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Dining near Seatac and in Olympia

ybnormal Apr 2, 2008 04:27 PM

I will be flying into Seattle International on a business trip, arriving just in time for dinner.

I'm looking for any excellent places for a meal around the airport, or on the way to Olympia.

I've been browsing the board, but I'm not familiar enough with the locations to figure out which places to try.

Looking for either a nice seafood place, or local ingredient gourmet experience (but not steak - I'm coming from cattle country). Unique/good ethnic is fine as well. Not sure if that is possible with the location or not.

Also, are there any places in Olympia I shouldn't miss? I'll be there several days on business. Anything chowish is fair game for me in Olympia.

Appreciate any help...

  1. ybnormal Apr 16, 2008 06:13 PM

    Warning - this is a long post.

    I literally just got back from Olympia, so my apologies for not posting - I was kept extremely busy with my business.

    But, can't let something like work interrupt my eating (too much)...

    Unfortunately, I was unable to eat anywhere in Seattle/Tacoma - as it turned out, a co-worker was in Seattle at the time and offered to drive me back to Olympia.

    I have to say that I had an excellent time chow-wise. I was actually mostly working about 10 minutes from Centralia, so I managed to have lunch at La Tarasca - 3 times!
    Without a doubt, one of the best Mexican restaurants north of the Rio Grande. The tamales were incredible - both the chicken and the pork, although I would give the edge to the pork. My favourite entree was the Chile Verde, served with the best tortillas I've had - light and airy - but there was no way I could finish all that food. I also had the Chile Colorado and the Mole con Pollo - it was great to have a real mole! And I could live off their adobada tacos - one of the most delicious items I have ever tasted. And the Flan was good too... The hostess was great to me as well - loud and boisterous.

    I managed to co-erce my other co-worker (who liked seafood anyways - twist his rubber arm - plus this meal was on the company!) to drive me out to Shelton to try Xinh's. Man, are we ever glad you guys pointed us in that direction! We had a veritable feast between the two of us. We started with a dozen raw oysters - large & plump & flavorful, they were some of the best I've had.
    The Manila clams with the black bean sauce were phenomenal. I've had mixed experience with fusion, but this worked tremendously. We were fighting over the baguette so we could sop up the joices with the bread!
    Next up - the Pan-fried oysters - which were perfectly cooked, including the coating.
    Didn't realize the Thai Crab Cakes were going to be that huge though! I didn't ever imagine pairing hoisin sauce with crab cakes - but it worked!
    And the Marinated Mussels with tahnini sauce - very cool!
    Enough food to stuff anybody - but we had our entrees to come! I got the Curried Mussels - there must have been 50 shelled mussels in my dish alone. With the jasmine rice, it was perfect - too bad I couldn't finish it. My co-worker had the roast salmon - it was almost painful to watch him, since he said had to finish it...
    And yet somehow, we both ended with the Lemon Mousse - a more perfect end I don't think I could have discovered...

    Xinh's wouldn't be out of place in Seattle or LA, but what's it doing in Shelton? Oh well - I'm OK with it!

    Those two places were my top experiences, but I had some excellent food elsewhere, which I'll quickly list.

    Another co-worker took me for dinner to Budd Bay Cafe. To my surprise, it was very good. I had an excellent Yellowfin Tuna starter (seared peppered tuna with a really good sauce), and my clam chowder was bursting with clams. The salmon with citrus butter was terrific, although they need serious help with their vegetables. The Peach Cake Pudding topped with ice cream and caramelized pecans hit the spot. And right across from the Phoenix Inn...

    I also tried the Ranch House BBQ in Olympia (I took out a real big eater) in the Governor Hotel. Definitely not lacking for food here! I had the BBQ sampler - my mistake was I got fries with it - looked like a pound of fries. I really liked the BBQ chicken and ribs in my sampler. I didn't care for the pulled pork or the brisket. I finished my meal, but it barely looked like I had made a dent in it. My co-worker had gotten the full rack of ribs and somehow managed to polish it off, but even he couldn't finish the fries.

    We had a late work night one night, so we ended up at the Spar Cafe in Olympia (everything pretty much closes by 9:00 PM). I could definitely think of worse places for pub food. The ambience was pretty rustic, but I got a kick out of it. The food was actually not bad - the maple stout dressing on my spinach salad was pretty darn good. Beer was OK too... We went to its sister restaurant in Centralia - the Olympic Club - for lunch once - my co-workers in Centralia had wanted to go. It was OK, and not as good as the Spar.

    Went for lunch at Berry Fields and Judy's Country Kitchen in Centralia as well. Enough said.

    Did I mention it was 82 F on Saturday in Olympia. Holy cow! I enjoyed that!

