Tuesday, August 31, 2010

queen anne & the pintxos

Monday afternoon, after checking out Seattle Center, Steve and I walked up to Queen Anne.  And by "up," I mean "up."  We climbed a monster hill on Queen Anne Ave N to get to the main commercial area of the neighborhood.  It was like the worst stretch of hill that we often walk up in our neighborhood, except that it went on for about 7 blocks.  We saw someone on a bike that was going about as fast as we were walking.

When we finally made it up the hill, we found that Queen Anne was pretty nice.  It was quite noticeably quieter than the other neighborhoods had been (and less edgy too), perhaps because of that hill.  Anyway, we found a cute diner that had been on my list of lunch places at one time.  We had already eaten lunch that day, but I took a picture of the sign, since I liked it.  This was also about the time that I realized just how many neon signs we had seen on our trip.  Seattleites must like neon signs.

Walking around, we stopped at a toy store called Once Upon a Time on Queen Anne.  It was a nice-sized house that had been converted into a toy store.  The downstairs seemed like a normal boutique toy store with the typical strollers and things, but the upstairs was more surprising.  There were several rooms, each devoted to something different: books, games, dinnerware with designs, dress-up clothes, etc.  We looked around for a while, but we ended up coming back downstairs and buying greeting cards, of all things.  We found some adorable birthday cards, cuter than many that I've seen in San Francisco, so we stocked up.  Afterward, I took a picture of the wooden animals in the store's window.

We continued up Queen Anne Ave, passing a fancy grocery store and another restaurant that's on my list for next time: How to Cook a Wolf.  It's the Ethan Stowell restaurant that had the most appealing menu to me, but we weren't going to be around Queen Anne at dinner time on this visit.

Coming to the end of the commercial area, we crossed the street and turned around.  We looked around at a game store, and then we found Chocolopolis, a chocolate store.  Steve and I each picked a truffle to try, and we sat down to eat them.  His wasn't memorable, but mine—adzuki bean, white ganache, and raspberry—was really good.  We ended up buying a little box of truffles that included another adzuki bean truffle and others from the same collection.

Because we were due for another coffee shop, part two of our afternoon snack was at Caffe Fiore, down a side street.  Of course, coffee didn't actually sound that good to me at the time.  It seemed a shame not to take advantage of the high quality coffee, but all I really wanted was a big glass of water.  So Steve got a cappuccino, and I got up to refill my water glass a few times. 

From there, we walked to Kerry Park.  It's a park in the middle of a Queen Anne residential area, and it has one of the best views of the Seattle skyline.

I took some pictures, Steve stood in the middle of the big sculpture, and that was about it.  As far as scenic overlooks go, it was a good one.

I had read about another overlook a few short blocks away, so we decided to check that out next.  On the way, we walked through the neighborhood and ogled a few gorgeous houses.

The second scenic overlook was facing more westward, so the view was of Smith Cove, rather than downtown Seattle.

Kitty corner to the overlook, there was a public garden.  We did a quick pass around the place and found it to be small, but charming.

It was pretty much just a circular path through some trees, around a little clearing, but they had some nice poppies for me to photograph.

Retracing our steps, we walked back to Kerry Park and then headed down the hill, taking quieter streets through the neighborhood rather than Queen Anne Ave.  That way, we got to see some more fun houses on our way.  We were trying to get to 2nd Ave in Belltown, but we ended up detouring through the Seattle Center again, since 2nd Ave didn't go straight through from Roy St.  In the process, we found a fountain set to music and a skate park (no interesting pictures to post of that).  Finally, we reached Belltown.

We walked down 2nd Ave, passing Chrissy and Kevin's apartment building and reaching our dinner destination.  It was about 5pm—a little early for dinner—but we were hungry already.  And since our feet were tired from walking all day, it made sense to eat while we were near the restaurant, rather than having to walk back and forth again later.

