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Things To Eat And Do: Seattle

It's Not Just About Grunge

Seattle has a world of stuff to eat and do and some serious street cred too.

When I was in high school and college, Seattle was a beacon of cool.  The setting for movies like Reality Bites, Singles and a romantic favorite, Sleepless in Seattle.  The staging ground for iconic bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the birthplace of Starbucks and Microsoft.  I mean, all in all, Seattle seemed to have it going on.

The first trip I took to Seattle was in the 90’s, when I was living in Vancouver, fresh out of University, with very little money to my name. It was a good trip but seeing as we did it in a day because we couldn’t afford a hotel and didn’t have a chance to really dig deep in to the cultural or food pedigree of the city- it didn’t really feel like I had done Seattle.

So fast forward to a different kind of experience altogether.

We chose the Kimpton Monaco Seattle because I love the Kimptons with the free local wine hour, great concierges and cool vibe and the Hotel Monaco was in walking distance to most things we wanted to see and do.  The room was great, the staff very helpful and thoughtful touches like umbrellas in the room, a yoga mat for your use during your stay and the bottle of wine and chocolates greeting us were most welcome.

But the towels!

The towels were so thin and scratchy they made me angry.  The pro I guess being that they were like an exfoliating treatment.  To be fair, when I expressed my dismay about the prison towels in my guest survey I received a personal response from the hotel GM agreeing with me and telling me that new towels had already been ordered for the hotel (I think he meant that the decision had been made before my comment, not because of it but you never know.)

There were free bicycles available for guests as well, which if you feel like getting quite a workout on the hills of Seattle, are great.  I did not partake in the bicycles as one hour of simply walking up and down the hills of Seattle made me feel like my ass was on fire and actually situated somewhere around my shoulders.  I have no doubt that the bicycles would have resulted in a hospital visit of some sort.

Yes, Seattle is a very hilly place.  We immediately discovered this as we ventured out to the famous Pike Place Market.  Yes it is a common tourist destination, and it smells a bit (or a lot) but it is an amazing hub of commerce, multiculturalism and foodie fun.  Not only can you witness the famous fish throwing antics of the t-shirt clad hotties of the Pike Place Fish Market, there is a store for everything.  One that is all cheese, one that just does honey and one that is just hot sauce . Of course next to the hot sauce store is the strangest restroom sign I have ever seen. I am not sure if the two are related but the exploding baby might have gotten into the Scotch Bonnet Chutney.

We nibbled our way through the market, especially the delicious flaky, treadmill-inducing pastries at Piroshky-Piroshky.  

Then we stopped in at Pike Place Chowder to see what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t open yet but the line up outside the tiny little place resembled that of one for a methadone clinic.

So apparently the fuss was about freaking good chowder.  We couldn’t decide on our options so we picked the sampler- and for $11.95 we got 4- 5 ounce tastings of the Seafood Bisque, New England Clam, Manhattan, and Market Chowder which was crab and oyster.  Honestly, they were all creamy goodness except the Manhattan which was too salty.  We also ordered a Dungeness crab roll and although we were far too full of chowder to eat it—we still did.  It was fresh, and all that you would want a crab roll to be.  And it came with a cocktail sauce that had my husband looking for random things to dip into it. Share a sandwich and do the sampler.

While you are in Pike Place Market you should also suck it up and stand in line at the oldest Starbucks—it isn’t the original—that one doesn’t exist anymore.  It is also the only place you can get the original Pike Place Market cup—if you are one of those nerds that collect Starbucks cups, like me.

It happened to be our anniversary the first night we were there and dear sweet husband chose the Restaurant Marron in Capitol Hill.  Holy Shit dear hubby, you called it.

Restaurant Marron was one of the best dining experiences of my life.  The owners, Eric and Zarina Zakai, took a chance on one of those restaurant Bermuda Triangle locations;  you know, the place, that despite a great neighborhood, good menu, pedigreed operators, seems to suck up any chance of long term success and send it in to the dining abyss.  Methinks it might be because this particular restaurant space is located in the “LOVELESS” building.  Either way- this couple is a collective food and wine powerhouse with resumes that include Michelin starred restaurants and little place in Yountville you may have heard of, The French Laundry.

This is fine dining laid way, way back.  We were dressed up but it would have been just as comfortable for a dude in the Seattle uniform of Arctic fleece and denim (especially since that dude is probably an Amazon millionaire).  The experience: We were greeted by a button down and khaki short clad Zarina who welcomed us by name- we had a reservation and it’s not a big space but the fact she knew who we were on sight made me think she is a witch- or googled us.  Either way, well played.

We were presented with a personalized menu for our perusal.  It was no small task to decide and we chose to go with the “petite voyage: five spontaneous courses” for $69, and because it was our anniversary, and because we love wine, and because Zarina is a bonafide wine czar—oh hell who needs a because?  We ordered the beverage pairing.  Oh and how how happy we were with all of it.

From the fresh bread basket, the summer berry gazpacho, the grilled lamb bacon, of just all of it—read the menu, it is total food porn.

It was DIVINE, the kind of meal where you make noise while you eat and then stare at one another like you discovered a unicorn on your plate—all the while served in a super comfortable environment.

Zarina was so kind as to write down the wine pairings for me to hunt down for trying at home.This is a must eat place in Seattle.  Hopefully they turn this place in to the “LOVEMORE” building…

We followed up dinner with drinks at the Pink Door in Post Alley.  The place is large but still surprisingly difficult to find as it has no signage.  This serves as a minimum IQ test to get in as you simply have to look for- you got it- The Pink Door.  They have live entertainment and if you come on a Sunday there is a trapeze artist swinging her way through the restaurant.  We were treated to some fantastic old timey cocktails and a great swing band.  Guest singers popped up on stage from the customers and staff alike giving the place a real speakeasy feel.  Definitely worth a visit.

