An elf amok in the Emerald City -- long report on visitor's trip to Seattle
Many thanks to all the Hounds who contributed to my inquiry thread here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/976934 where I've already commented here and there on our recent trip to Seattle. Now I'll proceed to bore you all silly with a full writeup and pictures :-).
LUNCH AT RAINSHADOW MEATS
We left Vancouver a bit later than I'd hoped and hit some nasty traffic so didn't get into town until 1ish. Figured we'd start at Pioneer Square and Rainshadow Meats. The upside of getting in later was no crowd there. I was hoping for a special I'd read about online but was rather brusquely informed that they didn't have it any more. We opted for a porchetta and a small green salad to share, with a Pfriem IPA for the SO to the tune of $22. If the sando had been prime, I'da ignored the price but the meat was skimpy, dry and way too salty (and I like salt). Bread was tasty and beer was good. Doubt we'd return.
We wandered around the area, checking out Laguna and the Globe, then popped into London Plane to nab the last kouign amann, a cardamom one (just okay) which we ate in the UPS Waterfall Park. Nifty little spot with tables and chairs. We also enjoyed Seattle's "most boring exhibit" outlining the tunnel project for Milepost 31.
HH IN SODO
We decided to do a little beerhopping in the afternoon in SoDo. First up, Seattle Cider and Two Beers. Very industrial, with a shade-free patio, it was reasonably busy on a Friday afternoon at 3ish. Two Beers was disappointing beer wise but had a great wild ferment cider from Seattle Cider. Minimus Maximus was there but not ready on Friday at 4 pm, no other food trucks save a sausage cart. Epic/Gastropod had a great plum sour but the porcini porter was weak and the menu seemed to be trying a bit too hard -- the two dishes we had were okay (curry chapati and braised greens with sous-vide egg and shaved truffle). The okonomiyaki looked good but was too expensive for a HH snack. Schooner Exact was fun, kinda upscale pubby, had a tasting tray of all 8 available beers with the raspberry sour and the hopvine being the standouts. Decent pulled pork nachos and a pea tip salad. Lots of young families enjoying their Friday afternoons.
DINNER AT LA MEDUSA
I think we may have hit La Medusa when the B team was on, though it was a Friday night: arancini underdone, caciocavalo overdone and really ugly on the plate, looong wait between apps and mains (server noted and apologized). And it was deafening in there, which I don't recall reading about anywhere so came as a bit of a surprise.
The pastas were cooked properly but I wasn't blown away by either sauce (lamb ragu and tallegio fonduta with asparagus and overcooked pinenuts). We passed on desserts, one of which was actually Sicilian, because of the decibels and the just okay food so far.
COFFEE AND PASTRIES IN BALLARD
Toast was not good, alas, barista wrecked the SO's capp (it even looked bad -- see photo of smeared cup and non-existent foam) and my cold brew was not salutary, with none of the smoothness I look for -- also tasted coffee grounds-y so I doctored with cream and sugar, which I don't normally do. We only drank half of each. We were there on Saturday morning before 10.
The pastries we snagged from Besalu after a not too bad wait were worth every moment. Top drawer plain croissant for the SO, whereas I indulged in both the ham and swiss pastry and the sour cherry gallette. The former was delicious and generous in the filling, whereas the latter was dare I say it, transcendently light and flaky, with that little crunch you get from this type of pastry done well. I'd line up again!
Thanks to mforbes for the steer to Slate. It was impeccable in every way: rock star parking both times, great music, super-engaged and knowledgeable staff, lovely interior, interesting offerings (they are doing a fantastic cold brew made with their Dukunde Kawa from Rwanda, a new thing, get it now if they have it!, as well as a "deconstructed" espresso + milk with the most ridiculously tasty Pure Era milk). We went back the next Tuesday, not quite as amazing (the two female baristas, one of whom is pictured here, I think co-owner Chelsea Walker-Watson, really sealed the deal the first time -- so engaged and forthcoming: http://www.slatecoffee.com/pages/ball...) but took some of the Dukunde beans home for a work event the SO had his first day back. Note that this is not a place to go if you want space to hang out, or wireless, and it can be extremely hot as it was on our second visit. They carry pastries from Fuji, one of which the SO vacuumed up so quickly I never had a chance :-(. I think that means it was good.