The restaurant in question was Pintxo, named after the Basque version of Spanish tapas.  I came across a restaurant named Txori while I was doing my research for the trip.  It sounded like our kind of place, and the pictures I found on Flickr looked great, so I put it on our list.  This was probably around March.  Then, when I got back into serious trip planning mode in May, I found out that Txori had closed.  But, wait!  A couple of their regulars were opening their own very similar restaurant (Pintxo) in the same space that very week! 

The story gets more interesting, though.  When I emailed my "to do/go/eat" list to Kevin and Chrissy, they told me that a friend of theirs was one of these new owners and that they were planning to have their rehearsal dinner at Pintxo.  That pretty much cemented Pintxo's spot on my list.  We were invited to the rehearsal dinner on Friday, but I conferred with Chrissy and decided that we would skip it and go ourselves on Monday.  It worked better for our schedule and saved their families some money.

When we arrived at Pintxo, we were the only ones there.  Sadly, their outdoor seating in the back wasn't open, so we didn't get to sit out there.  (The weather had gone from sunny and warm to a little chilly and threatening to rain.)  Instead, we sat at a tall table with a view of the little kitchen and bar.

We were served some crostini with a pea spread to start (see above).  The pea spread was good, but the toasts seemed a little stale.  Meanwhile, we looked over the menu and tried to decide what to order.  I let Steve take the lead on this one, and our first dish was the Rice Morcilla.

Rice Morcilla  
3 seared slices topped with piquillo peppers, popcorn, bittersweet chocolate, paprika salt

They were slices of sausage with several unexpected things on top.  The piquillo peppers weren't surprising, nor was the paprika salt, but I certainly wouldn't have thought to pair all that with popcorn and bittersweet chocolate.  I really liked it.

Next, we got couple bacon-wrapped dates, but more on those later.  After those came the pork belly dish that Steve wanted to try:
Pork Belly with Garbanzo Beans
Slow roasted pork belly served on a bed of spiced garbanzo beans stewed in vegetable broth


It was just okay.  I don't go wild over pork belly anyway, but Steve didn't think the skin was crisp enough.  The beans and broth were good, but again, the bread was a little stale.

We tried a bocadillo (sandwich) next:
Prosciutto Sandwich
Olive spread, roasted peppers, and a young manchego cheese atop locally baked bread


The combination of flavors was good, but the bread was a weak link.  Hopefully it was just an off day; otherwise, they really need to get a better source for their bread.  (Daily.)
We continued Steve's survey of all things pork with some sliders.

Pork Sliders
Stewed in vegetable broth with cayenne, lemon juice, cinnamon on brioche with chimichurri

I enjoyed these, and I don't remember having issues with the bread for once.  Mostly, I just remember the pork having a nice combination of acid, sweetness, and porkiness.

Continuing our second round of food, we had some steamed clams and mussels.
Steamed Clams and Mussels
Penn Cove Mussels and Manila Clams steamed in a Garnacha Rose and vegetable broth

Clams and mussels: good.  Bread: meh.  That about sums it up.
At this point, it was time for dessert.  None of the desserts really called out to me, so we just requested another order of the bacon wrapped dates that we had had earlier.
Bacon Wrapped Dates
Sweet dates stuffed with a creamy goat cheese and wrapped in bacon

Our first order was only two dates, but they doubled it for our second order.  It was a perfect ending for our dinner.  Bacon-wrapped fruit is always a good idea, especially stuffed with goat cheese.  Usually, we do plums at home, but the dates worked perfectly too.  Best part of the meal.
We dragged ourselves back to the hotel after dinner and made one more stop at the fifth floor viewing deck.  I had taken pictures there after dinner on Friday night, but these came out better.
deck view
So that was the view from the deck of the Inn at the Market.  After that, we were really happy to go back to our room and not do much the rest of the evening.

Total miles walked that day: approximately 7.6 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

manic monday

Monday was our last full day in Seattle, and it was also one of our busiest.  For breakfast, we headed to Top Pot Doughnuts' downtown location for some "hand-forged" doughnuts.  It's a nice airy shop with lots of seating and cool bookshelves.