The next day had us making our way down to the Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour in Pioneer Square.

I believe it is important to understand the history of a city when you travel as it shapes the geography, cuisine and attitude of a place.  Well Seattle was founded on rogues, murderers and prostitution.  So – a good start for sure.

Bill Speidel was a historian who has written many books on the history of the Seattle – including an infamous one that is banned from the Seattle Public Schools libraries because it reveals that the largest benefactor to the school system other than very recently, The Gates Foundation, was a madam who had built a prostitution empire in Seattle’s early days.  This is one of the titillating facts you discover, along with an explanation as to why entire city blocks have the first floor of their buildings below street level.  This is a solid tour for those whom like to know about the origin of the place they are and to hear some dirty stories-both literally and figuratively-and they serve beer.

From the old to the new, next stop Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum  dedicated to Pop Culture- The 20th anniversary of the death of Curt Cobain brought a special installation to the Museum chronicling rise of grunge in general and Nirvana in particular.  Hometown guitar god Jimi Hendrix was also featured with a fantastic exhibit outlining his career and showcasing his instruments and costumes.  The exhibits changes regularly- one on horror movies and science fiction in general was on when we were there but this is a fantastic space to walk around, both inside and out. Designed by Frank Gehry, the building itself is straight out of a science fiction movie.   We took a taxi there but were able to hop the monorail back to Westlake Center which is a quick walk to most downtown hotels and attractions.

Wine hour with live music at the hotel set us up to head off to Purple Café and Wine Bar. The restaurant was hopping and I couldn’t help but think that they could do with some soundproofing-or maybe the cackling woman at the bar could shut the eff up? The food was tasty and the service solid but perhaps because of our previous evening’s experience we just weren’t over the top wowed, still a solid and stylish choice.

The Triple Door  offers 3 venues in one. (Wild Ginger upstairs, the lounge and the theater). We bought tickets to the patriotic 4th of July themed Drag show in the theater and waited for it to begin in the ancient lounge.  Great jazz guitar and good drink selection though the service was S-L-O-W.  Drag show was raucously fun. This is a venue to check out when you are in town and take a chance on.

Whenever I travel to a city I like to discover any iconic theater or venues that have stories to tell.  In Seattle, this is the Paramount.  In its 86 year history it has played host to the first ‘talkies’, The Marx brothers, KISS, Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Nirvana, and many many others.  While we were in town this grand old dame, restored to its former glory, would be the venue for 80’s alt band, New Order. Prior to the show we hoofed it up the hill through some construction to the edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood where we stumbled upon a great little tapas restaurant, Tango.  They seemed to be ready for New Order fans according to their specials board which read “Everytime I eat Paella, I Get Down On My Knees And Pray.” It made me happy.

The Cheap Dates were awesome- bacon wrapped dates…how could they not be.  Rounded out with the Wild Mushrooms and a Salad.   The tapas were great and I wish we were with a bigger group so we could have sampled more of them.  After dinner it was back down to the Paramount for the show. What a gorgeous theater even filled with old alt farts like us and young alt hipsters with skinny jeans and interesting facial hair. Definitely worth a visit no matter who is playing.

Breakfast was delish the next morning at Lola  in the Belltown neighborhood. Got a killer Bloody Mary and an Egg Scramble with bacon so so good.  If it appears that I have a bacon obsession it is because I do.  So I should be trusted on all matters bacon.

If a pig was sacrificed to the Gods, the Gods would send back this bacon.

The other highlight was fresh made donuts that show up in a little paper bag to shake with cinnamon sugar and deposit in a delicious little heap on your plate.

We headed from breakfast down to Pier 59 to head off on an Argosy boat tour including the lock system of Union Lake (Hiram M. Chittenden Locks).  This is really worth seeing up close and personal as your boat proceeds through a series of lock to drop to sea level of Puget Sound.  You take a bus out to the boat pier at Union Lake and it will bring you back to the port.  Had a nibble and a beer at Café 56 in advance.  Meh.  Sad wings, wilted lettuce but some good craft beers. Appears they are relying on the waterfront traffic as a captive audience.

Dinner was some tasty comfort food at Local Pho and it was an earlier night to account for us heading on a Wine tasting tour the next day.

Here is the thing about Washington Wines- they are grown mostly in the Columbia Valley, close to Walla Walla—not close to Seattle. So you can take a very long day tour, or an overnight tour if you want to go to where the grapes are grown.  However, in response to demand for Seattle visitors with less time, many of the wine makers have set up tasting rooms in nearby Woodinville.  We chose to do this and hopped on a chauffeur driven, luxury mini bus with 9 other people with Seattle Wine Tours as recommended by our hotel concierge.  We visited 3 wineries, brought some home for good measure packed in a shipping box made available at one of the wineries and nibbled on the snacks provided by our driver.  We visited 4 tasting rooms  but there are many many to choose from so I suggest enjoy wherever your guide chooses to bring you and don’t forget to eat! And don’t worry about hanging with strangers for the day, after 4 tasting rooms you will be best friends and drunkenly weeping in sadness upon your parting.

We prepped for our departure with full bellies and a sense of having really gotten a feel for the city.  Seattle is rich in colorful history, culinary delights and rich natural resources.  It is also a city that has a bit of grit- including a ‘robust’ homeless population. Generally I don’t give cash to panhandlers, but as we were hopping into cab to the airport, I spotted a guy with the best sign ever and thought, “Word.” Farewell Seattle!

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