Seattle…again

4 03 2009

No matter how many times I visit the Pacific Northwest, I just do not get tired of it.  We have been to Seattle 5, 6, maybe 7 times?  We’ve been to Portland once and Vancouver, B.C., once as well.  Chris and I are both in love with the natural beauty, with how green it is, with the sense of life (meaning, living things…in Austin, for example, I can think of one day in the past 200 or so when it actually rained and the plants do not seem very alive), with the high consumption rate of good coffee and seafood, with the healthy and outdoorsy lifestyle, with the overall vibe…  The one thing we don’t agree on is moving here.  Chris would love to live in Seattle or somewhere nearby, but I also love Austin and the ability to live near my family, so we’re staying put…for now.

That being said, a member of my family now lives in the area.  My brother moved to Olympia about a year ago, so last April Chris and I figured it was yet another good excuse to return to the Pacific Northwest.  As usual, we had a wonderful time.  We arrived around 9 or so in the evening on a Thursday, rented a car, and found our hotel — the Ace Hotel on 1st Street, a block off Bell Street.  Cool, minimal place.  Our room was decorated with various commie propaganda.  It was a small room, but I’ve never understood why anyone would want a big room unless they planned on spending all of their time in the room…and we certainly did not.  It had everything we needed, including bathrobes for the walks to the shared bathrooms, a sink, a small flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, and even a mini Kama Sutra in the nightstand.  It was an interesting place!

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The location could not be beat (except for when we wanted to sleep…more on that later).  After dropping off our stuff, we walked across the street and up the block a bit to Belltown Pizza.  This place was great.  By this point it was probably after 10, but they serve dinner late.  We sat in a cozy, tall booth along the windows and shared a medium Four Seasons pizza (portabella, tomato, black olive, artichoke, garlic and prosciutto) and a bottle of a Washington cabernet (can’t recall the name) and it hit the spot.  Delicious.  We walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night…or at least tried.  It was at this point we learned of the downside to our particular room — it was on the front of the hotel right above a bar, so it was really noisy.  Eh, what are you going to do?

The next morning (Friday) we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast in the basement of the hotel (granola, yogurt, fruit, toast, coffee and juice) and then walked over to Olympic Sculpture Park to visit Wake, a sculpture by one of both Chris’s and my favorite sculptors, Richard Serra.  Though it was a bit cold and rainy and I wiped out crossing the street (it was lovely…stepped on a slippery manhole cover…couldn’t manage to get my hands out of my pockets…I think I rolled around briefly like a helpless baby in front of the stopped cars) we spent a good hour or two wandering around the park.

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And, the obligatory picture of ourselves…

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On our way back to our hotel, we passed a beautiful little garden I couldn’t resist…everywhere I look, something is growing!

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Gorgeous.  We decided to head over to Macrina Bakery and Cafe for coffee and another bite.  This place was outstanding.  I wanted to order one of everything filling the glass cases…I can’t even remember what I finally settled on.  Only that it was great.  We sat for a while drinking coffee, reading the paper, and making contact with my brother.  He had not yet visited Seattle but was on his way in to find us.  He managed to find a place to leave his car and met up with us at Macrina for one more coffee before heading out.

We decided to walk around Pike Place Market for a while — always fun to see.  We went to Matt’s in the Market for an outstanding lunch with great views of the sound.  Matt and I both got the lamb burger on a brioche bun with goat cheese, grilled onions, bacon, and an herb aioli and a pint.  Chris had the ahi tuna sandwich.  The food was fantastic and I think we were lucky to come in when we did and get a table…it got busy fast and a reservation appeared to be essential (even for lunch).  

After lunch we decided to go check out the Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhaas, an avant-garde steel and glass building.  What a great example of forward-thinking city planning and a fun place to wander…

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After winding our way down from the top of the library, we met up with another friend who had recently moved to Seattle and decided to go check out a few more sights before dinner.  We drove up to the Experience Music Project but decided not to go in…instead, we checked out the cool artwork outside…

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We headed back to our friend’s house with the most amazing view of the the skyline and sound (I think we stared out his living room window for at least an hour) then headed back in to town for dinner at a place he recommend called Quinn’s Pub, a “gastropub” located at 10th and Pike on Capitol Hill.  WOW, was dinner good.

