Tag Archives: Seattle

Seattle Tops for Markets, and More

I was traipsing around central Kentucky last week, picking up where I left off from my July trip there, for more bourbon and regional cooking research. And this week I’m in Pittsburgh, along for the ride while my husband takes a course at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon.  One thing about leaving my hometown is gaining a bit of perspective about how non-natives feel about the city I’ve called home all of my life. I’ve met dozens of people at a variety of events and easily 50 percent of them–soon as they hear that I’m from Seattle–respond with virtually the same phrase: “Oh, I LOVE Seattle.” And then go on to tell me of a great vacation they had there recently, or a college friend who moved there and fell madly in love with the city. Warms my heart with hometown pride! Just last night, the hostess who seated us at Six Penn Kitchen told us she’d been to Seattle in June for a cousin’s graduation and loved the city, aside from the fact that she saw the sun only once during the week. On the other hand, a woman I met in Lexington was there a week and not a cloud the whole time. Luck of the draw.

Another scope through which to see how Seattle is viewed by the rest of the world comes in this month’s issue of Travel & Leisure magazine. The cover feature highlights “America’s Favorite Cities of 2008” with results of reader survey. Twenty five cities were included, each ranking somewhere between 1 and 25 on dozens of characteristics. While there’s probably little surprise that Seattle ranked low in the weather department (23 out of 25; though when the weather’s just righ in Seattle there are few cities on Earth more beautiful), it was heart-warming to see how highly regarded the Emerald City was on a variety of points. From Number One position for “intelligent” natives, farmers markets, and (of course) coffee shops, Seattle also garnered high ranks for the skyline and views, environmental awareness and access to the outdoors. It’s fun to click through all the categories and city profiles to imagine where you might go next!

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Capturing Seattle, in words and photos

It’s a fun surprise when I hear a friend’s name mentioned as part of the “coming up next on KPLU we’ll be talking to….” teaser during my daily dose of NPR radio. This morning, that friend was Joel Rogers, a Seattle photographer and writer whose book Seattlewas released last year. It was a project long in the making, encompassing a lifetime of experience in, and visual impressions of, Seattle.

Not just architecture and ferries and Pike Place Market (though all are included, of course), this book highlights many more layers of Seattle’s character. WTO riots. The Torchlight Run that closes lanes of the Alaska Way Viaduct. The Gay Pride Parade. Swearing in of new citizens on July 4. Locals reading books while waiting in line for a movie during the Seattle International Film Festival.

There is plenty of personal reflection in Joel’s writing. I love the story about his grandfather, of Swedish-Finnish background, who “had his own idea of church–renting a skiff at Ray’s Boathouse [back when it really was a boat house] and communing with the salmon of Puget Sound.” Joel taught me something new about this city in writing that Seattle ranks second only to nearby Portland in major American cities that has the least number of church-goers. At least “church” in the traditional sense. Joel goes on to draft his conjuring of what might constitute Seattle’s own set of Ten Commandments, including “thou shalt garden with native species,” “thou shalt partake of local microbrew,” “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s Subaru,” and–my favorite–“thou shalt love hiking in the rain,” which I do very much.

I always find it a bit odd to be on the receiving end of an interview rather than the one spitting out the questions. Joel contacted me while working on this book to get some perspectives on our Seattle-area cuisine. In his “The Northwest Table” essay in the book, I get to riff on one of my favorite subjects, what it is that constitutes “Northwest cuisine.”

While a Seattle coffee table sporting a Seattle picture book may seem a bit cliché (especially for non-conformist Seattle), this really is a book that locals will want to devour themselves, and have on hand to share with visitors. A view of the city through the compelling and studied lens of a native.

P.S. On a side note. A small grievance I just can’t contain any longer. A pet peeve that makes me crazy. It’s Pike Place Market. Not Pike Street. Not Pike’s Place. Just Pike Place Market. We walked by a parking garage downtown last night advertising that they served “Pike’s Place Market” customers. I vote for a law that fines Seattle businesses that can’t get the name of the city’s hallmark gathering place correct! OK, I feel better. Rant’s over.

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Best New Chefs — Food & Wine

Ethan StowellI just got a press release from Food & Wine Magazine announcing the 2008 winners of their coveted “Best New Chef” recognition. Of course, I’m always thrilled when Seattle chefs gain recognition nationally. An ovation goes out to Ethan Stowell, chef/owner of Union, Tavolata and the new How to Cook a Wolf for being so honored this year. Woo-hoo!!!

