Friday, April 22, 2011

36 hours in Seattle, Washington

Last month, I was thrilled to find out that I would be heading to Seattle for an event at the first and original Nordstrom store in downtown Seattle.  Nordstrom is dear to my heart as I had the privilege of managing one of their departments in Tyson's Corner, Virginia. So I really got an inner understanding of how the company works and thinks. This was also my first trip to what is known as one of the rainiest cities in the US.
Seattle is located between Puget Sound (an inlet of the Pacific Ocean) to the west and Lake Washington to the east.  Its nickname and reputation as "Rain City" is actually a misnomer.  This reputation derives from the frequency of precipitation in the city (150 days of precipitation > 0.01 in) as well as the fact that it is cloudy an average of 201 days per year, and partly cloudy an average of 93 days per year. At 37.1 inches of rain on an average month,  the city receives less precipitation than New York, Atlanta, Houston, and most cities of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.  After the monsoon-like rains New York has been having this past month, I can definitely agree with that! Most of the precipitation in Seattle falls as drizzle or light rain. For the 36 hours I was there, it did drizzle about half the time I was there.  However, several local Seattleites pointed out that I was extremely lucky to enjoy the sun that did come for the other half. 
Seattle is broken up into into over a dozen neighborhoods, each with its own distinct characteristic. Ballard located in northwestern Seattle is known for its artsy scene and cute little restaurants and boutiques. It is a former Scandinavian community that retains visible remnants of its past. Fremont is Seattle's wackiest neighborhood, filled with eclectic shops and ethnic restaurants. During the summer, there's a solstice festival, a Sunday flea market, and outdoor movies on Saturday nights. The University District northeast section of the city surrounds the University of Washington. The U District, as it's known to locals, provides all the amenities of a college neighborhood: cheap ethnic restaurants, pubs, clubs, espresso bars, and music stores. 

Unfortunately, due to the shortness of my trip I had to limit myself to exploring the downtown, waterfront area. Since the infamous Pike Place Market was located about 10 minutes walking from my hotel, it was definitely not a hardship.

I arrived late on a Wednesday night into the Seattle airport. Since my flight had been delayed by an hour, it was close to midnight before I arrived at my hotel.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had upgraded me the corner suite. After the very nice porter showed me and my bags to my suite (along with a brief tour), I passed out on the very fluffy down bed for a much needed sleep.
I had forgotten the ungodly hours I used to keep when I worked for Nordstrom. So, when my alarm went off at 5:45am so I could prepare for my 7am meeting at the store I wanted to toss my phone to the other side of the suite.  But I knew that the quicker I finished with my meeting, the more time I had to check out the market. 

Around 10:30am, I gleefully escaped from the store to go back to my hotel, grab an umbrella and change into more comfortable shoes and warmer clothing since it was drizzling and about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius). I had two and an half hours of freedom to explore at random before my next meetings! Despite the rain, I definitely skipped a bit on my walk to the waterfront.
By that point, I was starving. So as soon as I saw the sign for Pike Place Market from the top of the hill and the delicious smells from nearby restaurants, I started hunting for some place to grab my first cup of coffee and some breakfast! Unfortunately (as always!), I got a bit sidetracked when I saw this at the bottom of the hill.

What was going on here??!! And then I looked up at the sign: Beecher's Handmade Cheese. Brilliant! I was greeted by a woman at the counter handing out pieces of fresh curd to taste: a bit bland, but interesting. The initial curds that caught my eye at first, then became solidified blocks of cheese that they flip over. Although Beecher's does not use modern machinery to assist them in the cheesemaking, they are still utilizing 5,000 year old techniques. 