I've had two specific doughnut (donut?) cravings the last few years: the cherry-glazed doughnuts that we used to get at Dawn Donuts in Lansing when I was a kid (before it closed) and the plain cake doughnuts that I've gotten more recently at Uncle John's Cider Mill in St. Johns, MI.  With the exception of the occasional creatively-flavored doughnut at Dynamo Donuts, I really don't eat many of them at home in SF.  Probably a good thing.  Something about the normal doughnut store that I pass on the walk to Noe Valley just doesn't appeal to me—too greasy, I think.
Anyway, all of this is to say that Top Pot was a good opportunity to satisfy that craving for a good, classic doughnut.  Since they didn't have cherry ones, I went for the plain old fashioned.  I'm not sure what the difference is between the "old fashioned" and a plain circular cake doughnut, but the old fashioned ones are more aesthetically interesting.  I got a mocha to go with it, and it was the perfect combination.  The doughnut was fresh and cakey, with a slightly crisp exterior, and it had just enough sugar to stand up to the mocha without being too sweet.
Steve got an apple fritter.  It was good, but it wasn't going to win any beauty contests.  (Steve probably wouldn't either, but he does just fine.)
The walk to Top Pot was the one time during the trip when I wished I had brought my umbrella.  Since I hadn't used it much up to that point, I figured I'd be fine without it.  It was only kind of borderline raining, but by time we got to the doughnut shop, my hair was sticking to my face a little and my white jacket was smudged with black from the strap of my camera bag.  Thankfully, it had stopped drizzling by the time we finished our breakfast, so we didn't have to walk back in the rain too.
The game plan for mid-morning and lunch was to do Pike Place Market.  We were staying so close, and we had spent some of Saturday morning there, but we didn't really feel like we had fully explored the place yet.  Plus, we hadn't actually found the gum wall on Saturday morning.  We had narrowed it down to a specific section of Post Alley, however, so it was pretty easy to find on Monday morning.
The gum wall is just what it sounds like: a wall with gum.  You can see that it's right outside Market Theatre, so it was most likely started by people waiting in line there.  From humble beginnings, it's become a popular—and disgusting—tourist stop.  We weren't the only ones there taking pictures, even on a weekday.
We also had to find the home of the famous flying fish.  We gathered that said place was Pike Place Fish, mostly because we caught sight of one in the air.  There was a small crowd watching, but no more fish flew.  They only throw them if someone actually orders one, and tourists don't buy too many whole fish.  They don't travel very well.
We walked around the main level of the main building next, which we had mostly missed on Saturday.  There were plenty of flowers and fruit to go with all the seafood.  On the side of the main building and outside, there were also several vendors selling craft-type items.
Heading toward lunch, we passed the "original" Starbucks.  (The original moved to this location in 1976, after 5 years at a different spot about a block away.)  We definitely didn't get coffee there, since we had better places on our list.  I wasn't planning on taking pictures of it either, but there was this trio playing outside.  Because they were so awesome, I made an exception.
First on my lunch list was Beecher's for some of their macaroni & cheese.  It uses their Flagship cheddar and "Just Jack" cheese, and most people seem to like it.  We got a 16oz. container to share.  It was quite good, but I didn't think it was the "World's Best" as they claimed.  It's got nothing on Thomas Keller's macaroni gratin from the Bouchon Cookbook.
I was thinking that we'd share some mac & cheese and still be hungry for something else.  So we'd go get some chowder or some dessert from one of the other places at the market.  That didn't happen.  We were full enough from just the pasta.  That's the downside of going on vacations that have such an emphasis on food: you're never hungry enough to eat everything you want to try.
Instead of more eating at Pike Place, we left for some sightseeing at Seattle Center.  We made the very wise decision of taking the monorail there, since it was only a few blocks to the Westlake end, and it saved us about a mile of extra walking.  (It was wise, because I spent half of the Seattle trip with tired and aching feet from all the walking we were doing.)
Riding the monorail meant that we got to Seattle Center pretty quickly, and I got a few extra pictures in.  It was also cool to "experience" the Experience Music Project building by riding through a tunnel in it.
When we got off the train, we were next to the EMP building, near the foot of the Space Needle.  Cue obligatory Space Needle picture.

