Saturday, July 31, 2010

sunny saturday in seattle

"And just keep walking on..." —13, the musical

I have to keep reminding myself to write these entries, lest I fall even further behind.  The pictures are really piling up, waiting to get posted, since I try not to put more than about 6 up on Flickr at a time.  (They don't really get viewed if I put them all up at once.)  Surprisingly, Steve and I have kept up with the 52 weeks of food project—well, the cooking and photographing parts anyway.  Those pictures and many others are still stuck in line behind the last of the Seattle pictures, however.

When last I wrote, I covered Friday night in Seattle.  This post begins on Saturday morning, the day of Chrissy's wedding.  We got up reasonably early and walked down to Sweet Iron for a breakfast of Belgian waffles—"real Liège waffles" to be more specific.

I found this place on a random blog with other Seattle restaurants that we planned to visit.  I like waffles, I had never had a true Belgian waffle, and it wasn't too long a walk from our hotel.  When we arrived at Sweet Iron that morning, I already knew what I wanted from looking at the menu online.  Normally, I would go straight for the one with strawberries on top.  Theirs also had a drizzling of balsamic.  A good combination, to be sure, but on this occasion, I decided to get the Banana Brûlée Waffle with Caramel Sauce.  Steve got the bacon one and a cup of coffee, of course.
I was really happy with my order.  While Steve kept talking about Tom's Big Breakfast from Lola, after Saturday morning, I was pining for that banana brulee waffle.  The waffle itself was really nice and all, with its pearl sugar, but with the bananas slightly crunchy on top from being bruleed and that buttery/salty caramel sauce, it was perfect.
The one downside of the place was lack of seating.  When we got there, all of the indoor seating (3 tables) was full, so we had to take our plates outside.  It wasn't raining, but it was a little chilly for sitting out there.  Soon after, one of the tables freed up and we happily moved inside.  Then when we were almost finished, we had to move from the middle table to one of the others so that a group of 6 could sit together.  It was a small space, but I did wish that there were more places to sit inside.
After breakfast, Steve and I wandered back toward Pike Place Market to look around some of the stores in that area.  We checked out a couple specialty food stores of the French and Spanish persuasions, and then we ended up looking around the main area of the market.  We were going to avoid the crowds and save the market for Monday morning/lunch, but since it was right there...

We looked through the back, inside section first.  The building was old and strange; it felt a little like a creepy school at times.  The wooden floors were slanted, and there were flights of stairs separating each dimly lit floor of shops.  We followed the hoards of people through the maze, but none of the shops really appealed to us.  The one thing that I did notice that was picture-worthy was in the window of one of those shops selling Dia de los Muertos figurines.
Living in the Mission, I've seen plenty of skull stuff, but I had never seen a figurine like that of Michael Jackson.  And somehow, it just fits.
Finally, we emerged onto a floor that was not so dark.  We had found our way to the upper ground level and some natural light.  Also: neon signs.
We shuffled through, passing food and flowers and crafts of all sorts, and then we ran out of market building.  Walking out and towards the water a little, there was a small park area with more going on.  We headed over there and found some sort of event with craft stations for kids.  One such station was Fish Printing.

