Wednesday, June 30, 2010

capitol hill

Friday, June 4, was our first full day in Seattle, and it was probably the day I was most looking forward to on our itinerary.  The plan was to go and explore Capitol Hill, one of the city's more alternative neighborhoods.  It pretty much sounded like Seattle's version of our neighborhood in SF, which meant that there should be plenty of interesting things to see and eat.
But first, there was breakfast to find a little closer to the hotel.  With all my extensive planning, I had that covered; we would have a nice sit-down breakfast at Tom Douglas' Lola.  I knew I wanted to try the doughnuts there after seeing Giada De Laurentiis sing their praises on The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  When I started researching Seattle food, that was one of the first things to make it on my "to-eat" list.  It also quickly became apparent that Tom Douglas was one of the big names in Seattle food, with his numerous restaurants.  I figured we should eat at one of them, but in the end, I wasn't willing to give up one of our limited number of dinners in town.  Luckily, in addition to the doughnuts being served at the Dahlia Lounge as a dessert, they are also served at Dahlia Bakery and at Lola for breakfast.  The food selection and seating options were better for breakfast at Lola, so we did that.
My doughnuts were brought to the table in a little paper bag and shaken with cinnamon and sugar. then the top of the bag was snipped off, and they were dumped onto my waiting plate.  Still warm and pillowy and served with vanilla mascarpone and apricot as the "seasonal jam," they did not disappoint.  The vanilla mascarpone was creamy, slightly cold, and had a lovely vanilla flavor.  It kind of reminded me of the double devon cream that tea rooms serve with scones.  The apricot jam was also pretty interesting, with a bit of cinnamon spice, but I preferred the jam and mascarpone together on the doughnuts, rather than the jam alone.

Steve's breakfast was more of a wild card.  I had seen the menu online ahead of time and read reviews that had included Tom's Big Breakfast.  It appeared to be a seasonal dish, always using octopus, but substituting different veggies depending on the time of year.  I think the review I read was from someone who had tried a fall version with squash.  The version on our menu had snap peas, bacon, chickpeas, and green garlic yogurt with the octopus.  I thought it sounded really good, and the reviewer loved the fall one, so I was curious to try it.  Steve wasn't sure, but I bullied him into ordering it.

Steve ended up loving the dish, as did I.  The bites that I stole from it satisfied my craving for salty to break up the sweet of the doughnuts.  I also used some of his bread to eat with the remaining mascarpone and jam once I ran out of doughnuts.  Since Steve kept talking about Tom's Big Breakfast the rest of the trip, I didn't have to feel bad about pressuring him into ordering it.
After breakfast, we walked toward Capitol Hill.  Our first stop in the neighborhood was the brand new Melrose Market.  It was still quite obviously under construction, but a few of its tenants were open for business already.  There was Marigold and Mint, a cute flower shop (pictured below) which was the initial draw for me, before I knew about the market as a whole.  There was also a butcher, a cheese counter, and a restaurant (Sitka and Spruce).  A sandwich shop is coming, but that was the part that was most under construction at the time.

The main area of the little market, housed in a single building with few interior walls, felt a little like the SF Ferry Building, but on a much smaller scale.  The idea here seems to be more communal too.  The cured meats from Rain Shadow Meats and cheeses from Calf and Kid will likely be used in Homegrown's sandwiches and at Sitka and Spruce as well.  It's a cool project, and we'll have to revisit it to see how it turns out the next time we find ourselves in Seattle.
Continuing up Pike St., we looked at a few more shops before lunchtime.  There was Izilla Toys, newly reopened after having just moved to a new location; NuBe Green, a shop on Pine St. that sells green/sustainable housewares; and Flora & Henri, an adorable (and expensive) boutique with baby clothes and toys.

Then, we carried out my plan for lunch at Oddfellows Cafe.  This was another place I stumbled upon while researching Capitol Hill.  Between the general look of the website and the online menu, I was sold.

We got there, waited in a line to order, and I saw all kinds of photographic opportunities.  There were the pastries and drink menu (above), as well as the jars of garnishes on the bar (below).
Steve ordered a French Dip, and I got a sandwich that was essentially a caprese salad on a baguette: mozzarella, tomato, and basil.  I had to add a little salt, since the mozzarella wasn't very salty on its own, but it was a good meal.  I often don't feel like eating something really heavy for lunch while traveling, especially when we're eating a lot to try to fit more places in.  This was light, fresh, and delicious.
Speaking of eating a lot, dessert was next.  We made a quick stop to look around a store we had passed before, but after that, it was off to Cupcake Royale for my first cupcake of the trip.  Seattle has apparently been home to a cupcake craze in the last few years.  My research found a cupcake store for nearly every area that we planned to visit, and a couple of them were different locations of Cupcake Royale.