Fremont was our next target. We checked out the statue of Lenin, popped in to ETG but didn't have a coffee as we'd reached our max for the day on caffeine, and wandered around, spotting the Rocket, the riverfront and the Google building. I tried a small scoop of the vanilla frozen custard from Old School which was decent.
Tsar looked worthy but we had Paseo's in mind. We took the pro tip and ordered ahead by phone. The Caribbean roast sando was ready at precisely 12:50 as I sailed smugly by the oceans of folks waiting in line and they even cut it in half for us. We took it to a nearby park and ate under a tree in a crazy rain squall. The meat was a bit dry and there was an overload of onions (bland, and charred when they weren't underdone), but I liked the taste of the pork and the hit of cilantro and jalapeño.
BA BAR, BABOONS AND BURGERS
We decided on Ba Bar for second lunch, with the bahn cuon offered only on the weekend as our primary target. I had a cocktail called Nguyen Dynasty ($9, rhubarb syrup, gin, lemon juice and prosecco) which would have been more successful if I liked prosecco. Brain fart ordering it, obviously. At least it was purdy -- see pic. The SO opted for their kombucha on tap which was delightful and a new thing for both of us. We started with a cucumber salad ($5 Cucumber, tomato, rau thơm, lemon vinaigrette) which was refreshing if routine. The bahn cuon ($9 housemade rice noodle roll with ground pork, wood ear mushroom, minced shallot and cha lua) was very good, with ethereally thin noodles. The promised minced shallot appeared to be too-large dice undercooked onion which was the one off-note. On a whim, we ordered the pistachio cronut ($3.50), which was okay. At least now I can say I've had a cronut :-).
After an extended visit to your excellent zoo (yay, meerkats!), Smith's turned out to be a great choice for a burger -- just what I like, good lettuce, ripe tomato, melty cheddar and mid-rare beefy goodness. I thought I'd miss the condiments (the bun comes dry) but I did not as the patty was juicy without dribbling everywhere. The potato bun from Columbia City Bakery was very tasty (we had their outstanding bread products at several different places during our visit) if a tad harder/chewier than I'm used to with potato buns. I kind of impressed myself by remembering that Smith's offers shisitos when the SO requested same. They were well prepared but maybe a little spendy at non-HH pricing. Scotch egg here is also worthy. It was fun to be in on a bit of the offshoot of the new Pride Day celebration they had on the Saturday!
BOOK BINDERY FAREWELL
We made a mental note to return later and check out good stuff at Addy's, and I found a cute tee in the window for the niece at Casita but now it was time for the final service at Book Bindery. I opted for two apps instead of app and main. The food overall at Book Bindery was decent but not outstanding, with too many sweet/gastriquey sauces. And $9 per scallop seemed a bit excessive to cheapo me. Lovely setting (we were in the atrium) and very nice service though. Will be interesting to see what the new incarnation brings. We were told that chef Sean McCrain was leaving to open his own place and that there would be a rebranding of the space as a restaurant.
We started with an amuse of white gazpacho. Then Roasted Heirloom Beets Hazelnuts, Wild Arugula, Goat Cheese Mousse $12. The SO had the Caramelized Sea Scallops Asparagus, Foraged Mushrooms, Sauce Gribiche $27, while I sampled the Slow Poached Hen Egg Hand Made Tagliatelle, Parmesan Broth, Fines Herbes $13 and the House Smoked Pork Belly French Green Lentils, Sour Cherries, Pistachio, Pork Jus $14. We passed on dessert as nothing really jumped out at us.
Big photo: deconstructed capp at Slate
from left to right: kouign amann from London Plane; wild ferment cider from Seattle Cider; tasting tray at Schooner Exact; bad and badly presented capp at Toast; crazy good takeaway sour cherry galette from Besalu; phenomenal cold brew at Slate
More photos of day 1 and 2
Big pic: scary long lineup at Paseo Fremont that we avoided!
from left to right: cocktail and bahn cuon at Ba Bar; cocktail and beer plus burger and Scotch eggs at Smith; beet salad, scallops and hen egg with tagliatelle at Book Bindery
TASTY MORSEL, MORE KOMBUCHA
Sunday morning our target was Morsel. I love a good biscuit and they are impossible to find in Vancouver. The buttermilk ones here are close to my ideal -- crunchy outside, light and fluffy inside. And The Spanish Fly is a great breakfast sando with prosciutto, fried egg, manchego, arugula and "Mama Lil's pepper aioli" for $6.75. Along with an outstanding capp made of Nayarita from Mexico, this was a breaky fit for an elf queen :-). And they have a cowbell. Because you always need more cowbell. Lines can be long (though not that day), there's no HVAC to speak of and there isn't much seating but we liked this spot so much we returned for a repeat performance on the way out of town.
