Seattle is a city I never expected to know well. Geographically, it’s pretty much as far away as you can get in the continental U.S. from where I grew up in Boca Raton, Florida. My impressions of Seattle were entirely limited to that which I saw in movies (“Sleepless in Seattle,” “Singles”) and TV shows (“Frasier” being the obvious choice; though, interestingly, Craig says the view from Frasier’s apartment window is an impossible view.) If it weren’t for Craig, in fact, I’m not sure I’d have made my way to Seattle as early or as often as I have. Since knowing him, however, I’ve been to Seattle three times: once as a newbie (one year ago exactly), once as a drifter (Craig was shooting his movie this summer and I drifted my way around town while he did his work) and finally as a tag-along (this most recent trip was Craig’s annual Christmas visit). In the process, I’ve made some pretty wonderful food discoveries and though I’ve covered much ground in previous Seattle posts (see this search) here’s a guide to what I’d recommend to anyone visiting the city for the first time.
The best meal we had on this most recent trip was at The Boat Street Cafe with (surprise, surprise) Molly & Brandon who were so passionate in recommending it they ended up joining us for our dinner there:
What I loved about this place was its scale and its charm. It’s a tiny restaurant–I counted twelve tables–and the feel is very much that of a stylish friend’s giant living room as opposed to a restaurant proper. The service was peppy and friendly (which makes sense since Brandon worked in the kitchen there) and, at times, truly fascinating. For example, our server was–believe it or not–a family lawyer turned public defender who continues to work at Boat Street because she loves it so much. How’s that for dedication?
I won’t go into every dish, otherwise this post will be massive, but you mustn’t miss the pickle plate:
There’s a normal selection of pickled vegetables (onions and carrots, for example) and then odd fruit, like pear, that’s pretty compelling when pickled.
The pate is not to be ignored:
And this pork belly is the best I’ve ever had in my life:
You should’ve heard Craig “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over it. It had all of the best qualities of bacon–crisp and packed with flavor–but much more depth and substance. Brandon, a vegetarian, considered switching teams after hearing our reaction. But he held his own and figured he’d start with something simpler before jumping to pork belly.
The desserts were also delightful:
But the clear winner was the Meyer lemon tart, so creamy it practically oozed out of its shell when we cut into it. (Ooze is not a very sexy food word, but I like it. So ooze off!)
(Those other two desserts are vanilla bean rice pudding and chocolate pot de crem.)
So Boat Street gets the full Adam Roberts seal of approval: 4-stars in my book, if I ever write a book about restaurants in Seattle which doesn’t seem very likely.
Another pleasant surprise this trip was The Steelhead Diner which we visited because I recalled Mario Batali writing about it on Serious Eats (see here).
We visited Steelhead, which is adjacent to the Pike Place Market, after seeing “I’m Not There” at the AMC downtown. Craig wasn’t in the mood for a fancy meal but I convinced him it wouldn’t be too fancy and it wasn’t. It’s an upscale diner and the prices are certainly greater than an average diner (though not necessarily an average diner in New York) the atmosphere is diner-like in its low-key joviality and clinky-clanky noise level.
Actually, I didn’t love the atmosphere, but maybe that’s because I was facing out a window into an alleyway. I did, however, love the crabcake. So did Craig. In fact Craig, who is the ultimate crabcake snob having smashed and boiled fresh crabs at Eliza Island for the large bulk of his adolescence, declared it to be the best crabcake he ever had. You, the reader, must be tired of hearing about “the best this” and “the best that” so I won’t hammer the point, but please look at this crabcake and consider that it was 99% crab and 1% filling:
Our entree, on the other hand, was nice but not terribly memorable. It was sole with bacon and all this crap but it didn’t add up to much for me. I won’t even show the picture because I don’t recommend it. I do recommend the broccoli side:
What made the broccoli remarkable was the texture–still quite firm, but caramelized in parts–and the flavor, amplified by capers and, I’d imagine, anchovies. I wish I knew how to make this at home.
The dessert was also stellar: a Guinness pound cake with a poached pear on top.
So Steelhead is a winner, except for the entree, and if you’re searching for a place to grab an impressive bite near Pike Place Market, I say head there.
We also hit Etta’s, the Tom Douglas joint, with Craig’s parents and family friends the Bussingers. I loved the meal Craig and I had at the Dahlia Lounge last time we were in Seattle (see here) and I think Dahlia remains my favorite Tom Douglas restaurant.
Etta’s was fun, though. See how much fun we’re having?
The highlight was Tom Douglas’s signature coconut cream pie, the bes… ok, I won’t say the best because you’re sick of me calling things the best. But, no, damn it, it IS the best coconut cream pie you’ll ever have. Just take a look:
Coconut cream pie doesn’t get better than that. It simply doesn’t.
Ok, I won’t exhaust you with detailed accounts of all the other meals. Here are some other places you should hit if you go to Seattle:
(1) Cafe Campagne for brunch. Also near Pike Place market, this is a Seattle staple and the prices, at brunch, are very reasonable. I had eggs poached in red wine and served on garlic toast and Kristin, who I dined with there solo, had a Croque Monsieur which she models here:
(2) To continue the Francophilia (for Cafe Campagne is a French bistro), Molly and Brandon (are you sick of them yet?) took me to Cafe Press for lunch. It’s a casual but impressive lunch time spot where one might feel comfortable sipping a latte or a glass of wine while reading a newspaper, for example. For my dish I ordered half of a cold roasted-chicken with mayo and celery root slaw:
I know that sounds very strange, but what it ultimately tastes like is the midnight snack you make of a chicken carcass after everyone’s gone to bed and you treat yourself. You have to use your fingers and get dirty, which I was willing to do, and with a cold glass of white wine nothing’s better on a gray Seattle Day.
Otherwise, the following places are places I’ve been to already and advise any Seattle newcomer to hit because they’re pretty great. For example:
(3) Glo’s, which Craig adores, serves the Platonic ideal of eggs benedict.
Several factors knock it out of the ballpark: (i) fresh ham; (ii) homemade hollandaise; (iii) grilled tomato on the English muffin.
Be warned, though, the wait can be intense, even on weekdays. They give you coffee while you wait, though, and that’s mighty considerate.
(4) The Baguette Box is a real charmer on Capitol Hill for a quick, tasty lunch. Their signature sandwich is one I’d never tried before–drunken chicken–and though it’s elegantly presented:
It basically amounts to General Tso’s chicken on a bun, albeit expertly prepared. It’s super heavy and not something you’d want to eat unless you were running a marathon the next day. Instead, I recommend the house cured gravlox sandwich. Light and bright and just the thing to make you want to go tackle your day.
(5) And, finally, there’s Dick’s where Craig and I ate New Year’s Day:
Well, we ate in his car. And though I was charmed by Dick’s the first time I was there, I’m starting to think it must be a Seattle thing. There was gristle in my burger I’d rather not talk about. But you go there not for the food but for the Seattle street cred.
And after my third visit, I think I might have Seattle street cred. Hope this inspires you to get some Seattle street cred of your own.