TRAVEL: Seattle Savorings by Peter Bennett

October 18, 2009
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Serious Pie pizza oven

Serious Pie pizza oven


On our trip to the Northwest, we began and ended our journey in Seattle. After racing to Port Townsend and Port Angeles and Victoria B.C. and the Olympic Forest and to Forks of “Twilight” book and movie fame, per our pre-trip itinerary, I looked at Colleen and wondered why we hadn’t just hunkered down the whole time in the marvelously mossy Emerald City.

The last night of our big circle tour, I was actually going to stay in Olympia, Wash., the state capital. What was I thinking? Colleen brought me to my senses, and I humped back to Seattle in our rental, knowing that’s where we belonged on our last night.

For one thing, I discovered the reason everyone is sleepless in Seattle. Everyone’s caffeinated out of their minds, and you never run out of things to see, eat or do here.

On the first day of our journey, after our plane landed at SeaTac and we picked up our rental car, I don’t think it was more than 10 minutes before I pulled into The 13 Coins restaurant (18000 International Blvd). Looking for a mid-afternoon bite to eat, we were more impressed with the high-backed booths than the quality of the food, but hey, we were new to Seattle. We were still getting our sea(ttle) legs. By the way, the “13 Coins” is of Peruvian origin. According to legend, a young man loved and wished to marry a wealthy girl. Her father asked what he had to offer for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The young man reached into his pocket and pulled out 13 coins, but assured the father he could pledge undying love, care and concern. The father was touched, and the young couple wed with his blessing.

At the Monaco in downtown Seattle (1104 4th Ave.), we felt we were on more familiar turf. A year earlier, we enjoyed a great stay at the Monaco in Portland, Ore., another Kimpton hotel. While it’s a dog-friendly hotel, humans also do very nicely here, too. We pulled in just as the hotel was hosting its complimentary wine hour between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. The wine hour was a great icebreaker, making us feel like very welcomed guests.

I might as well clear up one ugly fact of city life. There’s never any cheap place to park in the big city, but this night I kind of lucked out. Looking for a place to park, little did I know I was trolling for a spot outside the nearby Seattle FBI offices. A guard, who must have seen a forlorn look on my face, told me I could park in of the FBI spaces, as the fellas were done for the day. I felt a little funny about it, but she assured me it was okay. I didn’t want to see my car impounded just because I was trying to save $30 to $40 in parking. The downside was I had to retrieve my car before 6 a.m. That was good enough for me. As I’m an early riser, I’d be able to get my car in plenty of time. More on this later.

After the wine reception and after unpacking and thumbing through a few magazines up in our room, we decided to take a late night walk. We walked down to McCormick’s for its evening happy hour. We nibbled at some half-off appetizers because we were still carrying a few of the 13 coins with us.

We also took a brisk walk over to the art deco-ish Polar Bar inside the Arctic Club Hotel (700 3rd Avenue) in the Pioneer Square District. The building was designed in 1916 for members of the Arctic Club, veterans of the Alaska gold rush. We sipped on a sazerac, a popular and potent New Orleans-inspired cocktail, while sitting in deep red leather chairs while admiring sepia photographs of the club’s founders. I thought that any moment Teddy Roosevelt was going to walk in and say he was having a bully good time. The Polar Bar has a very clubby charm that put Colleen and me right at ease. The only thing that could have heightened the experience is if a musher in a fur-trimmed parka had set down next to do us and regaled us about his team of sled dogs parked outside.

The next morning, sure to form, I bounded out of bed at about 4 a.m, and after fumbling for my keys and my glasses and trying not to wake Colleen, I creaked down to the lobby, plied myself with coffee, read the early papers and then walked a few blocks to retrieve my car. I got the car (the FBI had not impounded it) and then decided to cruise the streets to see what time garages opened and if any street-side parking was available. I finally found some garage near the waterfront several blocks from the Monaco for $8. While there were several cars parked in the double decker lot, I was the only one driving in. No attendant was foolish enough to still be on duty. After settling in an underground location, I saw a group of longshoremen-looking guys (they definitely weren’t short shoremen), walking down an alley. Under the sodium vapor diffused lighting, they looked at me, and I looked at them. It was an OK Corral moment. We both hesitated. I quickly made my way up to the rooftop parking, then peered over the wall, thinking I could leap for it, if the gang came after me. The escape route was too long a drop. “Shit,” I thought. No exit! I was about to cut up into pate. The group of roughnecks finally moved on.

Although intent on hitting the road for the real start of our great northwest adventure (aside from the threat of getting mugged in a parking lot), we drove to Ballard to see the Crittenden Locks. If Seattle is all about water, which it is (the rainy stuff and the bays and sounds all around) then you owe it to yourself to stop at the locks. It’s also a lot cheaper than traveling through the Panama Canal. Located at the confluence of Salmon Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the locks are the only conduit between the fresh waters of Lake Washington and Lake Union and saltwater Puget Sound and on out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. At the locks, there is a fish ladder where you can watch Chinook, sockeye, coho and steel salmon migrate up the ladder and around the locks. For an hour, I watched mesmerized, not wanting to leave until I really knew the difference between each kind of salmon. Colleen finally pulled me away.