Ada's was our next stop. Much geekage! I even bought a necklace of an anatomically correct heart. At a casual glance, you'd think it was a leaf but it isn't. More strolling and purchases. Then Victrola where the SO once again found a kombucha on tap, this time The People's Kombucha, in two flavours. He opted for the peach after being offered a sample of both it and the pineapple. I had an excellent cold brew and a vegan, organic apple fritter from Mighty O -- I thought this was really good since I was under the mistaken impression it was also gluten free but I'd say just good when compared to other fritters I have known. Neither of us had tried kombucha prior to this trip. The SO is a full-on convert. We also heard from a fellow that there is kombucha beer so may have to give that a whirl if we can find it.
TAMARIND TREE AND FREMONT BEER
We headed over to Odd Fellows Temple to check it out, and found a great work bag for the SO at Brenthaven there. Popped into Oddfellows Cafe (great room) but it was a bit too hot and sceney so we hightailed it over to the Tamarind Tree. Lunch there was good but not stellar. The banh xeo was bland, partly because of the unbalanced nuoc cham which is in some ways the star of this comfort foody dish. The SO's broken rice special was much better with his favourite egg pie and flavourful pork that wasn't tough. Strawberry mint drink was tasty. We sat on the tented in patio as inside was way toasty. Loved the four giant trays of offal on offer at Minh Tam Market next door, including pork "uiteri."
We zipped back out to Fremont in time to catch the tail end of the flea market and pop into Theo's. Turning to beer and happy hour, we found ourselves at Brouwer's which was a bit of a cave despite the round skylight, a weird room, with taciturn service -- first place we've encountered that won't do tastes on taps. The beer was tasty enough and the pretzel and chickpea fries were acceptable. The Sixgill was friendly but the food wasn't great (we tried the asparagus with an egg and a beet salad) and the room trying a bit too hard. That being said, it looked like a good place to hang out on the patio, and there was much goodwill.
Lark was impressive. Great service, lovely room (though what's up with the hospital curtains in the middle of it?), reasonable prices for quality plates. Crispy Liberty Farm duck leg roasted honshimejis, spicy greens, cracklings ($17), Dry Soda (wildly overpriced at $6), Bluebird Grain Farm farro with mascarpone ($14), Sauteed green chickpeas and favas with jamon serrano ($11) and charred octopus with bacon, piquillo peppers, Bomba rice ($19) came to $67 before tax and tip and was plenty but might not be if you came hungry. You do have to mix and match a bit as some of the plates are really sides. We sadly discovered a Robertson screw had lodged itself in one of our tires, so plans for the next day had to change.
Big photo: The Spanish Fly at Morsel
from left to right: cold brew, fritter and kombucha at Victrola; organ forcemeat
ANALOG-OUS COFFEE, IL CORVO AND TRABANT FALTER
Monday morning tire fandango followed by rotten traffic on Mercer (gah) and wrong addy (my fault) for Analog. Nerves were soothed by standout java and France vs Nigeria projected on the wall. Second favourite coffee place after Slate. Macarina scones were decent too.
Rock star parking at Il Corvo and about a 15 min wait at 11:15. Pastas were cooked well (rigatoni, torchetti and tagliatelle) but sauces disappointing and one of them was heavily overcheesed with powdery, flavourless parmesan. Best was the bolognese but we still ate less than half. We had a few minutes left on the parking metre so we ventured round the corner to Trabant coffee. Not a great room, way too cavernous for me, and the bored hipster routine of the baristas left something to be desired. We were the only people there and they forgot to make my Clover. Coffees were just okay too (and what, pray tell, is a "large" macchiato?).
