Seattle Awakenings

Neither rain nor a dark and deserted street could keep me from my second trip in four days to Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle.  I am in Seattle for a conference organized by my company, and I have promised my colleagues that I would bring them the delectable treats for our final “breakfast.” I couldn’t disappoint them. I am selfless that way.
Top Pot is one dangerous discovery.  On my first visit earlier in the week, two of us wake up before 5:00 am to get there when the doors open at 6:00.  We are not first in line.The delicious” hand-forged” doughnuts have been featured on an episode of Food Network Challenge, which is a draw for me. Flavors like maple, lemon, pumpkin, and raspberry-filled may not be exotic, but quality makes up for any lack of originality. These are some fantastic doughnuts.  The maple topped is my favorite.

I am usually the person who comes  to a conference with a list of restaurants and sources for local treats, but this time I am somewhat unprepared for my five nights in Seattle. I am grateful that others have taken up the charge, including pointing me in the direction of Top Pot. This is not to say that I am totally without a list of places I hope to dine.  A fortuitous tweet by a fellow food blogger asking for Seattle recommendations has given me some food for thought, along with a quick glance at www.chowhound.com and eater.com I quickly discover that restauranteur Tom Douglas has a pretty good grip on some of the most popular places in town.  I end up feasting at three of his twelve establishments: Serious Pie, Cuoco, and Etta’s.
Night one is dinner at Serious Pie. This is some serious pizza- made just the way I like it. Crispy crust with  the perfect amount of saltiness, and fresh from the garden toppings. Our favorite is the special featuring Walla Walla onions, goat cheese, basil, chili flakes, and roasted eggplant. The roasted beet salad with carrots, pistachios, and mint is another highlight.  I realize that I am back to my old beets and goat cheese ways, which I am trying to avoid in favor of trying new things. However, I am helpless to resist my two favorite ingredients, as much as I know I should try. One of my colleagues likes Serious Pie so much that she goes back for a second time and plans a third visit as part of her extended stay in the city. If that’s not a testament to Serious Pie, what is?

The next night I dine with a large group at Tom Douglas’ Cuoco, an Italian restaurant in his varied stable. My dish is house made egg pasta with duck, chestnuts, onion, thyme, cranberry, and duck cracklings. I opt to delete the chestnuts. The mix of savory, sweet, and crunchy makes for quite a tasty dish. There are nearly twenty of us from our group in the restaurant and everyone is pleased with the food as well as the warm and sophisticated decor. The credit for directing us to Cuoco goes to a local who has deemed this her favorite restaurant. It is a destination I would easily recommend  for its success in marrying local ingredients with Northern Italian cuisine.

Cuoco

My third Tom Douglas stop is lunch at Etta’s, which is a seafood restaurant.  My visit is marred by a   misorder.  I don’t hear that the dish is actually Eggs Benedict, as I am focused on the homemade English muffin and fresh salmon described by the server. Rookie mistake. I don’t like poached eggs. But I can’t fault the homey seafood restaurant located across from Pike Place Market.

Another evening we stumble upon Steelhead Diner, which is also near the market. We are excited by the creative seafood menu featuring local ingredients with an international  twist. Our server is enthusiastic and there is a nice local vibe, despite the touristy location. I have crispy Idaho stream raised catfish tacos with roasted tomatillo salsa, avocado relish, tangy cabbage salad, and corn tortillas. Sounds great but I’m expecting this to jolt the senses. While the fish is light and crispy, it lacks flavor.  This is a common theme of the few other dishes at the table.  As one colleague puts it ” this is a place where the menu reads better than the food.”

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST It is our last night in Seattle and the one meal to which I have given some thought.  I am mindful that not everyone I work with is as adventurous when  it comes to dining out as I am. Some of my colleagues have humored me on more than one occasion by accompanying me on journeys to the outskirts of some major cities, in search of innovative cuisine. They have traveled outside of their culinary comfort zones.  For the most part the journeys have been successful, and as a result there is some confidence in my choices. Poppy, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, is my number one option for our final dinner. Our work will be done and we’ll truly be able to relax and focus on our food without any worries. Poppy features a dining style based on thalis, described online as a round tray on which a variety of small dishes are served all at once to each guest. Thali is a Western, Central, and North-Western Indian meal. The menu lists a starter of eggplant fries with sea salt and honey, which sounds innocuous enough. But will my dining companions be okay with entrees such as neah bay coho with lentils and  black-pepper lime hollandaise, accompanied by an array of unfamiliar sounding ingredients ? All week long I consider changing to somewhere with a more traditional sounding menu, but each time I resist the urge. It is the right decision. Dinner at Poppy ends up being one of my favorite meals… ever.
We begin with the eggplant fries, which I have been thinking about all week since I first peruse the menu.  They are exactly as I  imagine them to be: crispy (but not heavy), salty, with a light touch of sweetness.