We didn't bother going up.  Steve doesn't like heights, and I've heard that it's overrated for the amount of money you have to pay.  I was happy to stay at the bottom and take pictures of the thing.  If we had had more time in town, I might have tried to go to the Columbia Center, which has a much cheaper viewing deck.  From there, one can take pictures with the Space Needle actually in the shot.
There were plenty of pictures to be taken from the ground anyway.  The little amusement park there looked mostly closed, but I was glad to get a chance to take some artsy-vintage-type shots of the rides.
long line of cars & carousel (not up on flickr)
Fun, huh?
Once I was done dragging Steve around that area, we walked around the Experience Music Project building a little.  No, we didn't go in; we just walked around the building.  It's a Frank Gehry design, so the outside itself is pretty awesome.
Inside, there's the music museum and the science fiction museum.  Those probably would have been pretty interesting, but we had limited time and other places to be.  The Queen Anne neighborhood awaited us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


One of the big reasons I was excited to go to Seattle for Chrissy's wedding was Delancey, where we ate dinner on Sunday night.
The backstory: I picked up Molly Wizenberg's book A Homemade Life last spring, and I was completely charmed by it.  It reads like a bunch of extended blog posts, chronicling various episodes in Molly's life and sharing recipes for each.  From her childhood memories of visiting Paris with her father to her more recent life and how she met her husband, Brandon, the writing is both personal and funny.  It's like reading a note from your best friend, but my best friends don't tend to talk about food quite that much. :)
After finishing the book, I checked out her blog, Orangette, and learned that she and Brandon were in the process of opening a pizza restaurant in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.  At the time, I had no idea where that was in relation to anything else, and I had no immediate plans to visit Seattle anyway.  (I didn't learn of Chrissy's engagement until January.)  All I knew was that it would be on my list if I ever got around to visiting her.

Happily, Delancey was open by the time Chrissy got married, and it was easy enough to get to by bus.  We had to catch the bus in Wallingford and take it west to Ballard, then transfer to a different one that ran up 15th Ave NW to NW 70th St.  I planned it such that we'd get there with some time to spare before the restaurant opened at 5pm.  That way, we'd be sure to get in with the first wave of diners.  The only hitch we ran into was the lateness of the second bus.  We sat on the bench waiting for it for at least half an hour before it finally came.  As a result, we arrived at Delancey later than I would have liked.  We still got there before the doors opened, but we were further back in line than I had intended.

It all worked out, though.  The little dining room was filling up, so the hostess asked if we'd like to sit at the bar.  It turned out to be one of the best places to sit.  There probably wasn't as much light for pictures as there would have been next to a window, but we got to soak up some of the heat from the pizza oven, which was quite welcome after sitting outside at the bus stop for so long.

We sat down at the bar, looked at the menu, and admired the place.  I liked the mismatched silverware, the concrete table top, and the lights hanging above us, which were made from jars.  It was a mix of rustic, traditional, modern, and creative re-purposing; and it was perfect.

To start, we ordered the burrata with asparagus.  The asparagus was roasted in the wood oven and had wonderful flavor as a result.  We later learned while watching the asparagus episode of Good Eats that cooking asparagus using dry vs. wet methods brings out different flavors.  If I remember correctly, dry methods bring out more meatiness.  In any case, the wood oven did great things for that asparagus.  (This was the year that I started to like asparagus at all.)  The cheese, olive oil, and aged balsamic vinegar didn't hurt either.

The other up-side to sitting at the bar was that we got to watch the pizzas being made.  That's Brandon on the right, spooning mascarpone onto a white pizza.
We ordered the sausage pizza, which had housemade pork fennel sausage and their usual combination cheeses: fresh and aged mozzarella and Grana.  It was a fabulous pizza with one of the better crusts I've had.  My only regret is that we couldn't try more of the pizzas on the menu.  Now that I know for sure that I'm not allergic to mushrooms—and I like them—I'm eager to try the crimini mushroom pizza with thyme.  They also do a pizza with padron peppers, but they weren't in season yet when we were there.

