Final Seattle Round-up

zeitgeist

Zeitgeist Coffee

As the second week of 2013 gets underway, I find myself possessed of a few odds and ends from Seattle that are not quite big enough to make into a whole post but too good to just forget. So as a way of capping my on-going series from the Pacific Northwest, I present to you this round-up of all the little things worth knowing:

Best Coffee Shop: How do you pick a favorite coffee shop in a part of the world known for them? Take two tired people, add in a lot of walking in the cold, and stir with the fortuitous find of Zeitgeist Coffee. This Pioneer Square coffee shop was spacious, wonderfully noisy, and served up huge cups of strong, creamy coffee that warmed us and got us back up and going when we needed it most.

Mr. D's Gyros

Mr. D’s Gyros

Best Street Food: We ate a lot of good street food, but our hands-down favorite was the gyros wrap from Mr. D’s Greek Delicacies in the Pike Place Market. Tender shaved lamb, tangy tzatziki, and soft pita made this one heck of a sandwich. I’m a little nuts for gyros anyway, so it was a great pleasure for me to eat this messy mass of Mediterranean deliciousness.

Best Food we Bought for Other People but Wound up Eating Ourselves: Chukar Cherries. Not only that but we ate more free samples than was probably polite. Don’t worry, we brought some replacements home for everyone else.

Fish n' Chips

Fish n’ Chips

Biggest Discrepancy: The waterfront was home to both our most expensive meal and our least, with the least being a paper tray of crispy battered cod and a pile of potato wedges served alongside a bowl of clam chowder. While nothing about this little meal was mind-blowing, the fish was hot and tasty, the potatoes nice and mealy, and the chowder was creamy and good. As a quick meal, we certainly could have done worse (and, in fact, probably did).

There were, of course, a few places that just barely rate a mention, including the strange little Mexican place we had nachos and Coronas at on our second night, the odd-ball coffee shop/art gallery where we shook off our celebratory post-election hangovers, and the many pastries and snacks we grabbed on the go. Seattle is a great town for food, and while Jess and I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface, we just take that as a reason to go back. Cheers!

 

Salumi

aasalumiCharcuterie. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m pretty mad about cured and preserved meats, those delicious results of a time before refrigeration that linger on into this modern age because they’re just so incredibly delicious. We’re no strangers to the good stuff here in Little Rock, with restaurants like The Pantry and Hillcrest Artisan Meats turning out some fantastic house-made and imported food, but since we were in Seattle, there was but one destination for us: Salumi, Armando Batali’s cozy little sandwich shop located in Pioneer Square. It was a chilly November morning when we arrived at the door a half-hour before opening, and after ducking into a oddities shop next door to warm up for only a few minutes, we found ourselves already third in line when we returned. I spent some time on Twitter while we waited for the place to open and managed to get a retweet from Mario Batali, Armando’s extremely famous chef son.

aasalmeatOnce eleven o’clock hit, the doors opened and we headed down a narrow hall to the assembly line-style ordering. These folks knew their business, and kept everybody moving while being friendly (if a bit brusque). It’s not a big place, and there are a lot of people trying to eat there, so I’ve got to give props to the women behind the counter who turned out orders so efficiently. We started with a sampler tray, a collection of the different cured meats available at the shop. We had previously eaten the Salumi Salami at Pike Brewing, and we were once again pleased with its firm texture and light, oily flavor. The big hit on the plate was the Hot Sopressata, a spicy sausage that won us both over with a mild start and a fiery back end. The cheeses on the plate were excellent, with a soft mozzarella, smoked provolone, and a nice, sharp blue adding good flavor contrast and balance to the meat.

aaporchettaJess went for the Salumi Salami sandwich, so she really got her fill of the stuff that day. I ordered the Porchetta, a hot sandwich that had been recommended by several reviews (and also several people on Twitter). To all those people, I say “thank you.” The porchetta was tender, well-spiced, and incredibly juicy from all the melted fat infusing each bite. Stuffed into a hollowed-out roll, each bite of this sandwich was an almost overwhelming rush of flavor and texture unlike any sandwich I’ve ever had. Jess and I both are of the opinion that the sandwich might be mankind’s greatest invention, and this porchetta version served as added evidence to that theory.