    I was actually by myself that Saturday, so I went for something a little out of the ordinary - I tried out The Mark Restaurant. It was actually the perfect meal to go to by myself, since they subscribe to the Slow Food movement. The ambience was pretty nice - modern-chic - and I had a dark, secluded corner table to myself.
    A short menu with simple dishes, but they executed it really well. Plus it was the first time I've ever had a Red Bull Cosmo. The Pave D'affinois was my starter - a rich French cheese sorta like brie, served with grilled Italian bread. Simple, but strangely satisfying - and a huge hunk of cheese.
    My main was a simple Fettucini with garlic, prosciutto, and basil. After a week of last of flavors, this was a nice change of pace. It was served with yet more grilled bread and an excellent olive oil with grassy overtones.

    I was also pleasantly surprised by the Dockside Bistro, also across the street from the Phoenix Inn. One of my last suppers with my co-workers was there. The Seafood Martini was a superb start - seafood in a rich vermouth sauce, and a little bit of caviar on a spoon. The Red Darla cheese (a local brie) was very good as well, wrapped in phyllo and served with two thin slices of pears and candied pecans on a salad, although it definitely could have used more pears.
    My main dish was the rack of lamb with watercress pesto, fingerling potatoes in a port reduction. One of the better lamb dishes I have had, although my top experience is still at the Inn on the Twenty in Jordan, Ontario. Nonetheless, it was very tasty.
    Still had room for dessert - the Chocolate cake with Molten Center was an excellent standby - much better than the Creme Brulee, which was too thick and eggy for me - I much prefer a creamy custard. All in all though, I thought this place was very good - and it had live music when we were there!

    Sorry I didn't get a chance to try brunch at Cicada. Passed by it on the way to Cabela's (too bad I didn't get a chance to try the game meat in the cafeteria either) but there was a long line-up - both at Cicada and Cabela's. That is one of the coolest stores ever, by the way.

    So, I think I managed to try quite a bit, yet I still have some to try. I'll have to think of an excuse to come back to this field office. Lots of pubs left to try as well.

    I enjoyed my stay in Olympia and I really appreciate all the help from all the CH's on this board. See if I can convince my wife to stay for a long weekend in Seattle this summer - with a couple of side trips of course. ;-)

    2 Replies
    1. re: ybnormal
      y
      yummers Apr 16, 2008 11:00 PM

      It's good to hear you had a nice time in Olympia/Centralia. When the sun is shining and the Olympics are bright with snow, there are a lot worse places to be than Budd Inlet. And I'm glad you liked La Tarasca as much as we locals do. (Incidentally, take ybn's word on the tamales: they don't get much press on this list but they are truly outstanding as comfort food.)

      I'd have to agree with you about the Olympic Club down in Centralia as well. It's a shame the food isn't better, because the space is great, and they have a little movie theater where you can eat, drink and watch. If they could even get to the level of the Spar it would be an improvement.

      I'm also glad you had a good meal at The Mark. I haven't, but consistency is not the watchword in Olympia, so you just have to be lucky. That Red Darla cheese was made by Estrella, a fine new local cheesery.

      You didn't mention any WA/OR wines -- I hope you had a chance to sample.

      1. re: ybnormal
        s
        Steve in Olympia Apr 17, 2008 09:44 AM

        Thanks for the report --- it is great to get some feedback on our local recommendations. And it is nice to get an out-of-town perspective on our local favorites (La Tarrasca, Xinh's, Ranch House). Obviously, you made the right choices during your brief stay in Olympia! (I will be at La Tarrasca for Cinqo de Mayo!)

        By the way, Xinh's is in Shelton because of the Taylor Shellfish Company, which owns the restaurant. Ms Xinh was one of many southeast asians working as an oyster shucker for the Taylors, until they discovered her cooking skills and set her up in the restaurant. If you ever get a chance to see the Dirty Jobs TV episode on geoduck harvesters, Xinh's is prominently featured.

      2. a
        akq Apr 14, 2008 04:32 PM

        I would definitely go to Cicada for brunch - I disagree with posters who say you'll be disappointed. It's expensive, but worth it and I think it's the best brunch in all of Washington. They have specials so it's hard to say what you should get, but I've had the razor clams and eggs (YUM), the morrocan spiced lamb chops and eggs (OMG), and the Sam's Poke Benedict. The Sam's Benedict (named for Sam Choy, under whom the chef worked for a while) was a really wonderful treat for this Hawaii-raised chowhounder. The poke was great - spicy and rich, and it was wonderful with the benedict. yum.

        I'd also go to Speedway BBQ if you like BBQ. They make their own hotlinks, so make sure to get one...and they brew their own beer and make hard cider (both excellent).

        1. porky pine Apr 2, 2008 09:05 PM

          And I wouldn't eat any of the hot food at the farmers market, ok at best. I forgot they open tomorrow and I can't wait to check out all the fresh produce.

