There was a touch of excitement and sadness as we flew from Chicago to Seattle. Excitement because I was about to see Seattle for the first time, and sadness because our time in the States was down to just over a handful of days. All good things come to an end, I suppose.
First things first, however, after we checked into the Hyatt on 8th Avenue was to find the nearest laundromat. And that so happened to be up on Bellevue Avenue in Capitol Hill. There’s no point in sitting about watching the machine spin so it was a couple of leisurely coffees at Broadcast. Being mid-afternoon probably accounted for the lack of humans in this sparsely decorated café, not that we cared. The macchiato the very friendly barista constructed was just the ticket.
As for the French toast donut – a spice extravaganza of cardamom, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, orange peel and maple syrup – supplied by Mighty-O Donuts, it was the ideal macchiato friend.
As any Seattle newcomer would do, we gravitated to Pike Place Market to catch it before all the vendors packed up for the day. Hoards of out-of-towners, locals and the expected gamut of fresh meats, small goods, fruit and veg, flowers and craft.
Excitable people crowded around the famous Fish Market, cameras at the ready in case some fish-throwing action took place. No airborne fish for us, I’m afraid.
Out on the cobbled Pike Place, and not all that far from the worlds very first Starbucks, is the grab-and-go Mee Sum Pastry. It was the bundles of sticky rice that first caught my eye, and then the golden hom bow (3.21) begging me to try. And I did. A light and crisp exterior gave way to steamy and warm chicken, shiitake and celery innards.
Steamed hom bow are available but I much prefer the baked, slightly sweet buns that are kept toasty and warm in the heated cabinet. Now I wish I tried the other fillings.
Unlike most of the other major cities we’d visited on this trip, Seattle didn’t come with any form of eating itinerary. There were no must try or must see venues; just spontaneous drop-ins as we wandered about the streets.
We’d noticed a small cluster of restaurants on Melrose Avenue up on Capitol Hill earlier that afternoon. The pick for us was Mamnoon, a chic restaurant that has Syrian food at its heart, but injects interpretations of dishes from neighbouring countries into its menu.
It’s difficult to miss the bread oven at the open kitchen when you first enter the designer-industrial space, and it’s this fresh man’oushe that probably filled us a little too much before we even got our dishes. How could we not when it was still warm and a golden pool of za’atar-spiked olive oil beckoned us to dive in?
There was slight disappointment when the bateresh (10) came. When you’re not entirely sure what something is and you order purely from the menu description, surprise additions can catch you off guard. “Charred eggplant, minced lamb, pine nut” sounded perfect, but when that minced lamb is served on top of a fridge-cold pile of yoghurt with eggplant mixed through it, it changes your expectations somewhat. Had we known it was an icy cold yoghurt dip, we probably would have gone with another choice.
Still, it is a tasty dish.
There were no qualms with the mahar (12), however, an earthenware dish harbouring Manila clams in the most divine and flavour-packed broth. Pine nuts and coriander are scattered throughout and nubs of sujuk bring occasional hits of mild spiciness to the rich deliciousness.
The rather enormous khoresh (38) – a Persian stewed lamb shank served with mushrooms, charred onions and rice – did nothing but fall away in gorgeous sheets. Pity we could fit nothing else in as there was a lot more on the menu I wanted to sample.
One thing we discovered about being in Seattle in October was the sheet of fog that enshrouds the city for a good chunk of the day. Fallen leaves blow about like confetti, gloomy light brings a monotone look to the streets and a damp chill hangs in the air.
Once again we wafted about the Capitol Hill streets in search of some food; this time for breakfast. Google maps indicated we were near Café Presse, a place I was trying to navigate us to on the edge of Seattle’s sprawling university.
With a rather French flavour, the minuscule breakfast menu made for easy choosing. House-made pastries, a couple of egg dishes and some bread. Pain et beurre (3) is nothing more than half a baguette with butter and jam; something the better half was more than content with. Being content would have been an understatement when it came to the œufs plats, jambon, fromage (7.5). Three ingredients and a whole lot of flavour – sliced ham, two eggs topped with gruyere and a little grilling time to meld it all together in oozy sexiness.
Espresso may have been consumed at Café Presse, but seeing Stumptown next door was reason enough to take another dose of caffeine. I do have a soft spot for Stumptown. Busy little place buzzing with young uni urbanites, cool digs, laptops hogging what few tables they have; even coffee tastings at 3pm every day.
