Travelogue: Seattle, WA (October 2006)







I know that Seattle is supposed to be a very rainy place, but I must be lucky, as there seems to be hours of sunshine every time I visit. I first became interested in Seattle when I was rowing. The “Head of the Lake” gives you a terrific impression of the city as you cruise through its beautiful waterways (not that I was doing anything other than concentrating on the race!). When it came time for Ashley and me to consider where to spend the next years of our lives, Seattle had the advantage of being on the west coast, thus keeping us close to friends and family, and held the promise of being an interesting, exciting city. We decided to take a trip up there in October (when I would interview at the University of Washington), then again in December (for a second look), to explore the city. We wanted to see it as tourists, but we also wanted to evaluate it as a potential new home. We wanted to see if it had the things we enjoy in Los Angeles: a strong sense of neighborhood, exciting restaurants and culture, and interesting places to work and play.

We caught a direct flight from L.A., and took a cab into the downtown waterfront, where we would stay at the Marriott and enjoy a beautiful view of Elliott Bay, part of Puget Sound (thanks to my parents generously sharing hotel points). Situated in Belltown, right next to the attractions of downtown, Pike Place Market, this is a lovely hotel with a concierge level and lounge.



After unpacking our suitcase and hanging up my interview suit, we set off to explore the town. We were hungry by now, so we set out to find some food. Walking down the very cute 1st Ave., we were instantly drawn into the Crumpet shop. This unique little cafe sold the best crumpets I’ve ever tasted. Ok, it’s true, I can’t remember ever tasting a crumpet before this one, but with their crisp edges and with great toppings like maple butter on the Vermont crumpet, they are divine! And this is just the type of place at which one would want to be a regular. Though tempted to keep ordering crumpets with different toppings, we had a more savory meal on our minds, and we kept on our path toward finding it. We continued to walk though the small downtown until we got to Salumi, where Armandino Batali (Mario’s father) makes sausages and Italian cured meats in a traditional style, selling them by the ounce or served up in sandwiches and soups. The line was out the door when we arrived, but it moved quickly enough and eventually—after ordering at the counter—we took our seats at the communal tables. There were bottles of house wine available at each table and which could be consumed and paid for based on the honor system—this somehow seemed to make it taste all the better. The sandwiches and the soups were great, but it was clearly the housemade meats and the down-to-earth feel that were the highlight.






After a satisfying meal, we made our way back through the downtown toward our hotel. On our way back, we stopped to explore the new Central Library. This library, designed by Rem Koolhaas, has been hailed as beautiful by some while its appearance is hated by others. From the outside, it looks as though large glass boxes have been stacked on top of one another and then pushed to one side so as to risk each falling off of an edge. The inside is no less striking. Monochromatic rooms in red, green hallways, and lofty vertical views make for a decidedly cool aesthetic. It was clear that a lot of thought had been put into how to make not only the books and resources stimulating, but the architecture as well.



We took in the view of the city from the top floor of the library, and then we made our way back though Pike Place Market. This classic market really does seem to offer more than just tourist appeal. Beside the men throwing fish to the camera snapping tourists (including me) one can find fresh vegetable stands, unique restaurant stalls, fresh flowers and an array of quotidian provisions—it’s truly a working market.


Just outside stands the original Starbucks, opened in 1971 (either the root of evil, or the start of an amazing revolution depending on your perspective), whose mermaid emblem still bares the breasts that were subsequently removed from the official seal by the company’s public relations people. Ashley and I took particular interest in Beecher’s Cheese next door, selling their own fresh curds.


When one makes cheese, the milk is first solidified into curds—small, randomly shaped lumps which are subsequently pressed into the blocks and rounds we buy in the store. A good fresh curd is wonderfully sweet and salty with a mild cheese flavor, and when truly fresh, it squeaks as you bite into it. These, I am happy to report, could be heard squeaking across the room!



We headed back to the Marriott and had a simple dinner of appetizers in the lounge before retiring to the room so that I could relax and prepare for my interview the next day.