          13 Replies
          1. re: porky pine
            ybnormal Apr 2, 2008 09:22 PM

            Sounds great so far - thanks for the suggestions. I'll look for Tacoma recs...

            And yes, I will be staying at the Phoenix Inn, so I hope to catch the Farmer's market. Anything else interesting there? Is the Anthony's chain worth going to?

            As for La Tarasca, I will definitely be making my way down there, since I will actually be going to Centralia as part of my business. Not sure if I can swing Xinh's yet...

            1. re: ybnormal
              y
              yummers Apr 2, 2008 11:52 PM

              I forgot about an option: if you're from the so-called heartland, you might not be from Korea-land, and there are quite a few Korean places just south of Sea-Tac. You could either take 99 south from the airport or go over to I-5 and then cut back to 99 in Federal Way (take the 320th St. exit, go west). If you check this board you'll see several discussions of where to go for KFC (Korean fried chicken), bulgogi and other delicacies. These places are very close to the highway, but they tend to be poorly marked....if you don't read Korean.

              Note: the Korean restaurants in this area are rather divey -- but mostly pretty good. (And there's also an acceptable, but again divey, Korean place in Lacey, just north of Olympia and just off I-5, that's also been dissected on this board by the locals.)

              1. re: ybnormal
                s
                Steve in Olympia Apr 3, 2008 02:42 PM

                Forget about the "fancy" places in Olympia (Anthony's, Cicada): you will be disappointed. Save yourself some grief and some money by trying the local flavor, the inexpensive ethnic restaurants. For Thai, go to Lemon Grass or Bamboo (both within walking of the Phoenix Inn). Ranch House BBQ (also downtown) is a good bet. The best Indian is Curry Corner, out past Lacey (9408 Martin Way). For fancy seafood, Xinh's in Shelton is unbeatable (curried mussels, Thai crab cakes, etc.). And, as mentioned above, La Tarrasca in Centralia (30 minutes south) is incredible Michoacan Mexican (known for their carnitas, chile verde, and heavenly flan).

                Let us know what you think!

                1. re: Steve in Olympia
                  ybnormal Apr 3, 2008 03:39 PM

                  These sound interesting - I will definitely try some of them. I'm still trying to figure a way to swing Xinh's.

                  Do you have opinions on Basilico or the Oyster House?

                  Yummers - I probably won't do Korean this time around in Tacoma, since I was just in Korea-town by Orange County in LA for a few days, although I may still try it out in Olympia for lunch...

                  1. re: ybnormal
                    y
                    yummers Apr 3, 2008 09:50 PM

                    Well, I was trying to figure out a solution for your trip south from Sea-Tac. However, I just saw a favorable post on Vuelve a la Vida, if you're in the mood for Mexican seafood. It's a snap to get to: take the 56th St. exit in the middle of Tacoma, go left (east) for a mile or so until you come to Pacific Ave. (just after the Safeway on your left). Take a left at that light and Vuelve a la Vida is two blocks down on your left. It's not likely to be at the exalted level of La Tarasca, but not much is. (God, the chile verde...) (And you must eat a lot of fine Mexican food in Orange Co. When I lived in Riverside, I would stop from time to time at a taco truck near Pasadena that made really fantastic potato tacos.)

                    As for the recommendation for Lemongrass: at its best it is a somewhat above average Thai place. The problem is that it seems to matter a lot who's in the kitchen. They should hang a sign outside their door letting us know whether the food will be good that night.

                    For some bottles of local wine to take home (you want to do this, don't you?), stop by Olympic Wine Merchant on 4th just west of Capitol Way.

                    I haven't been back to Basilico in a couple of years. Oyster House: very nice location, good NW microbrews, very forgettable food. When I end up there I get a salmonburger to minimize my losses.

                    1. re: yummers
                      porky pine Apr 3, 2008 10:52 PM

                      The food at the Oyster House is not very good. I like Jim and Mary's Wine Loft for NW wines, I don't think their mark up is as high as Olympic Wine Merchant and they're located right across the street from your hotel. Basilico uses Food Services of America as their primary food distributor, it's not very good. Lemongrass is hit or miss, I prefer Thai Pavillion for Thai food downtown.

                      1. re: yummers
                        ybnormal Apr 4, 2008 08:48 AM

                        Vuelve sounds intriguing - a definite possibility.

                        And I'm sure a couple of bottles of local wine will make its way on-board the plane when I leave - recommendations appreciated!

                      2. re: ybnormal
                        MsMaryMc Apr 3, 2008 09:59 PM

                        I've had some pretty good meals at the Oyster House. I'm not a raw oyster fan, but my dining companions said theirs were great.

