stories from the road
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stories from the road
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Elaine, the Road Sage

Seattle See Food

(Filed from Salt Lake City, Utah at 12:39 a.m. on July 17, 1999)

Fen and I come to Seattle with food on our minds.  The town on Puget Sound has always been one of my favorite places to eat, probably because some of the best chefs in America are cooking here, doing delicious things with the bounty of the region.  That said, I assure Fen that we will do more than eat during out visit to Seattle.

Stop #1 is at Wild Ginger, one of the first restaurants in Seattle to push the envelope with Asian food.  Wild Ginger is pretty in a sophisticated sort of way so we play right along and cozy up to the stylish bar.  Paul, the affable bartender, is whizzing about with a smile on his face.  He pauses long enough to suggest the Sichuan green beans and Siam lettuce cup as appetizers.  No surprise here -- both are terrific.

We don't fill up at Wild Ginger, however, since we've been invited to the opening of Cascadia, chef Kerry Sears' new dinner spot.  Cascadia has been named after the Cascades, a mountain range rimming the Seattle area and especially fitting here since the restaurant is looking to spotlight the foods of the Pacific Northwest.  Chef Sears' new dining room is a marvel, all high ceilings and cherrywood trim juxtaposed against panes of etched glass.  A wall of water cascades down the largest pane of glass, one that serves as a divider between the kitchen and dining room.

Since this is opening night, the room is filled with Seattle's see-and-be-seen crowd, a mix of foodies and celebrities from the evening news.  I don't recognize most of them but Fen and I have the good fortune of being seated with two locals who seem to know everyone.  Our foursome has a ball during the meal, feasting on dishes like vine-ripened tomatoes with juniper grove goat cheese and sweet corn shoots, and rosemary-basted lamb loin with grilled apples, garlic straw fries and a Pinot Noir glaze.  Fen manages to spill the artsy salt shaker twice, no doubt due to its unbalanced design.  After a dish of geranium ice cream and a bowl of espresso trifle we trudge home, to the Alexis Hotel.

Our room at the Alexis is on the Aveda Spa Floor, a collection of eight guest rooms which aim to pamper and please.  Room 624 has all sorts of earth and body-friendly delights, everything from bottles of Air Water (oxygen-enriched Artesian water) to an anti-congestion mask from The Backyard (store) and soothing aqua therapy for our jacuzzi tub.  The Tub is part of The Bathroom, a section of our room which is larger than most studio apartments.  The Tub has a skylight over it and positively gleams.  Our sleeping area is no small shakes, either, a king-size bed fluffed with Egyptian cotton sheets acting as its centerpiece.  The room's desk catches Fen's eye since it has modem access and is ideally suited to our laptop.  Saving the Internet for another day, we drift off to sleep.

*     *     *     *     *

The Pike Place Market, Seattle's heart and soul, calls to us on day number two.  I acquaint Fen with the Athenian Inn, a restaurant filled with old salts and offering gorgeous views of Elliott Bay.  Fen feasts on the Spanish Potato Chorizo Omelet topped with homemade catsup (it's divine!) while I dig into the Clam Hash, since hash of all kinds is a specialty at the Athenian.  Duly fortified, we work our way through the market and its maze of fruit, flower and craft vendors.  The colors are a symphony to the eye and have us smiling the whole time.  We finally work our way over to Elliott Bay Books, my favorite bookstore in the whole wide world.  Fen has to pry me away from the stacks so that we can return to the Alexis for a bit of pampering (we choose an hour long session in the private steam room over a seven-chakra water massage) and the requisite post-pampering nap.

Later in the day, we take our fluffed bodies to Elliott's Oyster House, a somewhat touristy spot on Seattle's waterfront.  We look right past the bermuda-shorts crowd and order up a dozen oysters, four each of the Kumamotos, Pacifics and European Flats.  Although Kumis are usually our favorites, we fall in love with the European Flats, in this case the Westcott Bay variety which are full-flavored and creamy.

We leave the bivalves behind and head for The Painted Table, where chef Tim Kelley has been playing with food for years.  Our plan for this meal is Chef Kelley's tasting menu, a six-course dream that can also be paired with a flight of five wines.  We choose to juice up our meal and let the games begin.  Course number one for Fen is a giant Day Boat scallop nestled in a gazpacho of tri-colored tomatoes while I am presented with a goat cheese brioche paired with a similar tomato festa.  Fen's tiny yellow, red and green tomatoes are altogether too cute and they taste wonderful, too, whereas my dish is equally pleasing.  We marvel at the freshness of the flavors and I find myself thinking back to a meal I had here several years ago when I concluded that Chef Kelley was a kid playing in a vegetable-infused sandbox.

Our next course is a tad heartier, mine being a foie gras with strawberry accents while Fen receives Argentinian beef tartare set upon a mushroom jus and paired with a light sprout salad.  The wine for this course is a Swanson Rosato from the Napa Valley and our knowledgeable waiter, Brendan, tells us that the vineyard is owned by the same Swansons who do fish sticks.  Clearly their blush wine is a cut above the seafood stuff.  As I study my foie gras plate, I notice that it includes strawberry rhubarb marmalade, strawberry  jus, crispy strawberry chips and even a sprinkling of strawberry dust on the outer edges of the plate.  This dish is perfection.  Fen seems to feel the same way about his plate.

"Imagine the best burger you've ever eaten," he tells me, "but raw."  I try a bite from his plate and have to agree.

The recent redesign of the dining room at The Painted Table, including the addition of a number of banquettes, has served to make this room even more inviting than it was before.  Chef Kelley is doing something special here and it has everything to do with his love of food.  He is also quick to share his wit and wisdom with anyone who will listen and the best way to do this, short of a long and languid meal, may be to take his 4-plus hour food tour of the Pike Place Market.  The tour includes lunch and is reasonably priced at $65.