We hadn’t even been in town for 24 hours and we were already leaving its shores. Well, kind of. Thirty minutes away by ferry is the island city of Bainbridge Island; home to artists, outdoor-types and those that like a bit of fresh air. Not that the air in Seattle was all that unfresh. The centre of town feels nothing like a city; more of a coastal village, actually, with quiet streets and gorgeous water vistas.
A little Japanese made it to the lunch happenings for us in downtown Bainbridge Island, where locals were already tucking into good looking edibles at SuBi. The requisite agedashi tofu (6) and edamame (4) helped litter the table; along with the mighty fine SuBi house roll (12). Avocado and eel blanketed the cut roll with juicy and crisp tempura shrimp at its core. And you’ve got to love those golden tobiko orbs that add pops of fishy saltiness and get stuck in your gums.
It was all about getting messy with the fingers on hamachi kama (10); some rather ugly-yet-tasty hunks of grilled yellowtail collar that would have been even better if they were more caramelised. No complaints with the salmon stack; one of the daily specials. Chunks of raw fish mixed with sesame oil and chilli, stacked on cucumber, carrot, sushi rice and thick bed of mayo.
The final plate was a bit of a DIY affair – the lettuce wrap (10). A variety of prepared vegetables, some noodles and Japanese-style bbq pork belly arranged around some dipping sauce. Grab a piece of lettuce and off you go. No rules.
Our pick for coffee in the village was down by the harbour at Pegasus, located in a former hardware building covered in deciduous Boston ivy. And what a great time of the year to see it. A couple of house-roasted coffees and quick nibble on a smashing choc-hazelnut cake before we walked along the foreshore to catch the next ferry back to Seattle.
As the sun set over the city, we wandered back up to Capitol Hill for dinner. With a dynamic neighbourhood such as this at our doorstep, it was a given that we utilise it.
The Melrose Market is a bit of a one-stop foodie destination; a converted auto shop with a handful of independent food purveyors. A butcher, cheese shop, florist, wine shop & bar, shellfish dealer, homewares and places to eat – more of a hang for locals than a frantic marketplace like Pikes Place down the road.
Sitka & Spruce, at the back of the market, makes use of its industrial space well; softened with white-painted exposed brick, raw timber, fresh flowers and dainty flickering candles in glass votives. And with a focus on the fab produce of the Northwest, each ingredient shines no matter how it’s prepared.
When bread is as good as this it deserves a special mention. Wood-fired sourdough always floats our boat and the stuff at Sitka & Spruce was nothing short of exceptional. Baked at The Corson Building in nearby Georgetown, this charred crusty loaf was one of the best we’ve tried in our U.S. travels. I swear we could have sat there all night eating bread and nothing else. Ok, perhaps some vino to wash it down. We even ordered seconds, which probably explains why we didn’t order more dishes.
When a menu is printed daily you can’t help but expect it to be market driven; and non-carnivores are clearly looked after with some fab-sounding dishes.
Beets, walnuts & dried apples (16) was a salad of champions and one that I felt helped cleanse me of all the oily stodge I’d consumed since landing in the country almost three months prior. Juicy whole roasted beets huddled with fresh cow’s cheese; freshened with coriander leaves and a light vinaigrette.
We couldn’t help but get the salad of kale (12); nothing more than frilly leaves, crunchy pear, some ash-roasted shallot and crunchy toasted hazelnuts. It was just what our bodies were craving.
The significant other was a tad disappointed that the Quillayute salmon (18) was uncooked, with no mention of this on the menu. I have no qualms with uncooked fish, but those that do would probably prefer to know about it before ordering and being lumped with it. The salmon rests on warm potatoes and is scattered with sour huckleberries, fresh dill and grated horseradish. Pity somebody else didn’t love it as much as I did.
If we were to fit one dessert in it had to be the honey panna cotta (8.5). A simple arrangement of candied almonds, fresh honeycomb and ground almonds. And with the bill, a couple of complimentary salted caramels in case we needed a little more sugar for the night.
Melrose Market saw us one final time the following morning, and it was so early that it felt like we were the only two souls walking the foggy streets of Capitol Hill. Homegrown, one of a bunch of Seattle outlets, is situated at the entrance of the market. They’re all about sandwiches, salads and soups that use organic and sustainable ingredients, with a few options for the breakfast crowd. Not much of a crowd on that particular morning, mind you.
