I should subtitle this post, “These are a Few of My Favorite Things.”
Seattle is an amazing food town, which somewhat contradicts its small town, provincial past as a Scandanavian lumber and fishing port.
These are a few of my favorite things here:
Harvest Vine: a Basque tapas bar & possibly the best restaurant in Seattle on one of its good nights (which are many). The mustachioed Chef Jimenez is an elfin genius. His wife is the extraordinary pastry chef. Her goat cheese cakes are divine.
Dahlia Bakery: dig those breads, chocolate kisses, chocolate truffle cookies and pop tarts.
60th Street Desserts: Joan Williams is perhaps the finest pastry chef in Seattle. Try the blackbotton cupcakes, ranger cookies, and any of the tarts.
Farmers Markets: we attend the Columbia City & University District Famers Markets. We prefer Columbia City because the clientele is more diverse and it has more of a “village” feel compared to the packed U District.
Fish: Seattle’s fish is legendary thanks to the proximity of Alaska’s frigid North Pacific waters. Copper River wild king salmon in June and July is the most amazing fish you’ve ever eaten. If you’ve only eaten farm raised salmon, you’ve eaten nothing compared to Copper River. Pure Fish in Pike Place Market serves uniformly excellent quality fish.
Arosa: a small cafe tucked into a shopping center between Madison Park and Madison Valley. It’s specialty is fresh waffles and they’re the best in Seattle. The owner is German and has a magnificent recipe.
Le Pichet: One of Seattle’s finest French bistro serving elegant, yet simple meals. The service is uniformly gentle & helpful. Prices are truly moderate considering that you’re eating such wonderful French food. The desserts are amazing.
Coffee: Try Queen Anne Thriftway’s house roast. It’s hand-roasted in the Tacoma store. Stay away from megasauras Starbuck’s coffee unless you like beans roasted well past bitterness.
Seattle Food Guide: Katy Calcott has written The Food Lover’s Guide to Seattle, the definitive guide to Seattle’s best food markets, bakeries, wine shops and ethnic foods. I agree with almost all of her choices of what’s best in food here. Another helpful feature is a food glossary for the various ethnic cuisines. My only quarrel is she intentionally omits restaurants and I don’t see how you can write a food book about a city & omit its restaurants.
Sooke Harbor House: One of our favorite hotels in the whole world. But it’s like no other hotel you’ve ever visited. First, it’s terribly relaxed and laid back. Staying here is like being invited to join the party of friends enjoying the great manor house in the seminal Jean Renoir film, Rules of the Game (Les Regles du Jeu). The hotel is in Sooke, B.C. just outside Victoria; on the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (where the Puget Sound meets the Pacific Ocean). Whales & seals bask outside your balcony door! Each suite has an ocean view and a view of the gorgeous gardens and grounds. Hiking along the coastline is magnificent. Now we come to the food: Ahhh! This is one of the five best restaurants in all of Canada. It’s certainly one of the best at which I’ve ever dined. All ingredients are fresh and local. Fish, of course predominates, but everything including the meats are unbelievably good. Sooke Harbor House maintains an extensive garden which provides much of its produce & fruit. Spicing of the dishes is unusual and creative (& delicious too). The wine list is very large and specializes in local wineries. For a romantic experience; for an amazing culinary experience; for great hiking: spend a weekend at Sooke Harbor House.
Most Overrated: for snooty French attitude, try Rover’s. Everyone says it’s the best restaurant in Seattle. Maybe they’re right. But of the two times I’ve dined there, once the service was incompetent (what do you call it when the waiter forgets to serve the fish course in a 5-course meal; and then disbelieves you when you politely tell him of his mistake?) and the second time it was uncooperative and somewhat snooty. No doubt, Rover’s food is elegant and incomparable. And dining al fresco on a summer evening is delightful. But the truly great restaurants don’t wear their greatness on their sleeves and remind you of it at every opportunity.
Pet Zagat Peeve: Why are the Seattle Zagat food ratings inflated? I always reduce the point rating by a few points to derive the true food quality. Most absurd Zagat rating: Le Pichet’s “23.” Seattle’s best French bistro deserves at least 26, if not more.
Best food writing: The best short story about food ever written (as far as I’m concerned) is I Was Really Very Hungry by M.F.K. Fisher, one of the world’s greatest food writers. You can find the story in As They Were, a collection of her essays.
I paraphrase Susannah Indigo’s description of the story, its setting and plot in her online review, M.F.K. Fisher: A Poet of The Appetites:
In 1937, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, a young girl spending a heady year learning all there is to know about France and its cuisine, is hiking through northern Burgundy. One morning, she arrives thirsty and ravenously hungry in her dusty clothes at an old mill that a Parisian chef has turned into one of France’s most famous restaurants. But it is off-season and Fisher is the only lunch patron
The servant girl who will take care of her is obsessed and passionately devoted to good food, wine and, more than all else to “Chef Paul.” During lunch, Fisher and the servant engage in a subliminally libidinous duel in which they egg each other on to greater heights of gustatory passion. In the end, the young girl with the “odd pale voluptuous mouth” triumphs over Fisher, the poor, sated culinary pleasure seeker. “Permit me!” the servant girl says near the end, “and I thought she was going to kiss me,” Fisher writes. But instead the servant pins a beautiful bouquet of snowdrops on her jacket, in one of the great scenes of sublimated culinary eros ever written.