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A Tasting of Seattle Micro Brews

Mac and Jack’s African Amber Ale at Safeco Field

Unlike later in the week in Portland where on average two microbreweries were covered per day, Seattle boasted so many other (often non food and drink related) sights to see that only the exceptional Fremont Brewing Company’s tasting room was the only one visited. Even despite best attempts, some of Seattle’s best craft brew bars were missed, in particular Brouwer’s in Fremont and the Noble Fir in Ballard, due to rushed travel arrangements.

Which is all too bad considering that Seattle isn’t very far behind Portland at all as first and second for number of craft breweries in American cities. Seattle’s metropolitan area boasts over 30 microbreweries, most of whom have brew pubs or tasting rooms, plus numerous nano breweries that occasionally open their garage doors for tastings. Pyramid is probably the most recognizable name, with a massive brewpub by Safeco Field, and brewpubs even in California. Not far behind would be Elysian, with its original pub on Capitol, and two others around the city, serving its classics like the Elysian Fields Pale Ale and new releases such as the Peste Chocolate Chili Ale (which I had hoped to sample at Brouwer’s). Redhook Brewing in Redmond is also a commonly known brewery, most notably for their (somewhat weak) ESB.

Our beer tastings happened at two unlikely spots–Revel, an innovative Korean comfort food restaurant in Fremont, and at the biggest bar in Seattle, Safeco Field. (more…)

Espresso Tasting in the Emerald City of Espresso

Victrola’s Espresso

Vivace or Victrola?

We’ll cut to the chase. Both are very worthwhile espressos. In fact, both are easily some of the finest espressos served in this country without a doubt. They’re both more nuanced, woody, and with spectacular cremas that only the true barista masters and highest caliber of beans can accomplish. Espresso of this level demands everything to be sharp as a razor blade– the beans, barista, the machine, the timing, the temperature, the pull…the difference between good and bad espresso is as minute as the victory by barely a nose Saturday at the Preakness for I’ll Have Another.

Victrola has it all. It is the complete espresso, coffee shop experience. Sunshine streams in mid day, bathing those outside at the few sidewalk tables, writers clawing away at their laptops, or of course, the gesturing Italian standing at the bar giving his approval of this sensual espresso from beans roasted in the back of the room behind a glass window. The espresso is more robust than any I have found. Slick, creamy, it resembles more a shot of the most soulful dark drinking chocolate. It demands to be savored with the respect of a reserve Kentucky bourbon. (more…)

Tales of Seattle’s Cocktail Bars

Coffee by morning, beer by day, cocktails by night is how the drinking rolls in the Emerald City. Or so it seems with their impressive number of espresso baristas pulling top notch shots, mighty micro breweries such as Fremont and Schooner Exact providing refreshing and bold ales and lagers, and at night the cocktail shakers come out. Whether or not Seattle can quite compete with the caliber of this liquid trio in rival Portland is a debate for another place at another time.

The handsome bar of Rob Roy

There’s no doubt after a long day of work at Amazon or (another) Mariners loss or to celebrate a grand night out to compliment the city’s excellent array of restaurants, Seattle has plenty of cocktail options. The craft, artisan cocktail movement that now spans the globe from windowless cocktail dens in Tokyo to faux speakeasies in Milwaukee certainly has not skipped Seattle. Surprise, surprise the premier pair of places to imbibe in the city are a) a speakeasy and b) a luxurious, “Mad Men” 1950’s plush room with the name of the bar not shown outside. It seems to never get old how each outstanding bar in major cities either evokes “Mad Men” or strives to pretend you are Al Capone in a 1920’s speakeasy.

The essential cocktail experience can be found upstairs at the gastropub Tavern Law on Capitol Hill, in their speakeasy Needle and Thread. Dozens of bars across the country do the same schtick now: make a reservation for a drink, when you arrive call the bar on a special phone and they’ll let you in, walk up a secret passage, voilà you’re in the bar, there’s no menu, so let us know what you usually drink. Then you’ll struggle to say anything other than, “Give me your best drink,” or “I’ll drink anything that tastes good.” Fortunately the wonderful, gleeful server and bartender know what they’re doing. Bitter? Yes. Sweet? Sure. Rum? Eh, no. Then you will remember that you love ginger in drinks. It all adds up to the best cocktail made in Seattle that I encountered, the Ginger Rogers. (more…)

Cocktail of the Week: Ginger Rogers at Needle & Thread, Seattle

Make a reservation days in advance. Then arrive at the Capitol Hill gastropub and bar Tavern Law and find the hidden telephone to call upstairs. Climb the wooden stairs up to the secret parlor upstairs and you have arrived at the pinnacle of the Seattle cocktail world: the speakeasy of Tavern Law, known as Needle & Thread. Menus are for the clueless. You know cocktails and appreciate them to take the effort to even get here and go through the whole telephone and secret speakeasy game.