I had trouble deciding between the red velvet and the salted caramel cupcakes (trendy flavors, I know).  I went with the red velvet, because of my love for cream cheese frosting.  Steve had a bite of it, but he was rather happy with just an espresso.

I thought that the cupcake was decent, but not the best I had ever had.  The cake itself was perhaps a little dry and crumbly, and the cream cheese frosting didn't drive me wild.  I still prefer the gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting from Miette in SF.  That's probably better anyway, since Miette is a lot closer.

All sugared (or caffeined) up, we left Cupcake Royale to see some more of the neighborhood before we were due to eat more food or drink more coffee.  Sadly, we had to pass on the Molly Moon Ice Cream.  It smelled really good, but there's only so much sugar one can consume in an afternoon.
We made a stop at Elliott Bay Book Co., where we spent some time looking at the books and the card/gift section.  I didn't take any pictures inside, though I wish I had.  With the exposed brick and the large, paned windows, it looked so quintessentially Seattle.

When we left, we headed back down Pine St.  Soon, we came upon a storefront that looked a lot like some of the cards we had just been looking at at the bookstore.  It turned out to be the retail home of CakeSpy.
We went in and looked around at the art, more cards, and other CakeSpy-ware.  I decided I needed a fake terrarium—stuffed, felt mushrooms in a mason jar—and we had a lovely chat with Jessie Oleson, the artist herself.  It wasn't until I got home that I realized why her artwork seemed familiar to me: I read her review of Baked in Brooklyn a year or two ago, around the time that I got their cookbook.

Nearby, we also stopped in at Area 51, a cool furniture store with lots of vintage stuff.  It would fit in well in the Mission; it was just quirky enough.  On our way out, we struck up a conversation with the owner, who had actually lived in SF before.  He was flattered that his store had appeared on our radar, but I had found it while looking for neighborhoods much like my own.  Not too surprising, really, since I knew what kinds of places I liked.

Coffee was the next item on the list for the afternoon.  It would be a good way to rest our feet and kill time before dinner.  Unfortunately, my information (and Google Maps') was out of date.  We went looking for Espresso Vivace at the corner of Denny & Broadway, only to find a Pete's and some construction across the street from it.  According to their website, the main location of Espresso Vivace had closed almost two years ago and moved up the street a ways.  That flat piece of land that was under construction was where it used to be.

Not knowing all this, we headed up Broadway to look for somewhere else to go, in a bit of a haze from tired feet and indecision.  We passed an Espresso Vivace sidewalk cafe, but it was all outdoor seating, which didn't appeal to us.  It was intermittently drizzling, and it was a little chilly.  So we kept walking.  We saw another Espresso Vivace (the new one, as it turns out), but it looked crowded and wasn't a location I had heard about before.  Instead, we decided to maybe walk to the one I knew of that was supposed to be across from the REI.

The problem?  It was on the other side of the highway, somewhat inaccessible, down a sizeable hill.  We figured this out when we reached the highway.  There was no way that we wanted to walk all the way to this place, if we could even figure out how to get there.  By the time we actually found it, we'd probably have to turn around and hike all the way back up the hill to get back to the restaurant for dinner.  So I took a few pictures of the view, and we turned around.
detour view
We were still in search of a coffee shop so we could sit for a while.  We went into one, but it said that they served Starbucks coffee, so we left.  We didn't come all the way to Seattle to drink Starbucks.  Instead, we went back to that Espresso Vivace (the real one).  By this time, I wasn't thirsty for anything but water, fearing that I'd spoil my dinner if I got the mocha that I wanted.  Steve got some coffee, though, and we managed to find a seat for a while.  We probably should have just gone to Bauhaus Coffee in the first place.  It was also on my list, but it was on the Pike/Pine side of the neighborhood, from which we had just come.  By the time we learned of the Espresso Vivace issue, it was in the opposite direction from our dinner destination.

Our dinner at Poppy was next, but I'll save that for a separate post.

