Well, now that I've made you wait a whole week to hear about our weekend... Sorry about that delay. I was busy on the treadmill.
I love Seattle. On a good day you can be in a different country and another major city in less than 3 hours from Vancouver. We always seem to have bad luck with favourable currency exchange, so with the Canadian Dollar at a recent low, we wasted no time crossing the border. In recent years, we've spent a couple weekends a year in Seattle , which has made each visit better than the last as we become more familiar with the city, its restaurants, shopping and people. I certainly have enough restaurants to keep me occupied here at home, but of course its always nice to get away and experience a different cities food culture!
Seattle feels a bit like a place I could live- it feels a little like Vancouver. I suppose city planning wise its doesn't actually have a lot in common-waterfront views, high real estate (well, not so much now) and lots of new condos. But for some reason the whole "Pacific Northwest" thing, being on the Ocean, living in lush beautiful surroundings, living in rain for so much of the year, feeling a bit separate from the rest of our respective counties.... well, all those things have something to do with the citizens of Vancouver and Seattle having similar constitutions. That being said, the sign in the trendy Belltown wine bar we were in on Friday night, "No Minors, No Firearms", let us know loud and clear that we weren't in Canada anymore.
My favourite place to visit when traveling is the grocery store or farmers market. You learn a sense of the place and its culture by visiting the places where locals buy their food like no other public arena. These days its harder to find uniquely American food stuffs in major supermarkets with the whole global marketplace thing. Canadian grocery stores now have all the same familiar brands and logos. But there are still some treasures, and I'm pretty good at sourcing them. This photo shows the variety of souvenirs I came home with. Highlights include a turquoise Fiestaware pitcher, chocolate bars from a new American chocolate maker, Askinoskie and a limited edition Theo ghost chile bar, cultured butter from Vermont Butter and Cheese company and the infamous Mo's Bacon Bar.
You'll find World Spice Merchants in an unassuming brick building below world famous Pike Place Market. Away from the flying fish and tourists is one of the best resources for any cook worth her salt. No pardoning the pun. This unpretentious, carpeted, showcase has everything from high quality standards like cinnamon (4 different kinds, whole and ground), paprika and black pepper, alongside creole spice blends, Middle Easter spice blends, dried pomegranate seeds and black lava salt. Each time I visit there's something new and different. Their stock is constantly moving ensuring that jar of cinnamon you just bought isn't actually 3 years old and many of their spices are sold whole which they grind at the time of purchase, which is what sets these people apart from other spice purveyors. I take mine in whole form to grind as I go. Displayed in a small glass jars, each item is well marked with informative signs telling you the spice's origin and suggested uses. This is certainly a place where anyone will find their inner chef.
What I love about this place is the sense that you are in a shop run by people who are good at what they do and that's what they focus on. So well in fact that they still are a cash only business, all spices are measured out by staff only, and you write your requests on a simple pad and paper before getting your order filled and labeled by hand. There's no computers here, no debit machines,and no do-it-yourself scales.
Ever since my first visit to this spice kingdom, I've longed to have such a comparable source for spices closer to home. While I wouldn't say that I drive 2 1/2 hours and a border wait for spices, its certainly a major draw.
A few years ago I started reading about a new chocolate maker, the only Organic, Fair Trade bean to bar maker in the US. Shortly after we happened to find ourselves in Seattle and heard that they did tours of their factory. Since my chances for chocolate factory tours living in Vancouver we pretty much non-existent we ended up at Theo in Fremont on a Saturday afternoon, hairnets in place, touring the then quiet factory, marveling at the huge machines and lengthy process is takes to create one of our favourite foods. On that tour we tasted every bar they made and a good sense of the small scale this company really is. In general I find organic chocolate mostly disappointing versions of the good stuff, with companies seeming more concerned with the "fair trade or organic" labels on their product than with the end result -taste. Theo is the exception with a socially responsible business that makes an exceptional product while doing so with their head held high. Their bars are some of my favourite of any in the world-especially their single origin bars and a unique favourite which combines buttery,salted toasted bread crumbs with dark chocolate. It's called simply, Bread and Chocolate. The factory store also offers a line of truffles and other chocolates that are some of the most interesting that I've come across anywhere. A lemon example contains lemon curd for a burst of lemon goodness, burnt sugar is a creamy version of just that, and a PB&J that actually pulls off that childhood flavour sensation.
As you can tell, I'm smitten with this place.
A couple weeks before our visit, a new Trader Joe's opened in Ballard. We happened upon it and decided to take a look. I have never been in a Trader Joes (I'm Canadian, remember), but people talk about these stores with such enthusiasm and loyalty that I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Apparently everyone in Seattle was pretty happy to have a new one too, because the place was packed. I made my way through carts and free samples and screaming children to get a good look and left with a few select purchases.
While I was impressed with these interesting prepared salads, and a pretty amazing candy selection, mostly I didn't quite get it. From what I can tell their marketing plan has a pretty engaging theme -pirates, bright colours, interesting packaging, a friendly demeanor, and their prices seem quite good. For me, its not a place I will seek out again, but I suppose if I lived near one I'd frequent it for the good prices, which I'm thinking is why its so popular.
On a blustery Sunday afternoon we found ourselves wandering the floors of Macy's. The housewares department there has quite a lot of eye candy including this enticing display of a rainbow of KitchenAids, all kinda making me wish just a little that mine might go on the fritz, kinda.I call the Jadeite green one. Maybe KitchenAid is reading and needs another good product review...
Of course I had to pay a visit to Seattle chocolate duchess, Fran's. Her University Village shop is like the beautifully wrapped chocolate boxes she sells- elegant, special and oh so mouthwatering. The creamy white boxes with bright satin bows and embossed parchment liners sealed with a gold seal remind me of old jewelry boxes. The confections inside are just as much of a class act. Her simple chocolate truffle is a testament to the art of chocolate making. She is well known and respected in the chocolate world and with good reason.
I also came across these chocolates from Cocoa Chai in an artists studio. After reading a recent article about this French trained chocolatier I was intrigued. She doesn't have a shop and her confections are difficult to come by mostly made for special orders, restaurants and through her fun sounding workshops. Made with Michel Cluizel French chocolate these morsels aren't cheap. While I wasn't enamored with the flavours, finding them rather week, I love the pretty professional look and the interesting flavour combinations.
A trip to PIke Place market is never complete without spending too much time and too much money at DeLaurenti Specialty foods. This small gourmet grocer is packed with all manner of fine imported and domestic food items. Their cheese selection is second to none and I find myself overwhelmed and in awe of the number of cheeses I never have available to me. They are the place for all hard to find chocolate bars and imported French butter that I love so much. I left with a small selection of Washington and California cheeses that I love and some notable chocolate bars and a tasty jar of gourmet Nutella from Italian chocolate maker, Amedei.
This amazing iPhone App display at the Apple Store got my attention and I lost DG in there for awhile calling long distance on the display phone-just to test it out, you know. Of course, I can't complain since he's my chauffeur, dining companion and great sport in all my food quests.
Part 2 to come shortly with all our restaurant experiences.