Eating Out in Seattle

Tender Calamari and warm root vegetable soup.

This past President’s Day weekend we took advantage of some frequent flyer miles to visit with a few friends living up north in Seattle. It had been years, over 15, since our last trip to the rainy caffeinated gem of the Northwest, as one of our friends described it, people don’t walk upright in Seattle, they walk horizontally – how much more laid back can a city get? Seattle has so many spots serving terrific local food, narrowing to just a few was tough. Thanks to friends’ suggestions, we enjoyed delicious meals all weekend.

Tuna Salade Nicoise and goat cheese tartine.

Shortly after landing, we were seated at Café Campagne, a charming spot near Pike Place Market. It is a welcoming place with tasty food and a comfortable dining room away from the rain and wind. Warm bowls of root vegetable soup took the chill off the morning. While we both enjoyed the St. Jude’s Tuna Salade Niçoise and the goat cheese tartine, the standout of the meal was the calamari. A calamari dish distinguishes a kitchen. Well-executed calamari, however prepared, signifies competence and care. The small, warm rings that came to the table were lusciously dressed with olive oil, butter, garlic, capers, parsley and lemon. They were fresh and nicely seasoned – and they were tender! Not a single rubber band on the plate. We were impressed.

Whoopie Pie didn't make us scream "Whoopie!" more like "meh."

We skipped dessert at the restaurant and headed over to The Chocolate Box to satisfy our sweet tooth. Walking through the doors into the shop away from the cold rainy weather, we were nearly knocked over by the strong aroma of chocolate. The display of delicious looking treats presented an intimidating array of options, but we ended up settling on a Whoopie Pie that Steve had his eye on. Sadly, it was much drier and not as fresh tasting as we had expected. We still finished it all and washed it down off with a warm Chai Latte. After drinking several cups of coffee that morning and walking past all the coffee shops in the city, we’d had enough. The tea was a welcomed treat.

For dinner we dined at Tom Douglas’ Cuoco. We both went vegetarian on our entrees, but when the restaurant treats the table to a plate of prosciutto, it’s just rude to say ‘no’. Fresh buffalo mozzarella, pomegranate seeds, garlic, grilled bread; roasted cauliflower; roasted Brussels sprouts with huge (overwhelming) chunks of Sardinian cheese; Tagliatelle pasta with gorganzola cheese; these were just a few of the delicious items we ate there.

Fresh pasta being made at Tom Douglas' Cuoco.

We enjoyed Saturday brunch at Skillet Diner where we gorged ourselves on their huge-assed cinnamon roll. Regrettably, we forgot to take pictures. The friend who introduced us to the placed dove into a hamburger and plate of poutine. We decided to go with a couple salads, and share the scramble special (yawn). We did get a taste of the poutine and the burger, which was all we needed—seriously! The place is a neighborhood gem that draws a big weekend crowd. If you go, be prepared to wait for a table. No reservations.

On Saturday night, dear friends introduced us to Lark, a Capitol Hill restaurant run by Johnathan Sundstrom, a James Beard Award-winning Chef. The owners have taken a decidedly local approach to sourcing the foods that end up on a constantly changing menu of well-executed small plates. The menu invites experimentation and we dove in with gusto, feasting on; apple, beat and Treviso salad, sautéed wild mushrooms, roasted sunchokes, creamy farro, carpaccio of Yellowtail tuna, octopus with Chistorra chorizo, crispy Liberty Farm duck legs, pork belly (two ways), and Oregon Fallow venison (the table’s least-favorite dish). Our party’s wine expert ordered a bottle of the lovely Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah (Columbia Valley ’09). It was a nice companion to the evening’s many dishes. We finished with a delicious pineapple tarte tatin, and date, hazelnut brown butter cake – both tasty, but we liked the pineapple tarte best.

We were in Seattle for less than 48 hours and we were already starting to walk horizontally. We were also drinking booze, eating cheese, and gasp…eating meat. Our vegan-ish lifestyle and our on-the-wagon reprieve from liquor were now being questioned. However, we were relaxed, happy, and enjoying the city up north with friends we haven’t seen for too long. We also had some great home-cooked meals that we’ll describe in our next post: “Eating In in Seattle.”

Best Cup of Coffee, Ever!

A pinch of salt (and our well seasoned filter) make the best coffee, ever!

There’s no need to go out and purchase a fancy machine to make a great cup of coffee. There’s also no need to go out and buy a specific type of coffee, or for that matter, to buy whole beans and grind them seconds before brewing your coffee. Let’s face it, there are hundreds of different types of coffee out on the market and everyone likes something different.

We got over our coffee snobbery a long time ago. For us, it’s about what we think tastes good, costs the least amount of money, takes the least amount of time, and takes up as little counter space as possible. For those reasons we buy our beans in bulk at Costco, grind them at the store, fill a Mason jar with coffee and store it in the cabinet. The rest of the coffee goes into the freezer.

We say, drink what you like, but to make a good cup of coffee even better, here’s a tip we think you should try: add a pinch of salt. That’s right, salt. Just a small amount is all you need to bring out the flavor of the coffee, less than an eighth of a teaspoon per pot. What does the salt do? As in cooking, salt brings out the flavors of the coffee. It makes the coffee less bitter and mellows the notes. We read about it in Cook’s Illustrated, so it must be true. We’ve been hooked since the first try.

How do we make our coffee? First off, we like the pour over method and we use a reusable hemp coffee filter (it’s kind of like a cast iron skillet, it just gets better with age). We decided we don’t need a stovetop kettle – we’ve ruined a few in our lives – so we just heat the water in a pan. Quick, easy and simple!

Move over french press and make room for the pour over method.

We can see it now, the so-called “coffee aficionados”*, screaming at their screens telling us how insane we are. “How dare you title this blog post, ‘Best Cup of Coffee, Ever!” “Never freeze your coffee!” “Always get your beans fresh from a local source.” “Always grind seconds before brewing.” “Use a French Press!” “Starbucks** isn’t real coffee.” Blah, blah, blah. To the CAs, we say go ahead and spend a month’s worth of rent for that allegedly perfect cup of coffee. For the rest of us, just a little pinch of salt will do.

For all those coffee drinkers who like to add milk and sugar to their coffee, but are trying to cut out the sugar, here’s another little tip: heat the milk first before adding it to your coffee. Heating the milk breaks down lactose and converts it to glucose (simple sugar) so the coffee tastes sweeter without any added sugar. You don’t need to buy an expensive espresso machine to steam the milk. A small saucepan on the stovetop will work just fine.

*Air quotes are being used for sarcastic purposes.

**We know there was no mention of Starbucks before, but many “coffee aficionados” look down on SB. We both happen to like SB and are grateful when we find one while traveling. Although, the McCafe in Madrid was nicer than SB. Just saying.