Seattle’s Evolving Restaurant Scene—in Three Meals

In June, Joyce and I went to Tacoma and Seattle to get our “art glass fix”-link to Seattle Art Glass blog. But man (nor woman) does not live by art glass alone. No trip to any city is complete without visits to some of its newest, most interesting restaurants. This is particularly true in an exciting restaurant city like Seattle.

While it would have taken far more than three meals to explore a restaurant scene that is as vibrant as that of Seattle’s we managed to select three to explore—each in very different neighborhoods:

  • Wild Ginger, while not exactly a gourmet haven, is a lot of fun and great for a group of people who looking to share a wide range of interesting Asian-inspired dishes. While we went to the downtown location 3rd Avenue and Union Street), there is also a Bellevue location. Our group of six shared eight different dishes, ranging from pot stickers and lettuce cups appetizers, fragrant duck, lamb chop and Pad Thai entrees. These all paired nicely with a couple bottles of Gruner Veltliner and a Pinot Noir, and ended pleasantly with mango sorbet and especially coconut gelato.
  • Sitka & Spruce, from chef Matt Dillon (no, not the sheriff), is located in Melrose Market, a rustically refurbished market with cheese, meat and wine stores and a couple of restaurants. The restaurant is a small, charming (also suitably rustic) place with a small but interesting locavore menu. Our lunch for two consisted of the chewy, Columbia City bread, smoked air dried ham with shaved asparagus and hazelnuts, and the wonderful steamed sockeye with black morels, salt pork and sorrel. The light, pleasantly tangy, sherry vinegar-based shallot cream sauce. Both dishes were nicely complemented with a reasonably priced Montepulciano.
  • Poppy, which was created by the founding chef at the regionally revered Herbfarm restaurant, was also a treat. Chef Jerry Traunfeld combined locally-sourced ingredients into creations influenced by the chef’s travels in India. The Indian influence also came through in his serving of these dishes as “thalis”, essentially bento-box-like combinations of small dishes that complemented each other. Each of the seven and ten-dish thali had a main ingredient (on the night we were there, lamb loin and Copper River sockeye salmon), combined with a mix of side dishes that were leveraged across multiple thalis. Our friends guided us through, what was to us, a new selection of Washington state wines, to a lovely Delille Doyenne Syrah-Cabernet. Although my wife and I enjoyed the unusual combinations, one of our friends felt the combinations lacked context by confusing tastes and techniques. I recommend that you try for yourselves.

Overall, we were pleased with each of the three restaurants—and also the service at each. Sitka and Spruce was, in our mind, the most interesting (due to a combination of food, service and funky atmosphere), followed closely by Poppy (for its innovative preparations, combinations and local popularity).

Hotel Discoveries

Speaking of favorites, I have to mention another discovery. Since we had an early AM flight out of SeaTac, we decided to spend the last of our Seattle nights by the airport. While we initially had reservations at a generic airport hotel, we learned of another option—the Cedarwood Lodge. Cedarwood, which is located in a quite residential area about ten minutes from the airport, was built as Washington Mutual’s Executive Development Center. It was sold upon WaMu’s collapse and converted into conference center and special event venue. Rated as Trip Advisor’s #2 Bargain Hotel in the U.S., it has a lovely, contemporary design, landscaped grounds surrounded by a forest and comfortable rooms.

It also has a restaurant (Copperleaf) that they claim (although I have not verified) was rated as last year’s best new Seattle area restaurant. But whatever the rating:

  • Copperleaf is well worth a try. The location, below the lobby, is lovely and comfortable. We sat outside the restaurant, next to the fireplace. The Pacific Butterfish, with snap peas, cucumber and radish and a Meyer Lemon sauce was pleasant, although somewhat salty for our taste. The Kodiak Island halibut with White Asparagus, Morel Mushrooms, English Peas, was lovely and well prepared. Both went well with a very reasonably priced Washington State Substance Pinot Gris. And after dinner, we walked a few step to the bar, where we “unwound” with some scotch and a few pleasant games of pool.

But while Cedarwood was one of our best finds of the trip, I don’t want to neglect our Seattle city hotel. The Maxwell, which is just north of Seattle Center in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood, is modern, attractive and efficient, with a helpful, friendly staff. Although it is about a 20-30 minute walk to the city’s retail hub, it is very convenient to the Seattle Center cultural facilities. Moreover, it, like Cedarwood, is a bargain. Both were only about $130-$150 per night, before taxes.

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