Salumi was a fantastic experience, not just from the excellent food, but also from the excitement of the people around us. People were looking at this meal as an experience, something that Jess and I tend to do with most of the meals we eat. Was this famous house of meat better than our neighborhood sandwich palace, Hillcrest Artisan Meats? Not at all — if anything, the fact that H.A.M. matches Salumi bite for delicious bite makes me all the more thankful for the excellence we have just around the corner. So if you find yourself in Little Rock, head to Hillcrest — but if you’re reading this from Pioneer Square, it’s worth the wait to eat at Salumi.

Salumi on Urbanspoon

Elliott’s Oyster House

bigwheelJess and I had two separate seafood-related goals during our trip to Seattle: she wanted to find somewhere to eat a pile of Dungeness crab and I wanted to gorge myself Walrus-and-the-Carpenter-style on some oysters. Since our condo was so close to the waterfront, we decided to head down to Pier 56 and try Elliott’s Oyster House, a place that Zagat calls “a great spot for out of towners,” and which even the Seattle Stranger had nice things to say about (despite making fun of tourists like us). But I don’t mind going to a touristy restaurant if the food is good, and the wide selection of oysters and crab dishes seemed just the thing we were looking for. So after meandering through Pike’s Market, we found our way down to the waterfront and bypassed the more casual Elliot’s Seafood Cafe an went straight for the good stuff. The restaurant itself was a little stuffy, but the food ranged from good to great with some nice surprises in-between.

acrabbypattyOur cooked dish were the Dungeness Crabcakes — which go down as some of the best crabcakes I’ve ever eaten. Sweet, succulent lump crab meat was present in large quantity in these cakes, only just held together by a small amount of seasoned bread crumbs and crisped on the outside edges. I’m normally pretty dissatisfied with crabcakes as they are usually more “cake” than “crab,” but these were meaty and luscious, with just the right balance of crunchy, soft, and slightly chewy. There was a jicama slaw served to the side of these bad boys but we were so focused on those pretty little cakes that we never touched a single bite of it.

acrabbyplatterOur love affair with the crabcakes ended, we moved on to the main event: the Celebration Platter, a mound of fresh-shucked oysters, snow crab claws, chilled prawns, and half of the Dungeness crab Jess craved so much. The oysters were briny and cold, and just a slight squeeze of lemon made them perfect. The snow crab claws were large and very meaty, with a mild, clean taste that gave way to a delightful sweetness. The Dungeness crab legs were every bit the highlight that Jess assured me they would be, with a soft, tender meat that needed no other seasoning beyond the flavor of the meat itself. The prawns were a touch disappointing, but that may have had more to do with the quality of the other seafood on the platter.

aaoysterplatterNot content with the oysters that came with our Celebration, we ordered a second dozen, sampling several of the local varieties. The range of flavor and texture among these varieties was astounding, and somewhat unexpected for a couple of people used to the flavor of Gulf oysters. These were far brinier than the oysters we are used to, with some balancing that brininess with a firm sweetness and some just sliding down with a taste like a breath of sea wind. Wine lovers always talk about “terroir” when it comes to their favorite vintages; the same might be said for oysters, too, as different types raised in different areas of the Pacific Northwest were widely different in their taste. I would love to be able to take the time to learn more about these oysters, mostly because it means I would get to eat a lot of them.

Elliott’s might be considered a place for tourists, but we were well-pleased with the fresh flavor of the seafood. Being from a landlocked state, we are relatively inexperienced with good seafood, although we both crave it constantly. For a good sample of regional seafood, this place is highly recommended.

