Posted by: acooksca | 08/13/2010

Seafood and Sun in Seattle

Busy Pike Place Market

All this summer San Francisco has rested under a thick marine layer that feels like a wet wool blanket. This is a Mark Twain summer, as cold as winter and the mood on the street  is sullen. It seems wrong to leave California for Seattle in search of the sun. But Seattle has been having a sun-drenched season.

Seattle sparkles in the sun. It feels like the edge of wilderness, a city wedged between primeval forests and deep waterways. Steady breezes off Puget Sound keep the compact, very walkable city center refreshed. So I went to walk, enjoy the views and art, the boutique coffee and craft cocktail cultures, the markets of Pacific Northwest, and above all… the fabulous seafood that Seattle does better then just about anywhere.

Part of each day was spent at the epicenter of Seattle, Pike Place Market. Crammed between the waterfront and downtown, this 100 year old public market place sprawls between multiple buildings packed with food and goods. It is perennially crowded with gawking visitors as well as locals blessed by having this as their shopping center.

I have a few favorite haunts in the market. At Beecher’s Handmade Cheese you watch artisanal cheese being made while sampling one of the world’s best grilled cheese sandwiches. DeLaurenti’s Specialty Food and Wine carries products from the local company Salumi Artisan Cured Meats. Chubs of their mole salami and hot sopressata salami travel home with me, leaving their great aromas in my luggage.

When the urge for lunch hits I can usually weasel past folks waiting for a table at Matt’s at the Market and find a stool at the bar. A glass of French rose’, a perfectly balanced seafood and smoked bacon chowder and a local albacore steak and red pepper aioli sandwich puts a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon.

Local brew at Athenian

If in the mood for a locally brewed beer head for the bar at the back of the Athenian Seafood Restaurant (no need to wait in line…that’s for table service) and order one of the many examples of Pacific Northwest small production beers on tap. Both Matt’s and Athenian have basic looking dining rooms that wear the yellowed patina of years of service to fisherman, merchants and shoppers.

Behind Pike Place Market a constant flow of ferries and freighters leave glistening wakes as they criss-cross Puget Sound. Walk north along the waterfront to Olympic Sculpture Park, a 9 acre open air space where you wander about, enjoying art and views toward the Olympic Peninsula.

Head up a small hill toward the icon of Seattle, the space needle. You can pay $18 to take an elevator to the top. I choose to spend the time and cash instead in the shadow of the needle at the very amusing Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum. It is worth your time and within a quarter mile walk of a favorite restaurant, Flying Fish.

Experience Music Museum

Two years ago Flying Fish, in the funky Belltown area of Seattle, served razor clams that knocked me out. I have been thinking of them since. The restaurant recently moved to the more gentrified Westlake Avenue. The urban-modern cement and glass dining room and patio are packed on sunny days. Those razor clams were, unfortunately, not available on my two visits. But Flying Fish handles seafood with respect, cooking it carefully and pairing it with complimentary sides. Thumbnail-sized Manila clams and Spanish chorizo sprinkled with tiny fingerling potato chips was simple and deeply flavored. Pan-fried Alaskan troll-caught salmon with vegetable tabbouleh, accented with charmoula sauce was the essence of well-balanced flavors and textures.

Another day began in the older section of town called Pioneer Square. Just wander about admiring the heavy stone and brick buildings from late 1800’s. A short walk up First Street is the Seattle Art Museum. It has a wonderful permanent collection from the dawn of man-made art through special programs of pop artists. While heading toward downtown swing by the new Central Library, all shimmering glass and steel, winner of multiple “sustainable” and “reused materials” awards. I spent an hour strolling 9 insightfully organized floors of resources, computer labs, soft furniture living rooms and open spaces occupied by hundreds of Seattleites.

 A perfect downtown restaurant for a snack is Purple Café and Wine Bar. Their extensive wine by the glass list includes many hard to find Pacific Northwest wines. Sit at the bar with a glass of a local Sauvignon Blanc/ Semillon blend and a plate of Dungeness crab cakes and you will forget to look up and appreciate the smartly dressed crowd and stylish décor.

Wild Ginger at 3rd and Union is a happening place of multi-level cocktail and dining spaces. Packed with downtown professionals after work it gets pretty loud at the bars but nooks and crannies of comfortable dining areas keep the noise level at bay. There are plenty of choices on the wine list and I found a half bottle of a hot-weather appropriate Tavel rose’. Order simply, perhaps a sampling of satays from the grill. Be sure to include Mountain Lamb Satay with black pepper and Malaysian vinegar.

Top Pot Donuts

Although Starbuck’s originated in Pike Place Market, and there is a shop on every corner and in every office building, Seattle also has a thriving culture of independent coffee shops. Just ask any 20-something person, such as the ticket seller at a museum to point you to their nearest favorite. Or Google “coffee shops Seattle” and a map appears leading you on a caffine-stroll of great shops. Include a stop at Top Pot Hand-Forged Donuts for what a chef friend of mine called “the best donuts anywhere”. They were additively  good!

Blogs are also a great way to investigate Seattle’s emerging craft cocktail scene. The art of specialty cocktails rediscovered from the past or fashioned anew with seasonal produce has a passionate following along the West Coast. I barely elbowed my way into the tiny Zig Zag Café and Bar. At the bar I spoke with Jake, a young man on a road trip from San Diego to Seattle. He was following a hit-list of great cocktail bars up the coast. It was his second night at Zig Zag and Jake left his drink selections in the hands of the creative bartender. He was just happy to be here in Seattle, at the end of a long, sunny day, having a great drink.

Matt’s in the Market:
Flying Fish:
Purple Cafe:
Wild Ginger:
Top Pot Donuts:
Zig Zag Café:



  1. What a wonderful synopsis! We were thinking of going there some time soon, and now we have a list of lovely places to try! Thank you again for a well-written, charming piece.

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