                        1. re: MsMaryMc
                          casey_jones Apr 5, 2008 05:55 PM

                          In case you are still checking this...
                          I have never been impressed at Oyster House...skip it.
                          Ben Moore's can be good, but ONLY Friday or Saturday. Other days you may get seated in the dingy front room which is not pleasant. Food is pretty good, service is usually grumpy.
                          My new favorite place in town is Dockside Bistro. I was skeptical for a long time, but finally went and was wowed. Every dish we had was perfect. Go on Mon-Thurs for their fixed-price deal which is the best value in town at $25 for 3 courses. Google it for the menu.
                          For authentic Thai using some regional ingredients go to Thai Pavilion. I am a big fan of that place.
                          For good pub food and local beer check out Fish Bowl.
                          For a loooooooong wait and mediocre food, go to The Spar. Actually, just go to the Spar for a beer at the bar and enjoy the scenery.
                          Basilico did not impress me.
                          Ramblin Jack's never has impressed me either. Just mediocre BBQ. Skip it.
                          Anthony's is all right I guess, but you will not be wowed. It lacks the creativity that some of the local fine dining places put into their food.
                          The Mark is pretty good fine dining, at least check it out for cocktails (thurs-Sat?). Great atmosphere.
                          Gardner's is worth checking out too. We really do have a number of pretty good restaurants in walking distance.

                          Most of these places I named are a fairly short walk from where you are staying.

                          1. re: casey_jones
                            ybnormal Apr 6, 2008 08:44 AM

                            Thanks for all the recs - will give some a try and report back...

                            1. re: ybnormal
                              porky pine Apr 13, 2008 09:48 PM

                              Please do report back, I want to hear what you think of restaurants in the south Puget Sound.

                  2. re: porky pine
                    t
                    tgardenhire Apr 16, 2008 06:56 AM

                    You should travel about 15 miles south of Olympia to the Rochester turn off. At the light turn left going south again about 5 miles. On the right you will see Dick"s Brewery. Absolutly THE BEST sandwichand brew house around. Rustic tables but the beer and food are excellent.
                    If you go on to Centralia, The Olympic Club ha sgot some fine fare also. And in Centralia idown thre or four store fronts is a Fine Mexican Restuarant.. Good luck

                    Bandit
                    banditscovebrittanys.com

                    1. re: tgardenhire
                      porky pine Apr 16, 2008 12:14 PM

                      The food at the Olympic Club isn't good but the building is cool and worth checking out. I think it is a converted brothel and they have nice pool tables. The beer there sucks too. Dick's Brewery makes their own sausage and it's really good and their beer is some of the best in the Northwest.

                  3. porky pine Apr 2, 2008 08:56 PM

                    Xinh's does great things with shellfish and La Tarasca makes their own tortillas and moles. They are good and worth a visit but both are at least 20-25 minutes from Olympia. Don't disregard my previous rec's, I eat out all over the country and Cicada is on par with some of the top NW fusion restaurants sans the hype. For a great beer bar make sure you check out the Eastside Club Tavern downtown, they have a great rotating selection of Northwest micro beers.

                    1. y
                      yummers Apr 2, 2008 08:23 PM

                      There's nothing particularly good directly off I-5 between the airport and Olympia. If you are willing to drive into Tacoma, negotiating local streets, and investing an extra 20 minutes or more of driving time, you can find fairly good food. Check the board for suggestions; keep an eye on the places on 6th St. in particular.

                      I tend to disagree with the Olympia boosters who post here. I don't think there are any dependable restaurants on that town, and the more high end the less dependable. And the low end, like Ben Moore, can give you a truly dreadful experience. Trinacria is OK, but that comes across as foodie heaven in Olywa.

                      Within Olympia, you should not miss the farmer's market, which is compact but a great experience. You can get lunch at one of the food stands; they are all OK. If you are staying at the Phoenix, you can walk over to the market easily, if your business schedule will let you. If you find yourself at one of the seafood restaurants on a business dinner, ask for the fish grilled with just oil and herbs, no sauces. Simple is best in Olympia.

                      Since it sounds like you will have a car and you really care about food, follow up on the perennial board suggestions of La Tarasca in Centralia and Xinh's in Shelton. Each is about a half-hour journey each way, and each is worth it.

                      1. porky pine Apr 2, 2008 05:15 PM

                        Cicada is the best restaurant in Olympia. They use locally sourced ingredients and have the best bourbon selection in town. Their razor clam breakfast is really good if on the menu. Also in Oly, Trinacria has really good authentic Sicilian food and their wine mark up is minimal but you need a reservation. For happy hour in Olympia between 4:30 and 6, Waterstreet Cafe has the best deals in town and Ben Moore's has a good happy hour with fish and chips. All of these places are really good.

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