Elliott's Oyster House on Urbanspoon

The Diller Room

Have you ever found yourself in a restaurant or bar where the atmosphere just didn’t fit your mood and frame of mind? This happened to us on our first night in Seattle when we stopped into the Diller Room, a dank and dive-y bar located in a building that started life as a nice hotel, turned into a second home for pioneers and miners, and then devolved into a Chinese laundry that served as a front for a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Even after all that storied history, we just weren’t feeling the place on that first night — but a return visit a few nights later found us in a far different mindset, relaxing into a cozy booth in the back of the lounge and talking over food and drink to the hip-hop and soul soundtrack coming from the speakers around us. Our final verdict was that the Diller Room was just our sort of bar after all, especially when it came to the plentiful drinks and cheap appetizers.

Charcuterie plate to the left with a nice cheese pairing to the right.

Each of those plates you see above were $6 during happy hour, and we were happy with the ample selection of local meats and cheeses provided. While not quite up to the level of the charcuterie platter we ordered at Pike Brewing, we still enjoyed these creamy cheeses and savory cured meats, with our only complaint being that the bar made no effort to tell us where the food was coming from. I suppose that’s a rather picky thing to wish for, but we come from a place where a man can buy a smoked turkey and wind up talking to both the man who raised it and the man who smoked it all in the same visit. Still, that meat, cheese, and flatbread was just what we needed to soak up some of the Diller Room’s tasty drinks.

First and foremost on that drink agenda was a tasty cocktail called “The Manhattan Project,” a mixture of Bullieit rye, Punt e Mes, Antica vermouth, and Angostura bitters garnished with some of the tastiest brandied cherries I’ve ever had. I stuck with beer, choosing the very drinkable Old Seattle Lager from Maritime Pacific Brewing. Jess switched from Manhattans to Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics not long after, and we were well on our way to a wild and crazy night.

It’s always a good feeling when you can return to a place that didn’t exactly hit the spot the first time around and find that it becomes one of your most memorable places after all. Such was the case here with the Diller Room, where the lights are low, the drinks are strong, and the appetizers are cheap enough to keep you well-balanced for a long evening of fun.

The Diller Room on Urbanspoon

Coffee Break: Cherry Street Coffee House

One of the main things Seattle is known for is coffee, and we managed to to drink enough quality java during our stay that I can almost forgive the city for foisting the over-roasted abomination that is Starbucks on the rest of the country. Our first full morning found us needing a jolt of caffeine to counteract the effects of the time zone changes we had made in addition to the end of Daylight Saving Time. Lucky for us, the friendly red glow of a Cherry Street Coffee House location was visible from the front of our Harbor Steps condo, and we wiped the sleep from our eyes and made the best sleepy shambling beeline we could to the front door.

Now to be perfectly honest, the coffee at Cherry Street wasn’t anything special. Jess ordered a respectable latte, while I contented myself with a strong, but slightly over-roasted Americano. The flavor was decent, but there were strong overtones of acid and burnt flavors that overwhelmed the natural sweetness that can often be coaxed from a coffee bean. Still, a dash of half-and-half did the trick of cutting that acidic flavor and allowed us to move on to what was the best part of our visit: the Tomato Bagel. Being a tomato lover, Jess immediately picked this item from the menu, while I went for the classic lox — which was unfortunately sold out. Taking a cue from my better half, I ordered a tomato bagel, too, and we were both treated to a large toasted bagel topped with a healthy schmear of cream cheese and several slices of a lovely bright red Roma tomato. I was skeptical about how this was all going to go down until I took the first bite — and it was pure bliss. Warm toasted bread gave way to the cool, rich tomatoes with all that luscious cream cheese holding everything together. It made for a great breakfast, but I could see myself grabbing one of these for lunch or an afternoon snack.

Cherry Street Coffee House wasn’t the best coffee we had in Seattle, but the service was good and lively, and that tomato bagel will always have a special place in our hearts. There are several locations around the city, so if you need some carbs and cream cheese, give them a try.