Friday, June 25, 2010

evening in seattle

The time has come to talk of many things: of trips and transit and trolls.  Of coffee and cupcakes.  Of food and flowers and aching feet.

I speak, of course, of the Seattle trip.  In my usual pattern, it's been about 3 weeks since the trip, and I'm slowly catching up with the processing and posting of the pictures I took—a necessary first step before blogging can commence.  But I have the images of our first evening up on Flickr, so as I said, the time has come.
Steve and I took BART to SFO on Thursday morning, June 3.  From there, Alaska Airlines delivered us to SeaTac Airport, with free WiFi on the plane!  Upon arrival, we collected our luggage and walked the endless path around one side of the parking garage to the light rail station.  We bought tickets, boarded a train, and a little over half an hour later, we were getting off at the end of the line at Westlake Station.  Then, all we had to do was walk about three blocks down Pine St. to Inn at the Market.

Our room on the 7th floor had a view of the street—cheaper than a water view—and free WiFi.  As an added bonus, we also had an iPod dock in place of the typical alarm clock/radio.  I tried it out while we got ready for dinner.
We headed out a little early, because I wanted to check out a couple of shops that wouldn't be open (or on the way) on our other days in town.  Luckily, we got to them before they closed for the day. 
First up was Fancy, a store of mostly jewelry.  We didn't buy anything, but they had some cute stuff and some random stuff.  I didn't need any crushed soda cans made out of porcelain... maybe next time.

Our second stop was a surprise to me.  I knew about Fancy and its sister store Schmancy, but we came across Nancy as well.  This one was dedicated to handmade goods and had a more earthy feel, as opposed to Fancy's more modern, clean aesthetic.  Again, we looked and didn't buy anything, but I liked the owls in the window.

Last was the aforementioned Schmancy, specializing in quirky toys. 

This is where we found the perfect gift for Carmen: a stuffed mustache.  We purchased one to take home to her, and then we continued down 2nd Ave., toward our restaurant for dinner.

We had reservations at Restaurant Zoe in Belltown.  It was a place I first saw featured in a Flickr contacts' photos, but then I kept seeing it on various other lists of good Seattle restaurants as well.  After Kevin included it in his email of recommendations for us, I decided we might as well try it out.
To drink, Steve ordered their version of a Manhattan ("Regrade Manhattan") while I chose a more girly drink called "Spring Flowers." 
spring flowers  belvedere vodka, st. germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon sour, shaken and topped with la spinetta moscato d'asti
Despite its girliness, I thought it was a very good, refreshing cocktail—not too sweet.  I may have to hunt down some elderflower liqueur someday.
After we ordered, we were served an amuse bouche of little toasts with smoked steelhead mousse.  It was a good start to the trip.  "Welcome to Seattle; have some smoked fish!"  It had a subtle smoked flavor and wasn't overly fishy.
And onto the food that we ordered...  Steve and I decided to get a bunch of small plates to share, rather than order any entrees, so that we could try more dishes.  The first plate to come out was the one I was most looking forward to, after looking at the menu online and reading reviews on Yelp: ricotta gnudi.
fresh ricotta gnudi  artichoke relish, lemon oil, sweet salt
The gnudi were soft and pillowy like gnocchi, but made from ricotta.  (Pasta made from cheese? Win-win.)  Served with an artichoke relish that tasted a little like olives, the flavors balanced each other really well.  I'm not a big fan of olive-like flavors, but I was willing to admit that the acid helped break up the richness of the ricotta.
Also in the first round, we received our crab cake.  Being home to so much fresh seafood, we had to order at least one crab cake while we were in Seattle.  (Nevermind that we live in SF, where dungeness crab is also local and readily available.)  It was still the height of asparagus season, so the dish featured asparagus as a big part of the salad topping the crab.
dungeness crab  brioche crouton, green asparagus, scallion
The verdict: solid dish and probably one I'd order again, but it didn't really blow me away.  I seem to remember thinking that it could use a few more pickled onions (the pink bits), since those provided the occasional bit of tang.  Too much acid would overwhelm the flavor of the crab, but I would have appreciated a little more to complement the asparagus.
Next Emily-trap on the menu: risotto.  We had to order it, especially since I now know that I am not allergic to pine nuts.  (Steve and I did an experiment with pesto a couple weeks before the trip.)
spring risotto  sorrel, mascarpone, fines herbes, pinenuts
All the components sounded good to me.  I like mascarpone, and I had had sorrel in pasta at Range, so I figured I should like it here too.  Sorrel is a vegetable/herb that's somewhat acidic and works pretty well with cheese and citrus.  I wasn't exactly sure what they meant by "fines herbes" on the menu, but a little online research shows that they generally include parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil.  Again, sounds good in theory.