I choose a ten item thali, which includes two main dishes. This is a plus for my indecision.  The coho salmon has also already caught my attention.  To this I add lavender duck leg with parsnip, red cabbage, and pomegranate.  This is accompanied by eight small dishes.  We are instructed not to eat them one at a time, but to go back and forth to vary the tastes. My dishes are: pumpkin cardamom soup; leek, tomato, and black olive salad; grilled fig, radicchio, and pumpkin seed salad; marina di chioggia squash with fresh fennel seed and lime; roasted cauliflower with apple and dill; corn and basil spoonbread; Asian pear pickle; and nigella-poppy naan.What can I say? There is an explosion of flavors that is simply mind-blowing. Each dish has its own complexity which changes according to the order in which you eat it. So a bite of squash before the salmon tastes different than the squash followed by the salads. The salmon brings tears to my eyes- it is that good.  The soup brings about simultaneous hot flashes for the three of us who are eating it.  It’s not overly spiced, so we can’t really figure out what causes it.  We are not deterred from eating more.

No one dish is overpowering but at the same time each one is perfectly and uniquely seasoned to work together as a symphony.  This is my kind of meal- innovative and full of strong flavors.  We appreciate the soothing environment, which features light wood with pops of color.  It’s trendy but not trying too hard.

eater.com

We are far too full for dessert.  Do you think that stops us? Life will not be complete if I don’t try the chocolate orange caramel torte with cocoa nib crunch. It is richly flavored but not too sweet.  It is totally worth it, although the five of us aren’t able to finish it.

Are my four dinner companions equally enthusiastic about Poppy? Let’s say that three of them are as enthralled by the food and the concept as I am, and one of them is keeping pretty quiet. This is way beyond her comfort zone. She is quite the trooper for not complaining and listening to the rest of us pontificate about the food. I am grateful for the opportunity to dine here.

Throughout the week I have been desperate to get to KuKuRuza, a gourmet popcorn shop that another one of my coworrkers has discovered.   His description of pumpkin flavored popcorn as “autumn in a bag” is haunting me. He regales us with tales of unique popcorn flavors including Buffalo blue cheese, rainbow mixed fruit, and s’mores.  I am truly distraught that I haven’t had time to check it out. Fortunately a colleague picks up a bag of the pumpkin popcorn for me, and just before I board the plane home I break it open. Is food once again bringing tears to my eyes? Absolutely.  Will my resolution to stay away from sweets for the next couple of weeks be broken because additional popcorn flavors will appear in the office this week? I hope not. But maybe just  a taste? (check out the website to order the popcorn online.)

Sleepless in Seattle?  Hardly.  I eagerly wake up at 5:00 am to fulfill my desire for doughnuts. And my taste buds, along with those of my co-workers, are awakened as we explore a series of new flavor and texture combinations.  They may not be universally appreciated, but they are certainly eye-opening for all.

Top Pot Doughnuts, 2124 Fifth Avenue, Seattle
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  4.7
Serious Pie, 316 Virginia, Seattle
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 4.3Cuoco, 310 Terry Avenue North, Seattle
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 4.0Etta’s, 2020 Western Avenue, SeattleSteelhead Diner, 95 Pine Street, Pike Place Market, Seattle
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  3.2

Poppy, 622 Broadway East, Seattle
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  5

Kukuruza Gourmet Popcorn, 215 Pike Street (Pike and Third), Seattle
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  5 (for the pumpkin flavor)

Serious Pie on Urbanspoon

Cuoco on Urbanspoon

Poppy on Urbanspoon

Top Pot Doughnuts (Belltown) on Urbanspoon

KuKuRuZa on Urbanspoon

Comments

  1. tossedsaladsandscrambledeggs says:

    I'm glad you enjoyed some of the culinary highlights of Seattle!

    There are many more for a return trip. 🙂

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