The ten winners are being fêted tonight in New York City. That explains why Ethan could so easily make an appearance on today’s episode of Today (as I learned from Nancy Leson’s blog this morning, too late to try to catch the spot). Sorry to say that I haven’t been to any of the other award-winners. But I can try to make it to Gautreau’s in New Orleans in a couple of weeks to sample some of Sue Zemanick’s creations. 

Past F&W “Best New” winners in our neighborhood include Jason Wilson at Crush (2006), John Sundstom at Lark (2001), and Maria Hines at Tilth (2005).  And we’ve inherited a couple: Danielle Custer won in 1998 while she was cooking in Dallas (she’s now general manager at Taste at SAM) and new chef at The Herbfarm, Keith Luce, won in 1997 while in Chicago at Spruce.

Oh, and just to keep the kudos coming, I’m late in sending out three cheers to Maria for her inclusion on Frank Bruni’s recent list of ten “Intriguing New Restaurants Outside of New York” in The New York Times. Outstanding news, bravo Maria! I have been to one other on that list, Central, which I reported about in an earlier post about our trip to DC (keyword: banana split). And one I will definitely be visiting on my New Orleans trip: Cochon. So excited about that dinner, gathering with a number of IACP friends before the big conference begins mid month.

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Celebrating Experience

I rarely muster much enthusiasm for restaurant promotions. You know, restaurant-fests the likes of Dine Around Seattle (formerly “25 for $25”), Boston’s Restaurant Week, Dine Out Vancouver. I certainly covered Seattle’s restaurant promotions a lot while food editor at Seattle Magazine. I’m sure they’ve got legs as a means for restaurants to fill seats in low seasons and draw in new patrons who hopefully will return to dine at non-promo rates. But for me personally, I’m still relishing the novelty of dinner at home after those seven years of excessive dining out (Seattle Magazine coupled with being editor of the local Zagat guide). A bargain isn’t enough.

All that to set up this contradiction: a new restaurant promotion that did grab my attention. And it may make me book a few reservations to take part. It’s called Seasoned Seattle and shines the spotlight on restaurants that have been in business for twenty years or longer. In restaurant years, that’s what? maybe 45 or 50? definitely the sign of maturity and some deep local roots.

I’ve always leaned more toward the old than the new. Houses, book covercars, movies, music. In so many arenas, there is something about my personality that connects with and delights in the character that comes with age. I’m a happy camper in my 1956 house, driving an old Jetta, watching Cary Grant and listening to Frank Sinatra or Blossom Dearie. With my growing-more-charming-by-the-year husband by my side.

This attraction is no less true of restaurants. While of course I love to check out the latest-greatest dining spots to come on the scene, when I’m “off duty” and just dining out for pleasure, those aren’t necessarily the first choices on my list. I love returning to the favorite haunts in town, places where there’s history, context, a story to tell, a longtime relationship with their neighborhood and the community.

One of my favorite Seattle books is the one-of-a-kind You Can’t Eat Mount Rainier!, by Bill Speidel. It was published in 1955 and serves as what I believe to be the first restaurant guide ever written for Seattle. It was a time when Continental cuisine flourished in restaurants. Locals picked wild berries and tossed out crab pots for supper, but the idea of this region having a distinct “cuisine” that was worthy of restaurant tables hadn’t yet gelled. There were 53 restaurants included, each with a signature recipe ranging from Sukiyaki to Frikadellar (Danish Meatballs), Lobster Thermidor to Chicken Pot Pie. But a few regional items like Baked Fillet of Salmon and Dungeness Crab in Wine Sauce.

What I revel in about that book is that more than a few of those restaurants are still in operation.  We lost a couple in recent years, the Cloud Room and Andy’s Diner. Stalwarts include Alki Homestead, Bush Garden, Canlis, Ivar’s Acres of Clams, the Georgian Room (now just “The Georgian“). Those latter two are among the restaurants in this well-seasoned promotion happening in April. Others newer on the scene include Madison Park Cafe, Queen City Grill and 13 Coins.

I hope those of you in the Seattle area might make a point of visiting some of these older restaurants in town, during the promotion and beyond. New and hip is all fine and good. But how colorful and textured would life be if that was all we had to choose from? Don’t even get me started on the debate about the Manning’s restaurant site in Ballard. Or the fact that the Twin Teepees was torn down to become, essentially, a vacant lot. For every multi-use, condo-retail complex that goes up in town, I hope we can preserve at least one building, one restaurant, one link to our past that won’t go the way of the dodo.

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