In reality, it wasn't quite right.  Besides the risotto being borderline undercooked, it was too salty and a little too acidic.  Now that I read more about sorrel, I think the problem was either that there was too much of it or it was too mature.  Sorrel gets more acidic with age, and they probably tried to balance that with more salt.  I would probably put in more mascarpone (mild cheese) to mellow it, but that might dull the flavor and necessitate more salt as well.  In any case, it's always a little disappointing when restaurant risotto isn't as good as the stuff Steve makes.
That round of food continued with some seared foie gras.  I had only had it in terrine form—like paté—in the past, so I was curious to try it prepared in a different way.  
seared sonoma foie gras  watercress, riesling syrup, brioche

Unfortunately, it was another dish that neither of us particularly liked.  I think the riesling syrup was what killed it for me.  Between that and the candied orange peel garnish, there was too much sweet.  It was kind of cloying.  They can't all be winners, I guess.
Happily, our last selection was, in fact, a winner.
confit of lamb heart  horseradish cream, miners lettuce, preserved meyer lemon
Steve was the one who suggested we order the confit of lamb heart; I didn't know what to expect from the dish.  It ended up being very thin slices of lamb with greens and sauce, and it was not at all obvious that the meat had once been in the shape of a heart—an anatomically correct one, of course.  In fact, the flavor and texture just reminded me of the cold roast beef sandwiches of my childhood.  (That's a good thing, by the way.)  I mostly avoided the horseradish cream, since I don't really like horseradish, but the greens were pleasant.  Supposedly, there was preserved meyer lemon in there somewhere too, but I'm not sure where it was.
At this point, we were both getting pretty full, but we had to look at the dessert menu anyway.  Despite the coconut panna cotta and lemon semolina cake both sounding good, we decided to go with something a little lighter.  Our server informed us that the ice cream of the day, made by the bartender's ice cream company, was basil.  I'm a fan of Steve's basil ice cream, so we tried some.
Their basil ice cream was apparently an infusion, so the ice cream didn't have the green color or flecks of basil that Steve's does.  The base was good and creamy, though, and the little leaf-shaped cookie was a nice touch.
After dinner, we still had an hour or two of daylight, so we walked down 2nd Avenue a little further, then down to the waterfront.  Heading north, we came to a little pier, and I took pictures of the water, mountains, ferries, etc.
There was also this fountain, which provided a nice photo op to include the Space Needle.
We found ourselves at the foot of the Olympic Sculpture Park, so we looked around a little bit before deciding that we needed to head back while there was still some light in the sky.  The park was on my list of things to see, so it was good to check it off, even though I'm pretty certain we didn't do it justice.
Walking back along Alaskan Way in the direction of our hotel, we stopped for a few more pictures in the fading light.  The waterfront had some nice details, like the ship wheels on the railing posts.

I even got a few pictures of the skyline, even though it started to get a little drizzly by that point.  It made me a bit nervous, since I didn't really want to put my camera away, but it didn't end up actually raining.
The tricky part was trying to get from Alaskan Way back up to the other side of Pike Place Market.  Between the big hill, the many long buildings of the market, the highway aqueduct, and very few roads going all the way through, it was challenging to find our way back to the hotel.  We ended up finding a random steep stairway around where Pine St. would be and climbed that up to Western Ave.  It was a step (several actually) in the right direction, but we still had to get to the higher elevation on the opposite side of Pike Place Market.  We were at the back of the long string of buildings, and they were all closed for the night.  So we walked along Western Ave., beside the market buildings, until we finally found some stairs up at Union St.  Again, there were a lot of steps—that's one big hill—but we were finally at 1st Ave.
public market center
Looking at Google Maps again now, I can see that we kind of took the long way around.  If we had gone left instead of right at Western Ave., we would have only had to walk about one block instead of two to get around the buildings.  But the way that we went, we got to pass the main neon sign at the end of Pike St. for the market.  The secondary one was near our hotel, at the end of Pine St., but this one was more exciting.  So the extra detour wasn't all bad.