PINE BOX AND TAYLOR'S
MOHAID in the afty, v. cool wooden boats and tour of the being-restored Lightship Swiftsure http://www.hnsa.org/ships/swiftsure.htm worked up a thirst for Pine Box. We sat with the co-owners and chatted amicably about the beer and coffee scene in Seattle while enjoying several fine hops-based beverages, including a Hale's Supergoose cask ale and a 10 Barrel 2nd Nail plus a Stoup Citra IPA. Another pretzel here, some porcini dusted popcorn and chicken wings. The most relaxing beer bar we tried. The SO wandered up to check out the Stumbling Monk while I perused the fare in the Melrose Marketplace, then we met up for oysters (him) and freshly killed spot prawn (me). Damn those things are mean -- the decapitated head kept trying to snap at me -- but tasty :-). He had 8 oysters (2 each of 4 kinds) and was surprised how much each one differed from the next, even between the pairs. Three were, alas, sub par.
CANLIS IS ALL THAT
Canlis was a worthy experience. Not our usual style of dining but enjoyable and impressive. Pretty low on the pretention scale though most deffo 1%-centred. A Wagyu beef New York strip is a thing of (mid-) rare beauty ;-). And, it turns out, a bargain at only $20 for the supplement (it's $75 a la carte). There is a butcher's in Vancouver selling Washington Wagyu for $169 a kilo -- approx $85 a pound.
We were seated at what seemed to me to be one of the best tables in the house, on a banquette facing the beautiful view. After the server introduced himself and shook our hands , we ordered drinks (classic cocktail for me, expensive but excellent sour for the SO) we received an amuse of three small and perfect bites (I didn't take notes or pictures as it doesn't seem that sort of place). The house made buns were fresh from the oven and delectable. I chose the four-course meal and the SO went with the three-course plus aforementioned Wagyu add on. He started with the classic Canlis prawns, just barely cooked and bathed in a delicately garlicky sauce. My Canlis salad was everything I'd hoped since I first heard of it on (ahem) Top Chef -- the mint is a stroke of genius. I also had the Wagyu tenderloin in a tartare, which was well executed, except for one piece of connective tissue. I didn't enjoy the vegetables on the side as they were laced with red bell peppers -- I hate 'em -- so I surreptitiously picked out the capers and ate them with the beef.
My main was king salmon, cooked perfectly, which is no mean feat, and served over cauliflower and an extremely savoury quinoa.
Desserts were both topnotch. The deconstructed berry tart has two kinds of custard under a thin wafer of oatmeal streusel and was topped with a white balsamic granita and tiny clouds of spruce meringue. The granita was a touch overpowering but that was easily remedied by moving it to one side. The grand marnier souffle was the sine qua non of souffles, so smooth and light. When the server cracked it and poured in the creme anglaise, it actually rose!
Coffee was as promised far superior to the usual dreck served. And we went home with a boxed Canlis-shaped chocolate which I still haven't tried as the combination of cherry, almond and coffee doesn't appeal, and a printed recipe card with the salad on it. By coincidence, everyone along our banquette but us was from Texas!
Tuesday morning we had to return to the tire shop to get the specially ordered tire installed. I did a driveby at Seattle Coffee Works to get the SO a capp to go (just okay, old school) and I snagged a plain croissant for him from Le Fournil (good but not Besalu good, and they were out of a lot of things at 9:30 am). I got dropped off at Toulouse Petit where I indulged in the Tasso grits and eggs and a single piece of French toast (very civilized that they offer it by the piece). Both were tasty but not earth shatteringly so, given all the hype. Good value for the weekday breakfast happy hour though as both together were $13.50 before tax and tip. The tire change took longer than anticipated (shocker) so I hit up Ladro for a cold brew and meandered around a bit.
We had spotted Gas Works Park from Canlis the previous evening and resolved to check it out. Very much to the engineer SO's tastes, and lovely and breezy for me as things had taken a turn for the hot weatherwise. The SO was feeling peckish as it had been a while since his croissant and coffee, so we hied ourselves to Ballard and the delights of Senor Moose. We had some very fine tacos -- cebollitas on the top are a nice touch -- and a nopal salad while enjoying the first half of the USA game in Spanish. Chatted with a couple from Chile/El Salvador who drive an hour each way for the breakfasts here.
A good wander around Ballard, pausing to catch bits of the game which was on everywhere, and admire the architecture, plus buy a couple of shirts for the SO where we spent this intriguingly stamped dollar bill (see pic). The SO wanted to pick up some beans from Slate to take home so we headed over there, again getting rock star parking. This visit was rather quick as the room was stiflingly hot, and neither beverage was as revelatory as the ones we had on our earlier visit (no cold brew, alas, and the iced coffee just wasn't as good).
