responsible for restaurants such as DC Coast and PassionFish.
Molly’s husband Brandon Pettit runs the humble pizzeria, Delancey, where you can see his floured hands and sweaty brow at the stove hard at work. The restaurant is known for its outstanding pizzas with a salty, smoky crust and a vibrant housemade tomato sauce. Our family went for three pizzas and their wood fired asparagus with hazelnut romesco and pecarino. Every bite was absolutely delicious. The birthday surprise for Spencer was a raw cookie dough ball speared with a candlestick. Damn – simplicity at its finest.
The next morning at breakfast we noticed The London Plane located in a vintage style industrial building cornering Pioneer Square –resembled its sister restaurant, Sitka and Spruce, with its signature panels of windows. Chipper and bright, the restaurant had oversized antique lanterns and all white walls, some showcasing its goods on shelves that stood at almost 15feet tall. You can peer into the back kitchen from the upstairs windows and gawk at the bakers shuffling dozens of breads at a time in and out of the oven. Crusty creations come piping hot to your table and crispy crust fresh on your open face artisanal sandwiches. Our favorite was the curried avocado, shaved radish, carrot, red cabbage and cilantro. I love anything and everything with anchovies, but not everyone welcomed a heart-felt desire to have the oil poached albacore, fennel, romanesco, olives, pinenuts and the salty anchovy for breakfast, which was ok by me – it just meant there was more for me to enjoy.A second helping of the bacon and gruyère came to the table. We felt like over stuffing ourselves and packing a bag of these gourmet treats to go, because our anticipation of the food on the ship was grim. Low expectations brings more surprises than disappointments.
With a nice brisk walk back, we grabbed our multitude of luggage, four bottles of Washington State wines and passports to board the Royal Caribbean for our journey to Alaska. There was relief and excitement to know fresh salmon would be at every port. Bon voyage!