Eating really well around Seattle/Washington

Unlike other trips, I refrained from planning my #2DaysInSeattle to the hilt. Who knew what lay ahead or the exact schedule and what we’d feel like after the ordeal that is a half- and full marathon?

Willows Inn

The first meal was already planned. We were to dine at Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Lummi rhymes with “gummy”) and we knew this from two weeks before, the earliest we could make reservations. We were going for a Saturday reservation so that we’d only spend Saturday and Sunday but the only reservation my cousin, Alan, could get was a Friday night and suddenly we were going a day early. Dining there was that special and important. And it was three days after Alan’s 40th birthday.

We set out from Vancouver at 5 p.m. on a Friday which is just the most plum time to go with rush hour in addition to the Friday evening border queue. Our reservation was at 7:00 p.m. and I was surprised to learn that four others would be joining us, driving down to Lummi Island for the evening just to eat at Willows Inn. We missed the Bellingham-Lummi Island ferry by just a few minutes (we saw it pulling away) and so Alan’s friends arrived in two waves before 7:00 and at 7:20. We arrived at 7:40 and I wondered what the deal is and why they couldn’t hold up service for us.

 I borrowed a few seconds although we were late to take a picture of the view from our parking spot at Willows Inn – a spectacular sunset.

Contrasting with any other tasting menu I’ve ever had before, the one at Willows in starts at 7:00 and everyone else dining that evening (there is only one seating) is having the tasting menu. Every snack and course comes out at the same time so the kitchen was not delaying our amuse bouches on account of Alan and I not arriving. That there were none served us or saved for us still baffles me, though.

A lovely arrangement was that we had secured the private dining room.

I was offered a glass of the blackberry (or was it blueberry?) shrub which I sipped through dinner. It was refreshingly tart and gave me something other than water to sip on and toast while all the others had gotten the juice or wine pairing.

We missed the first course and started with the beets. What looks like large beets were shaved very thin and sprinkled with nubs of a slightly bitter green herb. The dollop of yogurt was gin-infused.

When this arrived, I was disappointed. One spot prawn that does not qualify as even medium-sized in a bowl that fits in the palm of your hand. Could it be another amuse bouche (freebie)? No, it was listed on the tasting menu and qualified as a course. So I nibbled on the prawn and sipped the broth. It was supremely flavourful and concentrated while still being runny.

A small parade of servers bring in each course so that the six of us receive our food at the same time. For the cod, we were presented with hot to the touch clay cassoulets promising deliciousness. The morsel of cod was immersed in a lovage broth cod with cherry tomatoes of pretty various colours. This was a delicious course and I had to the last drop and including the cod skin.

Alan was dry going on six weeks at that point and ordered the juice pairing. Actually, only one guy ordered the wine pairing and four ordered juice pairing. I refrained because, well, partly because of the price, and I wasn’t sure I would appreciate the pairing. When the sorel one was poured, it was mesmerizing how deep green and beautiful it was.

We were told that the smoked salmon was designed for eating with fingers and it was smoked on site. It was a delicious if odd course where the meat was firm and sweet with the maple glaze and not dry in the center.

Baskets of fresh bread with pan drippings from roasting chicken (?) was served. This was not a course and I highly enjoyed it. Good thing for the excuse of carb loading. :D The bread was very crusty but the inside was chewy and soft. The pan drippings were a little more jelly than I would have expected but so satisfying – possibly more satisfying than meat, haha.

I thought the plating of the romano beans (two of them) was on that pretentious/fine dining side that I didn’t think I would soon see. It was enough beans but just so odd to me. I can’t remember what the herbs were but they were very fresh and grass-like and I remember it being a little salty. Still, it was a nice introduction to romano beans to me when I’m not generally a fan of green beans. Some of my fellow diners didn’t understand this course.

We arrived at the meal of the meal, a small piece of lamb shank with what really was grass in this case. I would have preferred more tender lamb and it was just fascinating and somewhat delicious to nibble on grass.

I hadn’t entirely expected it but dinner was over and we had two dessert courses. Visually, this dessert was beautiful in its own way. Blackberries in a light syrup with chamomile infused ice. Who needs overly sweet dessert? This felt so good for you.

The second dessert kind of blew me away at the time. I had such low and non-existent expectations for dessert. We’d see huckleberry crop up at other places but it was a good start, a little tart berry amongst the smoky malt chips and sweet meringue puffs and cooling woodrub gelato. I wanted more malt chips.

I’m not one for caramels but this is carefully hand-crafted, locally made and fresh so I would make an expection. It was coated in flax so the nuttings attenuated the sweetness.

Our dining mates kept saying how clean and cohesive the meal was, comparing it favourably to shoto by momofuku in Toronto. My dining experiences were definitely augmented with this meal.

Sitka & Spruce

One of the first places Alan mentioned when we started talking about going to Seattle was Sitka & Spruce. I looked it up and was saddened because if we went on Saturday and it’s not a place to carb load and it would not be open on Sunday by the time the race was over. Going down a day earlier, we could squeeze it in for brunch.

The establishment is located in Melrose Market in Capitol Hill which is an adorable warehouse converted to artisanal (to the hilt) shops. We almost didn’t pick out Sitka & Spruce in the back from amongst the shops in the front at the entrance we went in. The kitchen is entirely open and right next to the communal table we decided to sit at.