SOME FROG KISSING
Good beer in Ballard on a Tuesday (or a Monday or a Wednesday, apparently) not an easy feat -- every place we wanted to try was closed. So we went to Naked City in Greenwood, which was not bad for beer (Naked City Noir City black saison) and cider (Tieton Apricot) but pretty awful for food. The fritters were too large so raw inside and tasted too much of apple for a savoury, left most of these; we had to send the burger back as it was almost well done (the server asked how we wanted it and we said medium rare leaning more toward rare); the second one was cooked properly but tasted like nothing, no beefy flavour, no zippo, so bland we left most of it. So wishing we had gone to either Elysian/Elysian Bar or Quinn's for our last HH.
It was really smoking hot out now so we thought we'd cool off with a stop at the Ballard Locks. We timed our visit to see both the small and the large lock in action. I hadn't seen locks since the Panama Canal and have always been kinda fascinated with them so really enjoyed this and the salmon ladder as well. We also made a stop at Chuck's which had a good selection but not great on the really local stuff we were looking for. Could have used AC on a hot day but really they need to get baskets to carry your purchases in. Still managed to spend $80 there :-).
GREEN LEAF AND MORSEL AGAIN
Had to bail on Westward as the place was just too hot, plus we got lost looking for it despite having a nav system. Ended up at Green Leaf which was just okay. I think maybe we are spoiled for Vietnamese at home.
The SO fell ill that evening and wasn't feeling much better the next day so we cut things short to return home but he managed a quick stop at Morsel so I could eat, poor guy, and it was just as good as before. Maybe even better as I got a $1 side of awesome heirloom tomatoes. Excellent iced americano with the same coffee again.
from left to right: oysters and spotty at Taylor's, breaky at Toulouse Petit, those amazing tomatoes at Morsel
Thanks for the lengthy write-up and the super-duper photos. I myself checked out Taylor's and Morsel based on your recent recs. At Taylor's, the spot prawn was so-so sweet and succulent, but I just couldn't get myself to savor the guts. As for Morsel... loved their biscuits and gravy -- my favorite indulgence. Will have to take some sandwiches to go, next time. As luck would have it, I'm just up the street from the new Ballard location!
Next time at Besalu, drop in next door at Tallgrass Bakery. They are the bread to Besalu's pastry, but every bit as good. I particularly recommend their seeded baguette.
@kaleo -- we did poke our noses in, mainly because there was no line :-) and the bread indeed looked worthy.
@Lauren -- it's very nice to get positive feedback on my giganto-rambles, especially from a local. Thanks for slogging through!
A recent article on the replacement for Book Bindery: http://seattle.eater.com/archives/201...
And I just read that Morsel's second location in Ballard is now open, woot!
Thanks for your trip report. We just finished a weekend burger bender in SEA based on your research thread. 4 different burgers in 2.5 meals! Coincidentally, the order we tried them is the opposite of our rankings (e.g., 4th was the best)
1) Started off with Smith's and given the derth of good burgers in Vancouver, it hit the spot nicely.
2) Of course, that wasn't enough so we checked out Nordstrom Grill's burger. Surprisingly delicious! A little heavy on the mayo and we probably didn't need to get avocado in the burger, but nevertheless, very satisfying with a nice char and perfect medium.
3) For a late night snack, it was off to Quinn's for their burger. Nice compact and neat (as compared to nordstrom's super messy burger). We loved the bone marrow too. Nice and geneour portion size with heavy acid to cut through the fattiness.
The only miss here were the fries which tasted like fridge. We thought it was a one-off thing considering how good everything else was...
4) Last burger was the one at La Bete and it was by far our favourite. First time round, we got it with all their toppings (eg mushrooms, mayo, etc). Decided it was good, but didn't need all the toppings so ordered another to split - no mayo, no mushrooms.
It was divine. The bun held up very nicely to the patty and as with all our burgers we had this weekend, cooked perfectly to a medium rare. We really liked how they toasted the buns with butter before serving.
While chatting with chefs, they also mentioned having horrible experiences with Quinn's fries.
Of the four we had, the closest to Mission Street Bowling Alley (my absolute favourite) was La Bete. It just didn't have quite the umami of MSBA.
I'd honestly have a hard time choosing between the Spotted Pig's Burger and the one at La Bete.