Early the following morning, I caught a cab to UW while Ashley explored more of the town. She focused on the downtown area’s streets, as well as visiting Nordstrom. Nordstrom is a Seattle original and their flagship store is impressive. We’re lucky enough to have a Nordstrom in Los Angeles—their customer service tops amongst department stores—but the size of this store was still notable. She also recounted her lunch—a glass of wine, a plate of prosciutto, and a cheese sampling at Le Pichet, an adorable French restaurant downtown with a local appeal, Parisian accents like a zinc bar, affordable wines by the glass and an appealing menu supplemented by daily specials scrawled on a chalkboard. Fortunately the interview went well and only lasted half the day, so we met up back at the Marriott and I was able to continue the exploration of the city with Ashley. We walked around a bit and then enjoyed the sunset over the Sound from our room. In the evening, I met up with the UW residents for dinner overlooking Lake Union. Several restaurants line the perimeter of the lake, from where you can watch pontoon planes land and take off against the lovely backdrop of the lake and the hills, lit up by lights, in the distance. While I ate with the residents, Ashley dined two doors down at McCormick & Schmick’s, sampling the local sea fare.


We met up after our respective dinners and walked back to the hotel, checking out a few bars and admiring the skyline—dominated by the iconic space needle—along the way.







The following day, with the interview behind me, was free to be fully dedicated to exploring the city. We headed toward Fremont, again walking in order to glean the feel of the city. The leaves on the trees were turning and made for some beautiful vistas across the water. We found ourselves amazed at the amount of coastline in the city, between the lakes and the sea—and daydreamed that this would actually be a place where we might be able to live waterfront (a distant hope in Southern California and, well, probably here too). Fremont likes to be known as the Republic of Fremont and is definitely the most free-spirited neighborhood in the city. Public art, such as the beloved troll under the bridge and a giant space rocket off the side of the road add interest to the small streets—my favorite was a large statue of Lenin, ironically placed directly adjacent to some of the cutest boutiques in the neighborhood!






We walked on after a little shopping and cought a bus to Ballard. Ballard seemed one step away from far left as compared to Freemont and had a few great blocks of cute stores and resturants. We stopped for a treat at Cupcake Royale, but didn’t know what a treat it would be. The cupcakes there were superb, and though Magnolia in NYC had been our favorite at the time, these cupcakes may have taken the cake (pun intended). We continued to explore the area until the sun began to grow closer the horizon. We caught a cab to Gas Works Park and walked though the area.






The park used to be an industrial center, and the residual heavy equipment makes for an interesting contrast to the natural beuty of Lake Union. We decided to explore some of the houseboat communities continued our walk, skirting the lake’s edge. Unfortunately the open houseboat day had passed. I thought perhaps these might provide an affordable option for living, and protect us against coast living and global warming. Ashley assured me that I was wrong, at least on one account.



When the houseboat owners first shacked up, they were considered a public nuissance, and the city tried to get rid of them. But now they are considered a welcome part of the city’s landscape, and most of the homes go for well over a million dollars.





We passed through the UW region and on over the bridge to the otherside of the lake. As we approached university bridge, we stopped to check out Ivar’s Salmon House and briefly conjured images of ourselves cannoeing up to the resturant’s docks for a weekend meal. We crossed the bridge and began the long walk back to the hotel. By the end, our feet were killing us–but we had seen a huge strech of land.


For dinner that night we had reservations at Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Lounge. Tom Douglas was one of Seattle’s first chefs to gain notoriety–he is often credited with defining the northwest cuisine and is almost synomonous with Seattle.. With Dungeness island only a short boat ride away, you can probably imagine one ingredient featured prominently on his menus. Warm colors dominate Dahlia lounge, and touches of fusion to add interest to the cuisine. I had a wonderful salmon, while Ashley had some of the best crab cakes she has ever tasted (they will be hard to top)! This restaurant was so tasty we went back for seconds when we returned to Seatle in December for a second look at the UW program and the city.

P.S. Our return trip in December 2006, and our third visit (with kids!) in 2014.

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