After gulping down some clam chowder (We didn’t have the stomach for salmon chowder any longer), we headed east to the University of Washington. Neither of us had ever been. But before we got to Huskyland, we passed Dick’s Drive-In at 111 N.E. 45th Street. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The place was buzzing with college types and just about every other kind of two legged mammals – accountants, gardeners, masons. We shot out of the car to get in line with everybody else.





It turns out Dick’s opened in 1954, boasting a minimalist menu of burgers and fries and that’s just about it (Think In N Out, Seattle style). When we finally made it to the waist-high chromium counters, we ordered ours and found perfection on a bun.

After visiting the University for a couple of hours, momentarily delayed by watching a crew film a segment of “The Apprentice” Hong Kong style, we put Seattle in the rear view mirror until our return about a week later.

When we finally made it back, after roughing it in Port Townsend, Victoria, Forks and the Olympic national forest, we were intent on making our last hours count before boarding our plane back to Los Angeles.

When you’re in Seattle, it’s hard to escape the name, Tom Douglas. It’s as ubiquitous as the Space Needle or Starbucks coffee. His epicurean empire includes Lola, Seatown, Etta’s Dahlia Lounge, Palace Ktichen, Dahlia Bakery and Serious Pie.

We tried Serious Pie, which is a serious pizzeria, which has mastered the art of blistering thin crust pizza to perfection in a 600-degree stone encased applewood burning oven. Portions are small, but that made everything more precious. We tried both the sweet fennel sausage and roasted red peppers pie and the Penn cove clams, house pancetta and house thyme pie. For our greens, we had a delicious kale salad.

Room here is shoehorn tight. In fact, dinning is a communal experience. There’s almost always a line, so you when you do get seated you really don’t mind trading elbows with the diners next to you. Besides, waiting in line is part of the hipster scene. People driving, walking or pedaling by wonder what you know that they don’t.

On the day of our departure, our flight was scheduled for late afternoon, affording us one last culinary spin through parts of the city. Capitol Hill is chill hill (Seattle like Rome has lots of hills) with lots of cool restaurants and shops as opposed to Pill Hill, which is where all the medical establishments are based. Again, we found a place in a neighborhood, where we noshed some nourishing soup and bread on a rainy afternoon.

Back downtown, we walked through Pike’s Market. I don’t care how many times you’ve been, it’s never enough. The fishmongers slapped a few dead fish around. We could have ordered some, and it would have been waiting for us by the time we arrived home. Instead we bought some dried fruit, sampled cheeses at Beecher’s and sipped coffee at the original Starbucks.

Back up the hill, not far from the Monaco, we discovered Belle Epicurean (1206 4th St.) Oh my gosh, had we found this gem on the first day, we would have never left the city, nor would we have fit into our airline seats for the trip home. This bakery makes the most freshly prepared and wonderful pastries I think I’ve ever tasted. It’s custom cake artistry at its best, Seattle’s premier patisserie.


The Belle of the desert ball.

The Belle of the desert ball.



Try any of the brioches, tarts or cakes. Regardless of your cholesterol count, life is too short not to sample a pear almond tart with poached pears and almond frangipane layered in a buttery almond crust.

Belle Epicurean is tucked into the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, the grand dame of Seattle hotels. Before or after your visit to the Belle, take a stroll through the classy Fairmont.

Our last night, we stayed at the Westin, again making our reservations through Priceline. The bed was heavenly. I broke down and paid just $18 for parking at a nearby garage recommended by the hotel, rather than risk turning up in the out-of-town obituaries.

On the way to the airport, we ducked into Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (309 3rd Ave. S) in Pioneer Square.  It’s only open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so plan accordingly. We ordered a simple salami sandwich, only to find out later that the must-order is the porchetta sandwich  —  sweet, salty, juicy roasted pork loin on fresh bread with peppers and onion.

Still traveling south, we had one last stop to make – Stellar Pizza, in the Georgetown neighborhood of South Seattle. We ordered a slice of a pie called the Georgetowner – pepperoni, Italian sausage, black olives and onions. We were delighted by the price (reasonable) and the quality (excellent), knowing that unless we ran the Federal Reserve, we wouldn’t be eating at Serious Pie every night.

Each trip has its regrets. We should have jumped on the fairy from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, an 8.5-mile, 35-minute excursion across Elliott Bay. The ferry affords great views of the Seattle skyline. Once on the island, you can rent a bike and explore galleries, gardens, shops and more along the waterfront.

Neither did we make it to the Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle legendary independent bookstore, still thumbing its nose at giant Located in the historic Globe Building at the corner of First Avenue South and South Main Street, the store offers more than 150,000 new, used and rare titles arrayed throughout a multilevel labyrinth of bookstores, rooms, nooks and crannies. I’ve been there once, but shamefully, I’ve been away far too long.

Tip: Oftentimes, it as cheap to fly to Seattle as it is to San Francisco or San Diego, especially in the off-season as we did, so scan your favorite travel site for deals.

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