After watching the cheesemakers busy at work for a little bit, I wandered over to the counter to taste the final product. Beecher's does carry other local artisinal cheesemakers other than their own, but I was really interested in trying theirs which are made on-site. I finally decided on their award-winning Flagship Reserve (won America's best cheddar in 2007)since it was perfect for travel back home to NYC. It also has that caramelly, nutty flavor that I love so much in my cheeses. According to their website, Beecher's will also be opening up a second location in NYC near my office. Looks like Murray's will have a little competition!
So, my hunt continued for some much needed sustenance since it was close to 11:30am by that point.  My first thought was to check out the first Starbucks location ever which was located in Pike Place. But then, I stumbled upon the cutest little French bakery at the corner: Le Panier (The Basket) and the smells that were coming out of there was just too good to pass up!
 After browsing the delicious selection available, I finally decided on the jambon-mornay (ham with mornay sauce, a béchamel sauce usually made from a combination of gruyére and parmesan cheese) and my usual non-fat latte with no foam. I also cajoled the guy ringing me up to one of their petite meringues (only sold in a bag) rather than their massive meringues since I just wanted a tasty mini-treat later on in the afternoon.  For those of you who have never had a meringue, they are usually made with whipped egg whites and sugar and can be flavored with anything from lemon to passonfruit.  They are light and airy on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside. The meringues were actually so good that I came back for a bag after all the next day for the way home.
I shared my latte and jambon-mornay with two new human friends and one dog friend. One of them was a photographer who lived in San Francisco but had a second home in the Seattle area, so she shared some wisdom to me on what to eat at Pike Place Market. Fortified with good food and coffee, I exchanged info and headed off across the street to enter the market. 
 The Pike Place Market was created in 1907 after Seattle city councilman at the time, Thomas Revelle, proposed a city street market that would connect the farmers to consumers directly to try and battle the astronomical rising costs of onions.  What began as a market with only eight farmers has grown now to a nine-acre market housing over 200 commercial businesses, 190 craftspeople, and approximately 100 farmers!  It is one of the most well-known farmer's markets in the US, attracting over 10 million visitors a year. 
Upon entering, I was greeted with rows upon row of fresh cut flowers. So beautiful! Look at the gorgeous tulips...
After walking past the vendors selling hand-crafted jewelry, candles, etc I reached the gorgeous fresh fruits and produce with all seasonal items like fiddleheads and ramps.  All of which I love!
Wandering aimlessly in food ecstasy, I was hailed by a vendor to stop and try his dark chocolate linguine.  While eating a bit of dried, uncooked pasta is not the most appealing thing, it was definitely great to taste the pure flavor of the bittersweet, dark chocolate really come through in the pasta. With that lure, I was introduced to Papperdelle 's Pasta, an artisanal pasta maker who creates over 100 unique flavors of dried pasta along with sauces and pestos. Other than the dark chocolate linguine, they also offer some unusual flavors like chipotle black bean fettuccine, Tunisian harissa fettuccine, and a Calypso blend (Lime Gnocchi Shell, Mango-Peach Sea Shell, & Red Southwestern Chile Lumache ); the latter two pastas I purchased to take home and experiment.  Each one came with a recipe which you can also find on their website, but I ventured out on my own with the Tunisian harissa fettuccine. (All upcoming I promise!!!)

Now it wouldn't be a proper trip to Seattle without checking out the locally fished seafood offerings. Still full, I decided to take home a slab of alderwood smoked salmon for the family from Pure Food Fish

Then, I headed over to Pike Place Fish, originator of the "flying fish".  This is the infamous tourist attraction where the fishmonger toss a customer's fish selection to another to be wrapped up.  I saw one guy toss what must have been a 15-pound Halibut! They should never hire me for THAT job. Me, being the clutz that I am, would have dropped every single slippery fish.  

Just when I thought I was done and over on sensory overload...
I saw a wooden sign emblazoned with "Market Spice". I admit it. I am a spice-a-holic.  After Paris, I told myself I was cut off. In my collection, I have close to 100 different varieties at the moment, including five different salts! But I admit I have a serious problem.  When I see fresh spices, especially the collection that was at Market Spice, I just can't say "no".  

In existence since 1911, Market Spice not only offers an incredible breadth of fresh bulk spices and their own blends, but they also have over 100 dried tea blends!

I was proud of myself for only walking out of there with only three spices including one tea blend(another item that I cut myself off from purchasing anymore). 
By that point, I was getting a little hungry again. So I decided to take up the advice of the friend I had made at Le Panier and decided to try a piroshky which I had never had before. For those who are as clueless as I am as to what exactly is a piroshky, it is a Ukranian word for baked or fried buns filled with a variety of fillings, savory or sweet. There was a long line at Piroshky Piroshky which I took to be a good sign. While waiting in line, I watched one of their bakers create a chocolate piroshky in the window. Between watching him and reading the offerings on the menu posted in the window, I was drooling. In the end, I decided to take the advice of my new friend and went with the smoked salmon piroshky. On my way out, the owner was working on the cherry and white chocolate piroshky. Ugh!! Shoot me already!

If you want to know, the smoked salmon piroshky was out of the world! Creamy, salty with flaky little bits of fresh salmon all wrapped in a soft, but crusty bread that was a cross between a roll and a crossiant, I was rolling my eyes in pure ecstasy as I walked back to the hotel in the drizzling rain. 

