Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eating the Pacific Northwest

Tacoma. Portland. Seattle. Beautiful buildings. Smiling people. Abundant sunshine. Dazzling plants and produce. Charming neighborhoods. Gastronomic wonders. A small town/big city feel akin to Chicago.

Small wonder I'm a major fan of the Pacific Northwest. Here's the photo evidence:

color & texture

I was inspired by amazingly lush and vibrant colors produced by the Pac NW's crazy-good growing season.

space: buildings, storefronts and interiors

I took note of every charming building, storefront and interior space.

place: the great outdoors

When we ventured out to Olympic National Park, I was stunned by the natural environment of the great outdoors.

eating portland & seattle

And I ate. Oh yes, I ate

The food consumed while on vacation was certainly on the 'glut' side of healthglut, but nonetheless I feel indebted to share the wonderous experience, so here you will find it.

Tacoma, we have discussed. Didn't stay long, just a brief drive-through, but the cafe where we lunched was superlative.

Portland won me over with its street food -- freshly made doughnuts, waffles from a food truck, cheap burger joints and pubs lining the streets, and a great brunch at Bijou Cafe that consisted of mushroom and oyster hashes, tofu scramble, and grilled cinnamon toast.

Seattle's International District -- the city's Chinatown equivalent -- had some gems of cheap neighborhood shops, including a bakery where I sampled a sweet bean bun and Jade Garden, whose dim sum was incredibly tasty.

However, it was the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle that stole my heart for dinner. It's a shame I didn't have the opportunity to explore the neighborhood itself, which was full of attractive storefronts and lively bars and restaurants, but the two places I did dine were show stoppers: Anchovies & Olives and Poppy.

Anchovies & Olives
An Ethan Stowell restaurant (one of four in the Seattle area), Anchovies & Olives prepared seafood in the Italian style with a variety of smaller courses and a couple larger ones. There, we had:

Fried Chickpeas with smoked paprika & lemon. Simply a bowl of garbanzo beans deep fried and wonderfully flavorful.

Bagna Cauda -- assorted vegetables including turnip, daikon and carrots. Mild vegetables with an intense anchovy dipping sauce.

Hamachi with fennel & grapefruit. This raw fish dish was the only miss of the evening for me -- couldn't taste a thing but grapefruit.

Risotto with Geoduck, pea shoots, citrus, pine nuts. The sweet seafood flavors melded perfectly into the creamy risotto.

Sea Scallops with sweet corn, farro, chanterelles, hot coppa. A home run. Salty, sweet, tangy, amazing.

Halibut with mustard greens, bacon, chickpeas, caper & sultana relish. Another home run. The flavors played amazingly well together -- tart and salty, sweet and savory at the same time.

Shortbread with peach and lemon rosemary ice cream. The seasonal fruit lightened this rich and heavenly dessert.

Best of all, the kitchen was in the middle of the dining room, a ballsy move that allowed the diners to watch all the action as it went down. The staff was incredibly friendly and answered all my inane food questions. My only regret is that I couldn't photograph the food because the environment was too dark.

One of the most inventive restaurants I've been to in a long, long time. Chef Jerry Traunsfeld found inspiration from a South Indian thali -- a large plate composed of several small containers with a couple meat or vegetable curries, some kind of chutney, sambar (Indian stew), yoghurt, rice, naan, dhaal (lentils), and something sweet. Chef Traunsfeld used local produce to recreate his own take on the thali. It looked something like this:

10-item thali
slow roasted  salmon with chanterelles, bacon and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce
grilled waygu beef with tomato, black pepper and caper
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
local roots carrots with fennel blossom
golden beets with spice bread and mint
zucchini and basil gratin
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

7-item thali
tandoori poussin with apricots and huckleberries
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
golden beets with spice bread and mint
zucchini and basil gratin
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

Despite the gratin being way too salty for my taste, and the beef slightly chewier than I'm used to (though I am by NO MEANS a beef expert), this was literally an adventure in dining.

For dessert (I couldn't leave without sampling a bite of dessert), a roasted peach with ice cream. An absolute wonder of a dining experience.


  1. Sounds like/looks like an awesome trip. I was in Seattle recently, but it was a work trip so I didn't get to sample as much of the local fare as I would have liked. We did have an outstanding dinner at Six Seven at the Edgewater Hotel (where the Beatles once stayed and fished out the window of their room - true fact). The Lobster Mac & Cheese was ridiculously good, and I learned that Grilled Blue Marlin may be even better coming out of the Pacific than the Atlantic. At least it was at that restaurant.

    Need to do a real tour of the Pacific NW myself some day soon...and take in Vancouver as well. A buddy of mine raves about the crepes there.

  2. I've heard of the Edgewater Hotel's Beatles lore! It's funny, we were originally going to head up to Vancouver and then realized two days before the trip that my brother and I had expired passports. So we re-routed to Portland, which turned out to be far from disappointing. You should tour that part of the country for sure!

  3. Passport to get into Canada? I usually just slip the mounties a couple of Molson on the way in.

  4. I have no idea what a Molson is but I'm in.

  5. Sounds delicious! So I take it Seattle had better seafood than Chicago ;) Glad it was a great trip. -Sara