Cherry Street Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Piroshky Piroshky

My love for pastries is just a little different from most people. Sure, doughnuts, danishes, and cinnamon rolls rule the the hearts and minds of the baked-good consuming masses, and I’ve certainly eaten my share of them over the years. But I’m a savory guy — even when it comes to pastries, and it’s just my luck that Seattle’s famous bakery Piroshky, Piroshky has people like me covered with some fine specimens of delightful savory pastries. And you fans of the sweet stuff need not worry, either: there’s a fine list of sugary items from apple to marzipan for you to choose from. As for me, my first experience with one of the little stuffed Russian pies was filled with smoked salmon.

First, the crust, which was light, flaky, and baked to a buttery golden brown. Within this delicious shell was a finely minced smoked salmon filling that was smooth, creamy, and quite fishy (in a good way). The hand-held pastry made for the perfect walking snack, and even before I had finished it, I was plotting my next trip to the bakery.

That next trip came a couple of days later. A late night of severe over-indulgence had left us feeling a little less than perfect in the morning, and so we made our way slowly back down to Pike Place Market for some coffee and carbs. My choice this time was another savory variety, the beef and cheese, and I was treated to a warm mini-loaf stuffed with minced beef, onions, and topped with melted cheddar cheese. This piroshky proved even tastier than the salmon, and as we sat down by the water front watching the sun rise above Elliot Bay, breathing in the chilly November air, we felt the cobwebs of the night before being swept away and prepared ourselves for another day in the city. The Kotelnikov family has been selling their tasty wares since 1992, and they’ve attracted the attention of foodies worldwide — including a segment on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It’s clear to see why these pastries have such a devoted following: they’re inexpensive, delicious, and come in such a wide variety as to suit any taste.

Piroshky Piroshky on Urbanspoon

Monkfish Bourguinon

Monkfish, the ugly fish known as the “poor man’s lobster,” is one of the stranger fish I’ve ever encountered, and its light, sweet flavor and meaty texture makes for a nice substitute for meat in a way that most fish couldn’t. We came across these monkfish filets in the Pike Place Market, and after tearing a couple of the fishmongers away from their heated and in-depth conversation about the relative merits of MDMA as a cancer treatment, we bought a hefty sized portion to cook for supper that night. Given the monk’s heft and substantial texture, I decided to go for a heavier stew than our previous night’s dish of mussels and use the same sort of tomato and red-wine based sauce found in a classic French beef burgundy. The result was a nice cross between a true bourguinon and a hearty bouillabaisse, and once again we were well pleased with the fresh taste of the seafood available at the Seattle market. This dish could be tasty with other white fish, but monk is one of the few species out there that can really stand up to a bit of stirring and stewing.

Monkfish Bourguinon

  • One pound monkfish, sliced into medallions.
  • 3 tablespoons beurre manié (flour mixed with butter)
  • 1 large can San Marzano tomatoes, whole
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 6 ounces pancetta, cut into lardons
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into coins.
  • 12-15 sugar snap peas (or more to taste)
  • 2 cups flour
  • Salt and pepper

Salt and pepper the monkfish medallions, set aside. In a large saucepan, cook the pancetta until it renders its fat. Sweat the shallots and garlic in the pancetta fat until they begin to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes with liquid and simmer on medium heat, stirring until the tomatoes begin to break down. Add the carrots and red wine, maintain simmer until carrots begin getting tender. Add the buerre manie, stirring to mix thoroughly. In a separate skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil. Dredge the monkfish medallions in the flour and brown them in small batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. When the fish has turned a golden brown, add it with the sugar snap peas to the tomato mixture and simmer until the peas have just begun to become tender and sauce has thickened. If sauce gets too thick, add a splash of water or wine and stir. Serve in bowls with ample amounts of crusty bread. Enjoy!