David and I spent New Year’s weekend in Seattle with my mom, auditioning it as a potential place for us to move in the next few years. Though there are many things we love about the South, we’re planning to move out West in the near future, to be closer to my family and in a place with bearable summer weather, a hub airport, and a healthier lifestyle. At the moment, the Seattle and Denver top our short list.
My mom lived in Seattle for 6 months as a teenager, when her dad lost work at the steel mill in Pittsburgh and moved the family to take a new job. She watched the Space Needle being built from her bedroom window. It was fun to see her revisit the city she remembered fondly from so long ago.
I loved the Emerald City. Day after day, the people we ran into were so incredibly friendly. It may be the most courteous, welcoming city I’ve ever visited. I know, I too find that to be a funny statement coming from a person who has lived in the South for eight and a half years! But seriously, even the cabbies were polite and considerate to other drivers on busy one-way city streets. Another reason to love the city: Theo sipping chocolate was available for purchase right in a run-of-the-mill suburban Rite Aid-type drug store. We spent a good 5 minutes debating whether or not there was room in our suitcases, and it was with a heavy heart that I left it on the shelf.
Everywhere you look in Seattle are views of mountains, trees, and water. In California and Chicago I was used to geography being pretty… linear might be the word? There’s basically the land and the water and one singular coastline where they meet. Or, there’s a vertical expanse of water to the west and a vertical row of hills and mountains to the east. But in Seattle, water and rocky peaks seem to surround the city on all sides, and there is certainly not just one “coast.” There are bays, lakes, sounds, and the ocean, all with wobbly borders. It seemed like no matter where you turned there were water views, and if there weren’t at least you had trees and mountains to admire. Several times we saw just one home built right on a tiny point of land jutting into the water, so you could see right through the windows on one side of the house to the windows on the other side to more water and sky beyond.
Where to Stay
We stayed downtown at the Red Lion Hotel, which was within walking distance of Pike Place Market and the monorail. There were several department stores and great restaurants nearby, and the streets were lined with trees clad in classy white lights. This was an excellent location for touristy downtown activities and the hotel was spacious, well-appointed, comfortable, welcoming, and well-manned. But, I think if I we visit again I’ll look for accommodations near Green Lake or downtown Kirkland so that we’re a bit removed from the driving and parking of a large city. It looked like Kirkland had several blocks of nice shops and restaurants to stroll through near its waterfront parks and homes, and I can imagine it would be nice to walk out your door for a walk or run in Green Lake Park first thing in the morning.
What to See
Foodies, don’t miss Pear Delicatessen across the street from Pike Place Market’s main structure, and save some room in your suitcase. The shoppe has all kinds of unique edibles from around the world.
We took the ferry over to Bainbridge Island and walked around the shops and residential areas a bit. The ferry was enormous! We were told it is completely packed for the workday commutes. On our Saturday evening trips back and forth, we noticed several women in the restroom curling their hair, applying makeup, and otherwise using the 35-minute sail productively. (Word to the wise: if you buy an Irish coffee or other alcoholic beverage in the ferry station, you cannot take it on board the ferry with you. Alcohol cannot be carried on or off the ferry.)
There was a florist/coffee shop combination on Bainbridge Island called Flowering Around that looked adorable, but it was closed. We ended up at Pegasus Coffee House, which had a fireplace and cool, laidback ambiance, and clearly won the award for best mocha of the trip.
We were advised by a waiter to skip the top of the Space Needle and go instead to the observation deck of the Columbia Center, which we did. It dwarfs the Space Needle, as you can see from the photo above of the skyscrapers and city, and offers sprawling panoramic views in the directions of both the Cascades and Mount Ranier. The $5 admission price was well worth it, but try to pick a day when the skies are clear if you can.
We saw the Ballard Locks and drove by Discovery Park. Neither seemed inspired us to visit more than briefly, though we didn’t actually see a boat going through the locks or any salmon, and we didn’t venture inside the park, so maybe we missed the true draws.
Where to Eat
The eatery I keep dreaming about revisiting is the Flying Apron. This place was incredible. Behind tinsel-and-string-light-lined glass, plates and platters displayed at least 20 varieties of vegan, gluten-free, organic baked goods made without refined sugar and with nutritious flours. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The apricot thumbprint was perfectly textured: soft, chewy, and substantial but not heavy. My peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookie was crumbly and crisp. They also had matcha green tea lattes, and milk choices of soy, rice, almond, hemp, and even dairy. The Flying Apron’s treats have topped Italy’s focaccia and gelato on my mental lists of foods that I would buy a plane ticket just to eat again.