I tell Fen that three of Tim's favorite foods are scallops, tomatoes and mushrooms and no sooner have I said this that we are presented with another course, this time Day Boat scallops in two different preparations, his with a succotash of tomatoes, fava beans and baby carrots and mine with morels and turnips in an asparagus jus.  There are lots of baby veggies on both plates and Fen and I take a moment to simply stare at our plates.  The colors and shapes in front of us are absolutely beautiful.  We savor every bite, washing it all down with an Adelsheim Vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir.  A grapefruit sorbet flecked with tiny edible flowers follows, more beauty for the eye and the palate.

Our entrees are next, and this time around Fen and I receive the same dish.  It's Oregon squab dusted with Medjool dates and placed over a squash ravioli with an orange carrot confit.  There's an herb in the dish we can't quite place, so we ask Brendan.  It's anise hissip.

"This dish is like buttah," Fen says, and I see that he's quickly catching on to this foodie thing.  I wash my squab down with a Columbia Crest Cab, its full and earthy flavors (the Cab and the squab) sheer delight.

Finally, Chef Kelley comes out for a quick hello and I'm tempted to bow at his feet.  When I ask him how he's manages to take his food to ever greater heights, he's characteristically modest.

"Well, the concept of the food is slowly coming to us," he says.  "We just keep discovering new and silly things to do."

Continuing on, we freshen our palates with a salad of local greens and crunchy Asian pears topped with gorgonzola and pralines (served with a not-too-sweet La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi Moscato Bianco) and wind up our meal with two delectable desserts.  Fen gets Tim's signature s'more, a dense chocolate cake that is oozing meringue while I receive a banana-chocolate crisp.  Chocoholics that we are, Fen and I fight over the s'more.

As we amble back to our room, Fen wails "the meal's not over yet, I want s'more!"

*     *     *     *     *

We maneuver between the Pike Place Market, the Seattle Art Museum and the shopping corridor along First and Second Avenues early on day three.  This blur of activity has made us realize we're in need of a chill pill, so Fen and I decide to split up for the afternoon.  I send him over to Sit & Spin, a "Cafe Artspace Laundromat" in the trendy Belltown district.  Sit & Spin looks like June Cleaver's dining room with a touch of grunge -- in a word (or more), vintage dinettes and table lamps that dangle from the ceiling.  Fen does our laundry and reads a book while I repart to Nordstrom, that bastion of girliness.

A natty doorman in a blue bowler greets me at Nordstrom's flagship store, a year-old temple of temptation at Fifth and Pine.  I work my way around the first floor with its selection of cosmetics, handbags, shoes and jewelry.  The cosmetics area is easily the most appealing, what with its Hair Wand ("color energy for the crown chakra") and Mood Balance lipstick ("with nature's blues buster, St. John's Wort").  In no time flat I find myself in conversation with the salesman from Lorac.  His name is Michael Pierce and he's eager to do my makeup so I let 'er rip, although I'd rather wear lipstick and nothing else.

Lorac was started nearly five years ago by Carol Shaw, who does makeup for a number of celebs.  She also names her lipsticks after her various clients.

"It started when Farrah's lipstick was discontinued," Michael tells me.  "She really wanted that color so Carol mixed it for her.  She also does lipstick for Anjelica and Demi and Susan and Goldie and Meg and Nicole..."

Michael dabs a bit of foundation on my face and tells me that Carol's philosophy is "makeup that makes you look better so you'll feel better and do better."  Fair enough, but it doesn't stop there, since Michael is eager to tell all.

"We've won best eye shadow four years in a row.  We also won longest-wearing lipstick without a drying effect..."  I ask who gives out these various awards and learn that it's the women's magazines, tomes like In Style and Allure.  Then I get it:  Lorac is Carol spelled backwards.

"Nicole loves Carol's pink blush," Michael continues.  "See, it's simple with us.  Red is red and pink is pink, no confusion about the colors.  We've also won best foundation three years in a row.  Me, I'm wearing foundation, powder, eye shadow, mascara and my brows are filled in -- and I'm dying for some gloss!"

Michael's look is truly natural, which gives me hope that I'll look the same.

"Okay, now the lipstick," Michael says.  "I'm gonna put Jennifer Jason Leigh on you."  I wince, since I think of Ms. Leigh in her terrorizing role in "Single White Female."

 Michael finally hands me a mirror and I have to admit that I love my new look.  It's natural and sexy.  I'm still a bit threatened by Jennifer (Jason Leigh), however, so I buy Julia (Louis Dreyfus).

My girly session continues on the third floor of Nordstrom, where I make a beeline for the lingerie department.  I see the most beautiful things that I absolutely must have so I plop down $200 in the hopes that Fen concludes that he absolutely must have them, too.  My last stop is the downstairs level of the store, where I pick up two cotton shirts for Fen.

Our last evening in Seattle has us doing yet another progressive dinner.  We start off with appetizers at Il Bistro, noshing on their savory calamari and antipasto.  Dinner on this night is at Cafe Campagne, a snug bistro overlooking the Market with a French-y mood and a Provencal carte.  We trade bites of the boneless quail and saddle of rabbit in the dim light, can-can posters and mirrors dancing above our heads.

The walk after dinner is a short one since we're staying at the Inn at the Market on this particular night.  Our suite is sweet indeed, an expansive living room leading to a bedroom with soft white sheets and soothing colors.  The sliding glass door off the living room affords a view of the Market and beyond so we find ourselves smooching in the twinkling lights of this magical town.  Sure we could have gone to the Space Needle and Green Lake and seen Junior play, but we have no regrets that we chose to eat our way through this delectable place.


© 1999 Elaine Sosa
San Francisco, California

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