We started with a dish of olives. It’s not something I would have ordered but I didn’t mind in the least to have another one to chew on between bites of other dishes.

We were hungry when we arrived so a scone that arrived quickly was welcome. It was warm and comforting. I slathered on the whipped butter and even enjoyed the fresh peach jam.

I’m going to call this a cod bagenade because I haven’t found it by searching for it and the menu at Sitka has since changed to have different offerings. A salted or picked cod in creamy salad with homemade “Melba” and sliced pear. We were introduced to more grass (called aggressi?) which was nice to nibble on. We had to order a couple extra slices of toast for this briny spread that somehow reminded me of home (although I don’t eat that there).

My contribution to ordering was the sausage dish served warm on a spicy bed of romaine and more romano beans. This was such a strange brunch but the salad was most comforting to each much like traditional brunch dishes.

Dick’s Drive-In Burgers

We thought we heard that there was a Dick’s around the corner from Sitka but my GPS directed us to the UW area (and all that traffic thanks to the afternoon’s football game). It was okay because having a burger so soon after Sitka if it were around the corner would almost seem insulting.

The UW location looked authentic to the drive-in style that Dick’s started as and it was a busy spot. There was a short queue at each of the multiple cashiers and people were milling outside their cars on the brilliantly sunny day and sitting on a ledge in the parking lot to eat their burgers. I got a single patty burger and a chocolate shake, marveling at the reasonable price for both. It’s no Shake Shack, what our dining companions from the evening before likened it to, but satisfying when we already had a meal shortly before!

Cucina Spinasse

Oh where oh where shall we carb load and have a pasta dinner? Our dining companions from the evening before mentioned Spinasse and we were definitely open to recommendations. I couldn’t get a reservation we just dropped in shortly after they opened at 5:00 p.m. Thus we would also finish dinner early and have ample time to rest.

To start, we were presented with some toast with paté and balsamic drizzle. This was a weekend with places with amuse bouches – fancy!

Alan’s pick was the cavatelli with lobster mushroom sauce. Look at me all eager and I read it as lobster and mushroom sauce. But no, lobster mushroom which Alan informed me is a parasite, transforming other mushrooms. Neat. The pasta was chewy and the lobster mushroom so meaty and satisfying. We ordered appy portions of the pastas which looked so small but were amply filling and we could try more. Alan said he would have ordered full sizes were it not for me and my self-control!

The special of the day was tajarin (thin egg noodles which we saw the young staff making) with uni butter. This was so rich and delicious maybe I wanted a full-size portion…

My pick was the pancetta-wrapped quail. It was okay. Would have preferred less stuffing and more quail. :P

Alan’s other pick was tripe braised with tomato, pancetta and chickpeas and topped with foie gras. Tripe to me is so Asian no matter the Italian spices of this dish. I didn’t understand it. I also remarked that the foie gras seemed out of place – there I go trying to be analytical – and it seemed Alan agreed.

Din Tai Fung – Bellevue Square

After we completed our races, I was torn in so many things I wanted to do. Shower! (Okay, it’s not something that was optional.) Go shopping! Show Alan more of Bellevue aside from the hotel! Eat! Get Alan something alcoholic to drink!

We drove towards Bellevue Square and I pointed out all of the restaurants available and he liked the idea of Din Tai Fung (DTF) unless it happened to be too busy. At 4:00 p.m., they were between rushes and we were seated immediately. I liked how it was finally Asian food that was relatively cheaper and would be served quickly.

Alan ordered lightly pickled cucumbers, nothing something I would have ordered. They were garlicky and something refreshing to nibble on throughout the meal.

We were warned that the pork soup dumplings (xiao long bao) were a 35-minute wait so we ordered the pork and crab soup dumplings and were shown the ideal radio of sauce: added to the shredded ginger was one part soy sauce and three parts Chinese vinegar. That was not bad proportions as it turned out.

It’s tremendously fun to eat with Alan. NPY and I wouldn’t order XLB when it’s just us because there are 10 in an order and we’d be full from just our half of it and NPY would want to try other food, more carby dishes.

We ordered pork and shrimp wontons in spicy sauce. I was remarking how I don’t get to order that dish with NPY so Alan encouraged we ordered it. Perhaps I am wary that the dumplings would get redundant but each one we ordered is in different wrappers and cooked differently – steamed in the case of XLB, boiled wontons and pan-fried pot stickers below! I would have preferred a straight chili sauce because this one was disarmingly sweet for my tastes. Alan explained it’s because Taiwanese cuisine tends to include sugar like this.

We couldn’t pass up some beef noodle soup and Alan suggested the pot stickers. So many dumplings and I was quite gleeful. The noodles weren’t great but we were so hungry I thought it was overall pretty good noodle soup. The beef brisket was a bit bland so we applied the tableside chili oil to liven it up. I hadn’t seen pot stickers prepared on a starch layer before and we gobbled all of that down. The sauce with the pot stickers were a little weird.

It was mutual. I accompanied Alan on his first real trip to Seattle and showed him parts of his he has missed in his other quick sojourns there, like going to DTF, the Bellevue and UW area. And his contribution to the trip was definitely these kinds of restaurants I would normally never have tried!

On this day..