It is not uncommon when we’re traveling for the list of restaurants we aspire to eat in to far outnumber the amount of food we can realistically consume during our trip. We’ve thought about having two lunches or two dinners in the same day before, but have never actually gotten to that point… yet.
The decision-making in Seattle was even trickier, because many places had different hours for New Year’s. We culled our finalists from Molly’s recommendations and those we found on yelp.com, then narrowed the list based on hours, locations, and who had reservations available. We definitely ate well. There were so many vegetarian and vegan-friendly choices and so much fresh produce… it was like heaven for a plant-based eater!
Andaluca was a short walk from the Red Lion, and had a warm, sophisticated yet comfortable atmosphere. Its small plates were just the right size to make a meal from two or three, and the food was enjoyable, though not particularly memorable. Purple Cafe and Wine Bar was also within walking distance of the hotel. Both its ambiance and cheese list were breathtaking. I ordered a small plate of braised beets and sides of kale and roasted delicata squash, and they were all outstanding. The side dishes were generously portioned and perfectly cooked.
Plum Bistro was possibly the best experience I’ve ever had at a vegan, organic restaurant. The menu was inventive, the food was delicious, and the decor was somehow sleek and modern yet airy and naturey. I can see it pleasing meat-eaters as well as the strictest vegans, and everyone in between.
We started by sharing tasty beet soup and yam chips with thyme and garlic. I had the pumpkin crepe, with tofu ricotta, arugula, and pesto. It was very filling, and I never knew tofu ricotta could taste so good.
My husband ordered the chipotle grilled sandwich. He said was savory and hearty, though it lacked a memorable, robust flavor punch. There was a quirky little home and gift shop around the corner and maybe a block or two behind the restaurant that we strolled through afterward.
Dinner at Poppy made for a great evening. It leans toward an Indian flavor palate and style of eating, but is definitely not your typical Indian food. You choose between 5 to 7 “thalis,” or big plates consisting of 7 or 10 small portions of different dishes. The night we went there were both 7 and 10-item vegetarian thalis on the menu. I’m going to be 100% honest: no matter what Indian cuisine I try, I have not yet found the kind that makes my taste buds sing. But, I loved the unique concept of this restaurant and the variety of items to sample. Poppy had a chic, energetic vibe and I would return without hesitation, despite the fact that Indian flavors are just not my personal favorite.
I was especially eager to try Emmer & Rye. There was a mushroom, kale, and goat cheese tart on the menu that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on, along with several appealing salads and vegetables. But in my zest to fit everything in, we ended up there for Saturday brunch instead of lunch or dinner, and the menu was more limited and breakfasty (oops). So I ended up with farro fries instead, which were quite interesting but heavier than is typically my style. The restaurant occupied the front rooms of a former house, and had a cool, maybe slightly hipstery vibe with a friendly, welcoming waitstaff. It was the kind of place where you immediately felt like a local and that you could see yourself coming back to regularly.
We imagined ourselves eating sushi more than any other food while we were in Seattle, since we have so little high-quality Japanese food around Tuscaloosa. But, with odd hours and closings for the holiday weekend, we only ended up trying one place: Umi Sake House. It was fun: chic, hip, modern, lively, and a place to wear your cutest date-night outfit. The sushi was inventive and generously portioned, and there was an unbelievable number of choices. I ordered the lucky leprechaun and the green decadence, and was not disappointed. The rolls were dramatic and huge! I have a pretty big appetite and it had been a long time since lunch, but I could barely finish my two. It may not have been particularly authentic Japanese cuisine, but it was tasty and enjoyable.
Lastly (and proving that you can’t judge a book by its cover), we ended up at Billy Bob’s Burgers and BBQ in Issaquah on New Year’s Day, while we were exploring some suburbs and finding many restaurants closed. I was less than enthusiastic about it, but we were hungry and it was open so I was forced to drop my food snobbery and give in.
Now, in Alabama, you would never find panzanella on the menu at a place called Billy Bob’s. Heck, you might not even find vegetables at some really authentic BBQ joints. But to my surprise and amazement, I sat down to white beans, tomatoes, salad greens, capers, herbs, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. My eyes must have been as big as saucers. Also on the menu was pesto flatbread and some sort of dumplings misted with truffle oil. Just another one of those little moments that makes you realize you’re in the Pacific Northwest instead of the South, I guess. In other words, that’s what happens when granola meets grits.
To help any future foodie visitors with their Seattle search, here are a few more restaurants that we didn’t make it to, but are keeping on our list for next time: Sitka & Spruce, Cafe Besalu, Zig Zag Cafe, Cascina Spinasse, Chiso, Moshi Moshi Sushi, Wasabi, Urbane, Delancey, Might O Donuts (vegan, organic), Hillside Quickie (vegan), Pizza Pi (vegan).