Later that evening after our event finished, I met up with a group of my colleagues at this oyster-brewery, The Brooklyn. Located in downtown Seattle, a few blocks away from the market, this Pacific-Northwestern restaurant is a great find in the quiet night in downtown Seattle.  Offering 13 different varieties of freshly shucked oysters daily, most of which I had never heard of, I was really excited to try out a few.

After talking to a few Seattleites, they recommended getting the oyster-beer sampler which is four 3.5 oz samples of their daily draft with a select oyster to accompany each.  For those of you who don't drink beer, they also offer this same flight with white wine and vodka! It's a bargain ranging from $9-13!
A glass of bubbly in memory of my visit to Mumm in Reims.

But none of us were feeling the flights, so instead opted to share a bunch of little dishes including a dozen oysters. I was quite happy to eat the oysters that our other two companions did not want to eat. My favorite was probably the Hama Hama (Humbolt Bay, WA) which was small and delicate, salty but slightly sweet.  
We also shared the Day Boat scallops topped with seared foie gras (see below). It was served with a vanilla bean-scented carrot puree and mascarpone filled mission figs, finished with a port wine demi-glace. The yellow-fin tuna tartare and seafood volcano (dungeness crab, wild fisherman's daughter prawns, and fresh Treasure Cove oysters) went so fast, it had no time to be immortalized sadly.
A few champagne cocktails later, we all tottered back into a cab to our respective hotels.


The next morning, I woke up early to grab some breakfast from some of the small restaurants I had seen at Pike Place Market. I had a few hours to do that and grab a few last minute treats for my flight home. 
Now you might remember, that I had mentioned checking out Starbuck's first retail store on Pike Place.  I did find it, but decided I could have it anywhere in the world. The great thing about Starbucks is that it tastes the same anywhere in the world. So I knew I wasn't missing out on anything. I thought there were a lot of Starbucks in New York. In Seattle, there are about two Starbucks per block. It's kind of amazing and frightening. I am proud to say that I had nothing from Starbucks on this trip to Seattle!  For sake of posterity, I did photograph it as proof!
The line to get into Starbucks.

Heading back into the market for the second day in a row, I checked out the menu at the restaurants located inside to see what caught my eye. With their dungeness crab eggs benedict and a view of the Puget Sound, Lowell's was the clear winner. 
There is nothing fancy about Lowell's.  What is special about it is that it has been serving Seattleites and visitors one of the best breakfasts in Seattle for nearly 100 years. It offers three floors of seating, though only the second serves beer and liquor. Each floor has a clear view of the Sound and was a wonderful, relaxing way to start the day and enjoy your meal. 
A little bit of food porn with the arrival 
of my luscious Dungeness crab eggs benedict.
View of Puget Sound from Lowell's

Rubbing my very full stomach, I decided to walk it off a little bit with some views of the area around the harbour and grabbing some grub for the plane.  

Saying a final farewell to Rachel the Pig, Pike Place Market's unofficial 550 lb mascot, since 1986. Seattleites and tourists world-wide stop by to visit and photograph her, before making a small contribution to her.  Rachel collects approximately $6,000-9,000 annually for the market's senior center, food bank and other services.  
Since it was a sunny day in Seattle, I was able to see the top snow-caps of Mount Rainier, a 14,411 feet tall stratvolcano located 54 miles southeast of Seattle. Look closely since it blends in with the fluffy clouds! 

And then I finally had a chance to enjoy the meal I had bought at the market, this monstrous Dungeness Crab Roll from Pike Place Chowder. Made from what looked like 2 lbs of fresh crab with mayo, diced celery, lemon juice and spices, it was light with the pure taste of crab shining through. So much better than what I had been getting used to eating on my flights!  All in all, not too shabby for a mere 36 hours in Seattle! I will be back again to visit all the other wonders I didn't have a chance to enjoy on this trip.
Dungeness crab roll from Pike Place Chowder

Beecher's Handmade Cheese 1600 Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.956.1964

Beecher's Handmade Cheese Flatiron District
900 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Pike Place Market
1st Avenue and Pike Street
Seattle, WA 98101

Papperdelle's Pasta
Main Arcade @ Pike Place Market
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.340.4114

Pure Food Fish
North Arcade, Desimone Bridge & on Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.622.5765

Pike Place Fish
Main Arcade @ Pike Place Market
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.682.7181

Piroshky Piroshky
1908 Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.441.6068

The Brooklyn Seafood, Steak and Oyster House
1212 2nd Ave
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.224.7000

Lowell's Restaurant & Bar
1519 Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.622.2036

Pike Place Chowder
1530 Post Alley
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: 206.267.2537

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