Want to make your own fish print?  Take a fish—yes, a real fish, preferably dead.  Paint that fish!  Then press a piece of paper on top.  Remove the paper and let said paper dry.  (Throw out the fish afterward.)  Oh, the things you learn...
After that, we took a stroll through Post Alley.  We were kind of unofficially looking for the gum wall, but it turned out to be in the one section of the alley that we did not walk through.  The entrance to that part of it was down and around, obscured by building, so it wasn't immediately obvious that the alley continued.  Instead, we walked through another of the market buildings and visited The Great Wind-up, a store specializing in wind-up toys.  We eventually figured out where the gum wall probably was, but we saved confirmation of that until Monday morning.  It was less crowded then anyway.
Next up was lunch, but we still had some time to kill before the restaurant opened.  So we continued down Post Alley and found a lovely little courtyard below and across the street from the Seattle Art Museum.  We walked up the stairs and decided to sit a while on the ledge.  The weather was beautiful and sunny, though still not exactly warm.  My feet were also hurting already, so it was good to rest them a while.
Lunch was at the Purple Cafe in downtown Seattle.  It had been on my list of dinner options, but since they served lunch, it got demoted.  Although the dinner menu looked more appealing, it was a good lunch option.  And I got to take a picture of their cool floor-to-ceiling wine tower.
Steve ordered a hanger steak—big surprise.
I was also predictable and ordered the goat cheese salad with roasted red peppers and pine nuts.  And since I wasn't sure that would be enough, I wanted to order a second small dish.  I got some Humboldt Fog (a Northern CA goat cheese) with quince paste.
The salad was very good.  I always love goat cheese and roasted red pepper together.  The other goat cheese course was probably unnecessary, though.  I wanted to try the quince paste, but in the end, I preferred the apple with the Humboldt Fog anyway.
Once we were finished with our lunch, we hurried back to the hotel to change our clothes for Chrissy's wedding.  Then, we walked back downtown to meet Sara at the Alamo Car Rental office inside the Hilton.  We were supposed to get a Prius, but they were out of them.  Instead, we got "upgraded" to a huge SUV.  (Umm, what?!)  So much for getting to try out the Prius.  The rental rate had been so low too...
As per my plans, we headed out of downtown Seattle and across Lake Washington toward Chrissy's wedding, but we stopped in Kirkland to kill some extra time over coffee on the way.  When I was trying to decide on the must-try coffee spots for our trip, I kept seeing the name "Zoka Coffee."  The problem was that there wasn't one anywhere near the neighborhoods we'd be visiting on our trip.  But then, I noticed that Kirkland was on our way to the wedding and remembered that there was a Zoka Coffee there.  We would have a rental car, so it was plausible to get there.  It also provided a nice time buffer in case of traffic.
So with Sara in tow, we stopped at Zoka for a dose of caffeine before the wedding.  They're pretty serious about their coffee there, even for a Seattle place.  That probably explains why so many people online were raving about them.  The decor was also pretty cool.  There was a decent amount of stainless steel, but there was also a lot of light-colored wood.  We sat at the communal table in the middle, which was simultaneously rustic and polished.  The top was a huge jagged piece of smooth, honey-colored wood.  There was also a large stump nearby for those who like to sit on their coffee tables.
The coffee itself was amazing.  It was actually my first coffee of the Seattle trip, and it was the best mocha I had ever had.  There's usually a certain acidity to coffee, which is often lacking in decaf.  (Steve prefers that edge to the flatness of decaf.)  This mocha, however, had none of that acidity and no hint of burnt flavor.  And yet, it didn't taste flat either.  It was perfectly balanced and smooth, with good dark chocolate.  It was also prettier than even the mochas I get from Ritual or Four Barrel in SF.

I would have happily consumed an extra large mocha from Zoka (that rhymes!), but I was hopped up enough on the caffeine from the small one that it was good I didn't.
We sat and caught up with Sara for a while while we had our coffee, and then we took a little walk up and down the street.  We didn't get to see that much of Kirkland, but it seemed like a nice area.  By the time we made it back to the car, we were due to leave and drive the rest of the way to the wedding, north of Redmond.

And that is where the next post will resume.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

poppy dinner

We continue our review of the Seattle trip with Friday night's dinner in Capitol Hill.  Yes, this would be Friday, June 4.  And yes, I realize this was over a month ago.  I'm a little slow with the uploading of the pictures, but things have been a bit busy around here since camp started, right after the Fourth of July.  With all of the planning and practicing involved, it's nice to relive our little vacation.
Dinner that night in Capitol Hill was at Poppy.
Nope, not that poppy... this Poppy.  (We saw the others earlier that afternoon.)

I came across Poppy in my Seattle research on Yelp.  I think I was reading reviews of a different restaurant and someone mentioned Poppy being good.  I looked at the restaurant website and menu, checked where it was on my Seattle map, and promptly decided that we wouldn't be going there.  I hadn't planned on going that far north in Capitol Hill, and I had hoped to try Ethan Stowell's main restaurant, Union, downtown for dinner that night.  Then, when I went to OpenTable in late May to check reservations for Union, I couldn't actually find any open tables for the time we'd be in town.  I proceeded to the Ethan Stowell family of restaurants website and found a message about Union's closure after a long and successful run... about two weeks before we'd be in Seattle.  So no Union for us.