As we munched on our pizza, we ended up chatting with the guy next to us and with Brandon as he kept up with the pizzas in the oven.  It was a lot of fun talking to them about the various places we had eaten so far in Seattle and where we often eat in SF.  Our favorite neighborhood restaurant (Contigo in Noe Valley, SF) came up, and Brandon expressed his jealousy.  He knows the chef/owner, Brett, but he hadn't made it to Contigo yet.
While we waited for dessert, Brandon poured us half a glass of each of the ports on the menu so that we could try them.  Steve and I both preferred the lighter one in the foreground.

For dessert, we ordered the rhubarb shortcake, which the guy next to us recommended.  It felt very "Molly" with its rustic shortcake, fruity rhubarb, Grand Marnier, and mascarpone cream.  Relatively simple and homey, but good.  I think this may have been my first time eating rhubarb, and I liked it a lot.  I'm not as obsessed as Molly, though.

The other dessert we selected was the bittersweet chocolate chip cookie with gray salt.  It's pretty much the only dessert that stays on Delancey's menu year-round, and I wanted to try it.  That's about all I did that night, however.  I was so full that I was only able to take a bite or two.  We took the rest back with us in a little bag, and I ate it during our flight home on Tuesday.  It was still good, and I probably enjoyed it even more.  There was good dark chocolate in the middle of every bite, as well as the occasional pop of salt.  And it felt just the tiniest bit healthy, with more substance than your average cookie.

Before we left, Brandon was also generous enough to write out his pizza dough recipe for Steve, since they had been talking about it.  We knew we wouldn't be back to Seattle very soon, so it was cool to take a bit of Delancey home with us.  The recipe requires a little more rising time (i.e., forethought) than our usual one, but it's a good pizza dough.  It comes out more crisp and less doughy.
Obviously, we really enjoyed Delancey.  It lived up to the picture I had in my head: good food, impeccable taste/style, and a friendly neighborhood restaurant vibe.  We were quite happy as we left to catch the bus back to our hotel.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