Our group of four shared two rounds of “small plates” and everything was fantastic. T he roasted marrow bones were to die for…rich, delicious flavor…as was the seared foie gras.  The rabbit pate with fresh mustard was amazing, the oxtails and gnocchi divine, and the “duck, duck, mousse” plate was just outstanding.  Even the frites with melted gruyere were delicious. Our waitstaff was wonderful and the atmosphere was fun and casual.  The bread pudding at the end was a great close to a fantastic meal (I never thought about putting macademia nuts in bread pudding…so lovely).  I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed experiencing all of the new, delicious tastes on our well-prepared plates.  We got there early on the recommendation of our friend and were seated immediately– otherwise, it looks like there might be a wait at dinner time. I’d say it’s well worth it though…

The next day after a bit more random wandering, Chris and I had lunch at Wild Ginger, an old favorite.  We ate here (or there — it used to be in a different location) on our very first trip to Seattle several years ago, and make it a habit to eat there once every time we return.  I think Chris even orders the same thing — the Tuna Manada.  I tried a few different satays — the scallop, boar, and shrimp.  Each one came with a little rice cake and had its own sauce.  Each one was delicious (though I think the scallop was my favorite).  I also had the braised baby bok choy and one or two of their specialty cocktails — and both were fabulous. 

After lunch we relaxed a bit, drank some coffee, then wandered around the Pioneer Square area until we found a sports bar where we could catch two Final Four matchups — Memphis/UCLA and Kansas/North Carolina…the battle of the Number 1 seeds!  We enjoyed bloody mary’s and munched on bar food…the bar was a really random mix of rocker types, biker types, and then the occasional drunk guy who would run up to the life-size screen shouting, all excited, as if he was trying to actually get into the game or make a call or something.  Later that night, we went to the Showbox SoDo and caught a fantastic FANTASTIC show by the Black Keys.  Love the band, and the setting was good — small enough to really feel the music.  I’m still amazed by how large of a sound those two guys can put out.  I actually bought a t-shirt (but Chris made me get a large so he could wear it too…and really only he wears it).  I never buy concert t-shirts. 

On Sunday we headed out to Olympia to stay with my brother.  After we got to his apartment and drank a little more coffee (surprise!), he drove us out to the Olympic National Park for a hike.  He took us on the Duckabush River Trail.  It was so beautiful.  We hiked in about 6 or 7 miles to a vista, had lunch, then headed back.  The natural beauty of the park was breathtaking…everywhere I looked something was growing.  The rushing stream was gorgeous, and in the distance you could see snow-capped peaks.  There were still patches of snow on the ground.  The hike was only difficult toward the end when the switchbacks started, and even that did not last long.  This has to go down as one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.  Here are a few shots along the way…

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Our drive back home looked like this…

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Once we got back to Olympia, we showered and headed into town for dinner.  We ended up at a place called Mc Menamins and it was perfect.  Great low-key laid-back atmosphere, good beer, I had a burger with blue cheese and seasoned fries…hit the spot.  We ended the night watching a movie back at my brother’s place with some ice cream we picked up at the grocery store…it was a perfect day.

The next morning we had to wake up early and head back to the Sea-Tac airport.  We drove through a little drive-up espresso shack — why do they not have these in Austin?!  Fully caffeinated, we headed for the Interstate, and I have a tip for you here — fill your car up with gas well before getting anywhere near the airport, because if you think there is gas nearby, you may not find any.  I didn’t.  That was expensive.

As you can see, in a few short days we managed to pack in a ton of great food, great music, great hikes, sports, sculptures, tons of walking, hanging out with my brother who I don’t get to see nearly often enough…it felt like we were actually there for a week.  It was wonderful, and I’m already ready to go back.