The deal is that you choose your sandwich from the menu, choose a half or whole French, wholegrain or gluten-free bread and wait for it to be made. Our half-sized bacon, egg, Beecher’s cheese & roasted garlic aïoli (7) had a good old toasting that not only rendered the bread to a crouton, but it shredded the crap out of its eaters gums. Ouch!
My whole ham, fried eggs, gouda & sage aïoli (12) wasn’t so damaging; unless, of course, I let the runny yolks drip onto my shirt. And you’ve got to love a place that has a designated bin for compost waste.
A little south of Seattle’s downtown area is Georgetown, a gentrified suburb completely surrounded by industry and an area that’s well worth exploring. Warehouses, the interstate, railway corridors and an airport give the neighbourhood a certain amount of grit and isolation, but it doesn’t take long to notice the areas vibrant eating, drinking and shopping scene.
Lunch was the first thing on our agenda, at Brass Tacks, an eating and drinking hole that’s somewhere between an upscale roadhouse and gastropub. And that decor! An old piano, twisted bits of metal and welded alien statues and a cigar-smoking one-legged baby doll pole dancing in a cage.
Two words that seemed to have stood out from anything else on the lunch menu. It was unavoidable. As if my brain told my arteries to zip it.
“Let the man eat his fried food”, I’m sure it whispered.
Neat soldiers of roasted pork belly, dipped in egg, crumbs and then fried. These fab little pork fries (8) provide the mixture of meaty and fatty badness as you’d probably expect. A side of spiced apple butter helps cut through that fat. So much for my cleanse the night prior.
A trio of sliders (12) – an expected item in a place like this – are neatly filled with caramelised onion, shredded beef cheek and bacon aïoli. A few sprigs of watercress inject a fresh and peppery crunch.
And then there was this. The mac ‘n cheese (13); served in a rather substantial iron skillet still bubbling with cheesy goodness. What makes it special are the chunks of house-smoke brisket – impossibly tender – and a toasted cumin and serrano crumb. Somebody kill me.
One of the quirks of Georgetown is the Trailer Park Mall that takes residence in a carpark. The line-up of retro trailers are their own shop; peddling wares that range from vintage clothing, art and craft, homewares and bric-a-brac. A destination for the thrifty in all of us.
All City Coffee is the type of caffeine house you’d expect to see in a hip neighbourhood like Georgetown. Mismatched seating, room to spread out your laptop, a rotating collection of artwork and young urbanites sipping on Americanos. Plane geeks can even perch up in the big window and watch aircraft make their decent into nearby Boeing Field. Or if it’s coffee you’re after, it’s pretty good too.
Once we were done with Georgetown we walked to Rainier Valley to catch the light rail to Seattle Airport. Not to fly anywhere, but instead pick up a hire car for the next, and final, leg of our trip. One more night in town and one more dinner; this time at Mistral Kitchen on the edge of downtown.
Perched up at the kitchen counter, my favourite position in a restaurant should it be available, we keenly eye-balled the crew construct all the meals like a silent well-oiled machine. A couple of glasses of vino and a burrata (12) salad to nibble on before our mains. Baby arugula and granny smith apple brought in some crunch factor and pomegranate molasses gave it a sharp bite. I think one of the chefs put the jamón on there by accident, not that we were complaining.
A perfectly blushed Moulard duck breast (30) is sliced over puy lentils; simple flavours with juicy crunch from radish and turnip. The half chicken (27) stole the limelight, however. Not that the duck was ordinary. Incredibly moist with flesh so tender it would have cut with a butter knife. The joint of chicken was finished off in a tandoor-style oven and served up with sweet delicata squash, cauliflower florets and earthy maitake mushrooms. Some mole negro sauced it up beautifully.
On the sweets front, the stunning ricotta & black pepper mousse (9) tasted as good as it looked. Macerated strawberries made up the bulk of the dish, with a raft of vanilla sablé carrying the airy mousse. Frozen basil parfait injected aromatic freshness and that black pepper added to the sensory explosion.
I ordered the pumpkin “pie” (9) out of pure curiosity. Presented parfait-style, it was rather rich and heavy in the flavour department – muscovado ice cream, vanilla foam and drunk currants – and didn’t end the meal on a light note like the ricotta mousse. I should have learned something from the pumpkin dessert I had in Chicago.
On that note, we were in for an early night as we had to be up at the crack of dawn to catch the first ferry out of town. Time to hit the road again!