Ginger Rogers Cocktail on the right

As usual I had no idea what to request when the jocund, so happy to see us waitress quizzed me on my cocktail tastes. (more…)

Sleepless But Not Hungry In Seattle: The New Legends II: Almost There…

Continuing along from Sitka & Spruce to…

Cascina Spinasse

Up Capitol Hill from Sitka & Spruce, chef Jason Stratton is cooking some of the most intensely focused regional Italian cuisine anywhere, at his little slice of Piedmont, Cascina Spinasse. The bustling pair of dining rooms and adjoining bar and patio were filled on a strangely warm Monday night, all enjoying the superb Italian wine list and tour de force pastas. Only a trio of pastas are offered each night and fortunately can all be ordered in half portions for sampling.

Trio of Pastas: Top: Lamb Caramelle, Right: Gnochetti with Green Chick Peas, Bottom: Tajarin with Lamb Ragu

The signature tajarin, thinnest, mostly densely packed squiggles similar to angel hair pasta, comes either with sage or butter, or in a lamb ragu with tiny specks of lamb that don’t add much to the robust sauce. Much better were the tiny, fluffiest gnochetti with studly green chickpeas and the zing of a pure sage leaf, along with the lamb stuffed caramelle (think a meat pasta tootsie roll), served simply with butter and pine nuts. (more…)

Sleepless But Not Hungry In Seattle: The New Legends

Beet Salad with Walnuts, Anchovy Dressing, and Breadcrumbs at Sitka & Spruce

Seattle is quite possibly the most unheralded dining city in the country. Most of the Pacific Northwest attention goes to that Rose City to the south and is never talked about in the same sentences as the big boys of the Northeast, California, New Orleans, and Chicago. In fact the most talked about Seattle restaurant isn’t even in Seattle, but two hours north on the San Juan Island of Lummi at the Willows Inn, with its Noma alum chef Blaine Wetzel. Perhaps it’s because the chef personalities here don’t do Twitter tirades or spend more time in the T.V. studio than the kitchen. The celebrity chef of the region is Tom Douglas, whose empire started with the still strong Dahlia Lounge in Downtown and now has reached a dozen. Douglas might be third behind Bill Gates and Ichiro for fame in the city, yet that may change after he received the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur during our visit to the city.

Dahlia, along with stand-bys such as Ray’s Boathouse and Armandino’s Salumi (the office of Mario Batali’s father, home to a blissful porchetta sandwich) started the Seattle dining scene two to three decades ago and are still very much worth visits. The new guard is sweeping Seattle now by storm. (more…)

Monday’s Neighborhood (on Wednesday): Fremont, Seattle, WA

Seattle is an intriguing city where the outside neighborhoods of its limits are indeed still part of Seattle, yet each so individually distinct that they really are their own city. Nobody says the Ballard “part” of Seattle or the “north” of Seattle when referring to Wallingford. Perhaps, it is because they are across the water from the center of the city, as opposed to Capitol Hill and West Seattle and Queen Anne. Bellevue and Kirkland? Not neighborhoods of Seattle, those are complete other cities, yet still referred to in the same style as Fremont and Ballard.

The Center of the Universe

Along the Lake Washington Ship Canal that connects Lake Washington to the east (and Lake Union) with the Ballard Shipping Yards and the Puget Sound to the west, Fremont lies between the water, Wallingford and its quirky shops to the east, the steep Phinney Ridge to the north, and Ballard’s sprawl to the west. When I refer to Phinney Ridge as steep, I mean it. Accidentally asking a taxi to drop me off at 45th Street and Phinney instead of 36th Street and Phinney, the actual site of the restaurant I was going to, the ten block walk down (with a suitcase) was like trying to inch down Half Dome at Yosemite. Luckily, my brakes were working. (more…)