Saturday, January 22, 2011

YRS in Seattle

During the December holiday break, we (Mrs. YRS and I) spent a few days in Seattle, a city I've been to countless times for reasons other than food. This time, we wanted to make food and beer more of a focal point.

My kinship to Seattle goes back to my earliest memories, yearly childhood holiday pilgrimages to my grandmother's house. In later years, I made numerous trips to the Emerald City as a teen and young adult to see my favourite bands.

In more recent years, I've associated Seattle and the surrounding region with a very hoppy, excellent micro-brewery scene. Arriving via Clipper Ferry in the late evening, Pike Place Brewery seemed like a logical choice for beer and food. Perhaps not the best brew in the city, it's the best brew-on-premise pub in the downtown core. Every single time I've been there, they've had at least one cask-conditioned ale on tap, in addition to a host of seasonal and regular brews. The Pike Double IPA I had this time around was one of the best bitter ales I've ever had - and I'd stand on Matt Phillips' coffee table with dirty boots on and say that! This microbrewery is a great central place to unwind, especially if your last stop of the day is Pike Place Market. The brewery's food, especially the pizza, was more than edible during this visit. The Pike Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

On another night we went to a microbrewery closer to our hotel - Rock Bottom Brewery. Great name for a pub, but unfortunately the food and beers failed to meet our expectations. I'm always of the opinion that any real ale is better than adjunct-polluted factory beers, but in a city like Seattle, I expect high quality real ales with lots of character. Rock Bottom's brews (we tried a few) were, in a word - forgettable, lacking in that trademark Pacific Northwest character. The food was equally forgettable. And the server gracing our table spent more time telling us how bad her night was going than she did providing us prompt, friendly service. I later learned that Rock Bottom is part of the corporate microbrew empire responsible for Old Chicago, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants. Rock Bottom is not a place I'll go back to next time around. One of the nice things about the robust, competitive microbrew sector in Washington State is that almost every bar downtown you walk into has a healthy selection of local craft ales. Some of the best brews we sampled during this trip were at bars, not microbreweries. Rock Bottom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Food in any big city can be hit & miss, and Seattle is no different, especially in the more touristy areas. We made a point of researching in advance of arrival. One Seattle chef, Tom Douglas, was someone who kept popping up in our research. Two of his restaurants have been featured on the Food Network show, The Best Thing I ever Ate. One of those places is called Lola, famous for its made-to-order doughnuts with seasonal jam & vanilla mascarpone. Sure enough, these tasty little units were as advertised, but the Lola Breakfast (two eggs, choice of pork-maple sausage or smoked bacon, smashed garlic fried potatoes, toast) was also fantastic. Quite possibly, my opinion of Lola is enhanced and influenced by the deficient breakfast options here in Victoria. In any case, you would be well served to visit Lola to start your day in Seattle. Lola on Urbanspoon

Another of Douglas' Seattle success stories is a pizza place called Serious Pie. I used to think the wood-fired oven concept was little more than a gimmick, but Serious Pie has made me a believer. The pizza at Serious Pie ranks among the best I've ever eaten, anywhere. We had one with yellowfoot chanterelles & truffle cheese, another with sweet fennel sausage, roasted peppers, provolone - a sublime pizza experience. Here's a YouTube video of Tom Douglas talking about Serious Pie. Serious Pie on Urbanspoon

In Pike Place Market, there are plenty of food options, and if you want portable nosh as you meander through the market stalls, Piroshky Piroshky is a must. A few doors down from the original Starbucks, this little Russian bakery was good enough for Anthony Bourdain, so we figured it would be good enough for us. What is a piroshy? You can read about it here. If you've been to Sally Bun on Fort Street in Victoria, it's a similar concept, except way way better. Piroshky Piroshky on Urbanspoon

No YRS trip report would be complete without at least one lowlight. That dishonour goes to Seattle's Wild Ginger. A sprawling space, Wild Ginger apparently specializes in Asian fusion. I would call it more of an overpriced abomination of Asian street cuisine dressed up in gourmet garnish. Don't be fooled by the post-modern interior design or the large open grill, which seems there more for show than for grilling (I swear we never saw anything coming off the grill, only statue-like employees in chef hats standing behind the grill pretending to move skewers of things). We were so disappointed with the first orders of food, we actually considered heading back to Rock Bottom. Cooler heads prevailed, and we simply left after appetizers and headed back to the hotel, where we sat in the bar with quality microbrews and a big plate of nachos. Wild Ginger on Urbanspoon

Another disappointment in the downtown core was a "Japanese" sushi place called Benihana. It served as a reminder that Victoria and Vancouver don't have a lock on bad or underwhelming sushi in the Pacific Northwest. I know there is great sushi and Japanese to be had in Seattle, but Benihana is not one of them. Benihana on Urbanspoon

Non-food notes: If you haven't been to the Experience Music Project / Science Fiction Museum at Seattle Center, I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of Jimi Hendrix. I've been to the best museums the world over, and the interactive exhibits at the Experience Music Project never left me with that all too familiar disorder I call museum-yawn. I think we spent 4 hours in the music side of the museum, and only left because we had tickets to the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker. The Sci-Fi side of the museum, I think you need to be a real sci-fi geek to appreciate this part of the museum. We spent all of 15 minutes in this part, then headed back to the music side for more fun.