the fremont (and wallingford) experience

It was a drizzly, cold Sunday morning in Seattle.  The first thing Steve and I had to do the day after Chrissy's wedding was revisit the car rental place to return our keys and paperwork.  We had left the car in their parking garage the night before, but the drop box was jammed shut.   It was a bit of a hassle to go back again, but it was still better than my initial plan of doing hotel valet parking on Saturday night and returning the car Sunday morning.  Upon leaving the hotel that morning, we found ourselves in a sea of cancer walk participants.  We were glad that we only had to cross them on foot.
Once we were finally free of those rental car keys, we debated about whether to get breakfast or not.  We stopped by Sweet Iron in hopes of having some more waffles, but it looked pretty crowded, and the weather was even less appealing for sitting outside than it was the day before.  Instead, we decided to get on with our plans and have an early lunch.
So we hopped on a bus to the Fremont neighborhood.
Fremont is one of the more, shall we say, interesting neighborhoods of Seattle.  Their website describes it thusly: "Renowned as Seattle's most artistically eccentric community, Fremont wavers somewhere in time between the 50's, 60's and the 23rd century."  In amongst some of the more normal cute boutiques, there's the Lenin statue (above) from former Czechoslovakia, there's an old Soviet-era rocket (below), and there's the Fremont Troll (more on that later).
Basically, it's a neighborhood with quirky stuff all over the place.  Even the murals were cool.  The work pictured below and this one nearby were done by Ryan Henry Ward.  Oh, the whimsy...
The selling point for visiting Fremont was actually the Fremont Sunday Market.  Chrissy and Kevin recommended the Los Agaves stand at the Sunday Market as one of the few places that has pretty authentic tacos al pastor in the Pacific Northwest.  Since we had never tried them before, and I knew Steve would probably enjoy it, I added it to our itinerary for Sunday lunch.
The tacos ended up being kind of messy but really good.  The meat was pork, marinated and then cut from the spit—the "al pastor" or "Shepherd-style" part.  It was served with pineapple, onions, cilantro, salsa, and lime juice, as is traditional.  Steve got the hot salsa and I got mild, but mine was plenty hot.  The pineapple did a nice job of brightening the flavor and balancing the heat.  We also got some horchata to drink, which helped too.
We walked around the market a little afterward, but we didn't buy anything else.  There were several vendors selling crafts, artisan snacks, and lunch food.  We were already full, so we didn't even get anything from the awesome pig mobile (pictured below).
From there, we walked over to the Theo Chocolate factory.  We didn't want to take the time for a tour, but we had fun looking through their chocolate shop and trying some of the samples that were out.  We came out with a box of rose caramels, a lemongrass milk chocolate bar, and a dark chocolate bar that had crunchy bits of bread in it.
Continuing on, we stopped at a store called Deluxe Junk.  Similar to some of the stores in our neighborhood, they sold various antiques and random old stuff.  They even had a nice selection of vintage board games.  There was also a weird/creepy fry statue out front.
Then it was time to head over toward Gas Works Park to meet Steve's cousin Crystal and her family.  We had to stop at the Fremont Troll on the way, however.  We walked through a nice neighborhood, just off Fremont's main drag, and I took a picture of a random restaurant patio.  I thought the light bulbs were cool.
As we got closer to the troll, I spotted a nice detail outside one of the houses under the bridge.  They had three billy goats on their lawn.
When we got to the Fremont Troll, and we realized that there were actors rehearsing on it.  Apparently, they were rehearsing for Shakespeare on the Troll.  (Steve found a flier.)  I wasn't sure which play it was, but it was obviously one of the tragedies, judging by the amount of "stabbing" and "choking" going on.
Thankfully, we waited around long enough for the actors to take a break.  They cleared the area in front, and the little crowd of tourists that had gathered (me included) was able to take some pictures of the troll without getting the extra people in the shot.
Gas Works Park was next, and we hurried along the Burke-Gilman Trail by the water to meet Crystal and Zach at the appointed time.
The park has a nice hill and some rustic gas works from when the former Seattle Gas Light Company used it.  The old equipment isn't the prettiest thing ever, but it definitely makes up for that in character.
We met Zach, Crystal, their daughter Julia, and their dog Muppet at the park, and then we headed up the little hill to check out the view.  Mostly we just chatted, and I snapped a few pictures now and then.  It was a little cold and started drizzling again, so we couldn't really sit and enjoy the park too much.
We got a group picture that a stranger was nice enough to take, which included the view of downtown and the Space Needle in the distance.
I took a few more shots before we left, including the one below.  Sadly, I wasn't fast enough to get any pictures of the little biplanes or seaplanes that flew overhead.  I had this great image in my head of one of them flying over the hill, but there were none to be seen when I was actually ready for them.
After the park, our plan was to walk up to Wallingford for a snack at Trophy Cupcakes.  Crystal and Zach decided to join us, so we all trekked up the hill together.  We each picked out a cupcake from Trophy, and we found a place that wasn't too damp outside to sit and eat them.  Steve got Chai Cardamom, Zach got Triple Chocolate, Crystal got Chocolate Chip Mint, and I chose Chocolate Graham Cracker.  Mine was basically a s'mores cupcake, with toasted marshmallow frosting and a graham cracker crust on the bottom of a chocolate cupcake.  It was quite good, although it seemed a bit greasy, probably from the graham cracker crust.  In any case, the flavors were more interesting than Cupcake Royale, and apparently their empty coffee cups make good teethers.
It was fun seeing Crystal and Zach and meeting Julia (and Muppet).  Aside from being friends with Crystal on Facebook, I had only seen met them once before, when they were visiting SF in the summer of 2005.  That was before they got married and before they had Julia.
We parted ways after a while, and Steve and I did a quick walk around Wallingford.  We didn't have time to see much, but it seemed like a neighborhood with less to see anyway.
They had a pretty cool sculpture-totem pole-thing, which was fun to photograph.
We walked by Tilth, a restaurant that's on our list for next time.  Coffee, gelato, and ice cream didn't end up happening though, what with the cupcakes and all.  We didn't want to spoil our dinner.
Before long, it was time to catch the bus from Wallingford to Ballard for that dinner.