That meant that we needn't walk back downtown for dinner that night; I might as well check our options for dinner in Capitol Hill.  Those options included Lark, Anchovies & Olives, Spinasse, and Poppy.  Lark came highly recommended, but it didn't really have a reservation system.  Anchovies & Olives was one of the Ethan Stowell restaurants that I had looked at, but the menu there didn't appeal to me as much as his Queen Anne outpost, How to Cook a Wolf.  Spinasse looked good, but it was never quite high enough on my list to convince me.  
Also, by this time, Steve and I had watched season 2 of Top Chef Masters and seen Jerry Traunfeld, chef/owner of Poppy, compete.  He didn't get very far in the competition, but the feature was enough to convince me to take another look at the restaurant and its concept.  Unlike most traditional restaurants, Poppy takes inspiration from the Indian thali format—a meal composed of several smaller dishes served together and designed to complement one another.  It sounded interesting, so we decided to give it a try.
One of the first things I noticed when we arrived at Poppy that Friday night was the decor.  Even just having spent one day in Seattle, I could see some trends: lots of exposed brick and big windows everywhere.  (Or maybe I sought out those types of places for their photogenicness...)  Poppy had both, but the industrial look was contrasted with modern furniture and light fixtures—somewhat Scandinavian in design, but more refined than the typical IKEA stuff.  And of course, Poppy was all about the bright colors.
The drinks that we ordered were also nice and bright.  I got the "michi," which was made from cava, passion fruit, and lavender.  It was like a Bellini in that it had sparkling wine and fruit, but the lavender gave it a nice floral quality.  Steve got a drink called "death in the springtime."  It had gin, campari, absinthe, and lemon, so it was a decently strong drink.  When it arrived, we saw that it was a bright pink color.  Good thing it had "death" in the title to butch it up a little. :)
The menu was divided into various thalis—a 10-item one, a 10-item vegetarian version, and several smaller 7-item ones.  They also had a more traditional style menu of appetizers, but we had more than enough to eat without ordering starters.  We wanted to try as many different things as possible, so we ended up getting the two 10-item thalis.  There were a few of the smaller, supporting dishes that were the same on both platters, but a few were different, as were the two larger dishes (the proteins) on each.  Steve went for the standard thali, and I got the vegetarian one.  We probably could have gotten a 10-item platter and a 7-item one, but the 7-item platters only had one main dish each.  And both main events in the larger groupings looked good.
The downside of getting a large platter of little dishes?  It's difficult to photograph.  I had to take a picture from the front and another from the back to get everything, and the depth of focus made it such that the stuff in the back is hard to see in the pictures.
-See Flickr for the description of which dish is where in each picture-
Steve's thali had a different soup (green garlic), one different salad (turnips with cider and lovage), and two, more traditional, proteins (salmon with herb sauce and lavender duck leg).  I had a bite—or sip—of each of these.  The green garlic soup was one of my favorite things.  The salmon was also nice and perfectly cooked.  The duck leg was interesting; the lavender was subtle and in no way soap-like.  The turnip salad wasn't particularly memorable, but it was a supporting dish and not a lead one.
Both of our platters had the onion-poppy naan (Indian bread), which was browned and buttery.  We also both received the sea bean salad, the fingerling salad, the cauliflower, the black-eyed pea gratin, and the rhubarb pickle.  All were good, but the gratin and the sea bean salad (the two on the right in the above photo) were probably the ones I ate most of.

My vegetarian thali had two main dishes that I was excited to try: goat cheese flan and a stinging nettle risotto.  The magic words were, of course, "goat cheese" and "risotto."  The goat cheese flan (on the back left above) was served with morels.  Luckily, Steve and I had conducted an experiment the week before and determined that I'm not allergic to mushrooms after all.  I still let Steve have a few of my morels, since he loves them so, but I happily ate the rest with the flan.

The risotto (in the foreground above) had stinging nettles and lovage in it.  I'm not really familiar with either of those flavors, aside from seeing stinging nettles on several menus lately, so it was interesting to try.  I'm still not sure I have a good idea what they taste like, though.  It was a good risotto, but not my favorite ever.
The last components of my thali that differed from Steve's were the beet salad and the asparagus-sage soup.  Of those, I preferred the soup.  Like Steve's green garlic soup, the asparagus and sage was creamy and flavorful.

Then it was time to look at the dessert menu.  We had managed to get through the main part of the meal without allergy conflicts, but we weren't so lucky with dessert.  The hot date cake and the chocolate malt ice cream sundae—the two things that appealed to me most—both had nuts in them.  And the sweet thali for two had nutter-butter squares.  Since the salted caramel truffle was the only other thing that appealed to me in the dessert thali, we just decided to order two normal desserts.
 The first was the chamomile creme brulee.  I'm kind of over the old creme brulee dessert option, but Steve was curious about the chamomile.  Like the lavender in other dishes, the chamomile was just a subtle floral flavor that worked well with the rest.  It was good, but I wasn't overly excited about it.
And to go with the goat cheese flan I had earlier, we got the goat cheese pudding for dessert.  It was served with grapefruit, mint, and candied grapefruit peel (I think?).  The grapefruit was teetering a little close to the edge of too bitter, especially those diced bits that I thought might have been candied peel.  The actual grapefruit was pretty intense as well, but the pudding balanced it for the most part with the creaminess and the slight tang from the goat cheese.
At the end of the meal, the check came in a pocket protector.  Cool.
Overall, we quite enjoyed our meal at Poppy.  Someone on Yelp was complaining about the tiny dishes, because they liked to "tuck into" a good dish.  Unlike that person, I tend to get tired of things easily.  I'd rather try lots of things and eat less of each, so I loved Poppy's thali strategy.  I wasn't over the moon about every single dish, but the quality was high across the board.  It's easy to see why Poppy appears on so many lists of best Seattle restaurants.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel to rest our weary feet.

Total miles walked that day: approximately 7.1